The stark lines of a steel grid mark the boundary between the city and the forest below.
Wide open spaces of decking stretch between the glass towers of the François Mitterrand Library, the main site of the French national library. It’s a city landscape of right angles and straight lines, except for those tufts of green sticking up above the parapet.
Not low bushes but the tops of a small forest of mature pine trees, rooted two storeys below. (The distant band of green is the trees of the Parc de Bercy, on the far side of the River Seine).
The one hectare forest garden was designed to replicate a section of the ancient forest of Fontainebleau. 160 mature pine trees, salvaged from a site in Normandy where they were threatened by the expansion of a quarry, were planted in 1994 with the aid of a large crane. To add variety there’s a scattering of birch, oak, hornbeam and wild cherry trees (sourced from tree nurseries) and a ground cover carpet of ferns, cranesbills and woodland perennials. The ‘forest’ has minimal maintenance and no public access to avoid disturbance to the developing wildlife habitats. An inventory made in 2009 counted 13 species of birds, 8 species of butterflies and 20 species of spiders.
Seen from the corridors and reading rooms of the library this artificial wilderness is an attractive landscape framed behind glass. Seen from above it’s a textured carpet in shades of green. True wild woodland might be said to be the Opposite of an urban landscape. This forest in miniature is more of a work of art; as much a part of the city as the library itself.