The best windows in Canberra: Leonard French's coloured glass

“You have the nicest window, you know? None of the others can even compete. It´s not flashy like the others, or bleary – your window gives of this nice, quiet light.”

― Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake

Upon entering BOOKPLATE, visitors are often struck by the stunning kaleidoscope of soft light reflected into the space by the coloured glass windows that border the café. Designed by visionary Australian artist Leonard French (1928–2017), who passed away earlier this year, they were installed in 1967, and are one of the most recognisable and memorable features of BOOKPLATE, and the National Library itself.

Here are four interesting facts you may not know about these amazing windows.

1. They’re not actually made from stained glass

While they’re often referred to as stained glass, the windows are actually made of Belgian and French dalle de verre or faceted glass. Embedded in concrete, the blocks are cut to maximise light refraction and create dazzling patterns of colour.

2. They weren't just for decoration

While we enjoy them purely for their beauty today, the windows originally served the purpose of reducing the amount of outside light entering what was the Library’s foyer exhibition area.

3. There’s a matching set on the King Edward Terrace side of the Library's foyer

The Library has 16 coloured windows, consisting of 6 pairs and 4 singles, but only half of these reside on the BOOKPLATE side. The others can be found in the Library’s Bookshop area. Bonus fact: the windows on the BOOKPLATE side feature a warm colour palette, while the ones on the Bookshop side are cooler-toned.

4. The windows are planet-themed

Look closely, and you’ll see that the windows include motifs of crosses, circles, suns, stars and mandalas in a palette of over 50 colours. The broader theme comes from the planets—Venus in tones of blue and Mars in red.

For more on the history of these stunning windows, check out this recent article from National Library Exhibitions Assistant Grace Blakeley-Carroll.

Come and bask in the beautiful glow from the windows with breakfast in BOOKPLATE. Open from 7.30am weekdays, and 9am weekends.

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