The Louvre is the world’s largest museum. It is housed in an old fortress that became a palace and converted to a museum. Buildings connect in a U-shape with a courtyard, Cour Napoleon, in the center.
As the number of visitors grew, it became clear that the Louvre needed renovations to accommodate all the visitors. In 1983, the Louvre developed and President François Mitterrand supported a renovation plan known as the Grand Louvre. Among other things, it called for a new design for the main entrance that would be climate controlled, and provide space for a ticket office, security checkpoint, visitors center (for things like audio guides, toilets, sitting areas, information centers, cafes and shops).
When Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei‘s modern glass pyramid structure in the courtyard was unveiled, most critics gave negative reviews. They deemed it an unwelcome intrusion of modernism into traditional architecture. Still, it provided 650,000 additional square feet of much-needed support spaces for the Louvre.
Inaugurated in 1988 and opened in 1993, his design of The Louvre pyramid, met the need and then some. It appears strikingly modern and sophisticated against the baroque façade. It guides visitors’ movements between the three immense wings (Richelieu, the Sully, and the Denon) of the museum. As a Louvre visitor, I find this as genius as any part of the design. The Louvre is immense and it is easy to get lost. By following the signs to the exit, you can get to a guide who will point you in the right direction for your adventure in the next wing. Plus, the glass provides wonderful light to the underground lobby.
The complex inter-linked steel structure sheathed in clear, reflective glass. This transparency allows an unobstructed view through it permitting vision across the pyramid to the palace on the opposite side. This allows it to float lightly in the space.
While its style differs drastically from the original palace buildings, its transparency and simplicity allows it to sit among them without taking anything away from them. It just becomes another interesting focal point.
It didn’t take long for Pyramid to become integral part of Paris’ center and another one of its iconic buildings (Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Les Invalides, Sacre Couer). In the New York Times, Paul Goldberg wrote: “…the design provoked international controversy and accusations that an American architect was destroying the very heart of Paris…the news from Paris is that the Louvre is still there, although it is now a dramatically different museum. The pyramid does not so much alter the Louvre as hover gently beside it, coexisting as if it came from another dimension.”
The movie ‘Da Vinci Code‘, which had scenes set inside the Louvre included several minutes of dramatic video shots of the Pyramid. It’s also appeared in The Dreamers, Prêt-à-Porter, The Rape of Europa and Fire, Plague, War and Treason.
One of the cool things I noticed about it is that the pyramid is inverted below ground into the interior space below. It comes to a point, immediately below that point is a sculpture, a pyramid. Their apexes are only centimeters apart. I’m not sure these pictures do it justice, but trust me when I tell you that it looks sweet.
If all this isn’t enough, check it out lit up at night. Definitely worthy of the City of Lights.