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MONDO ARC

No.11: Pyramide du Louvre, Paris

issue 40 Dec / Jan 2007/8


Maurice Brill chooses a modern French classic designed by a Chinese American architect.

Opening in March 1988, the Pyramide du Louvre is located in the Cour Napoleon in the Louvre Museum. It was commissioned by Francois Mitterand in 1983 and the design by architect Ieoh Ming Pei, has become the most famous of the President’s ‘Grands Projets’ built to celebrate the cultural status of France at the end of the twentieth Century. The Pyramid stands 21 metres high on a square base with 35 metre sides and comprises a complex interlinked steel structure sheathed in 3⁄4 “ thick glass. The St Gobain glass used to clad the pyramid is tinted in a warm ochre colour and was specially created to be compatible with the honey-colored stone facades that surround and are visible through it. The resulting transparency of the structure lends it an ephemeral presence within the plaza. The Pyramid is countered with a trio of baby “pyramidons” and three triangular reflecting pools with fountains.
”Pei offered his “luminous structure-symbol” as an ingenious way to avoid upstaging the Louvre. No solid addition imaginable could gracefully blend with the time-darkened old palace, he reasoned, but a translucent pyramid, frankly of its own time, would respectfully defer to the heavy presence of the surrounding building. There was one more pleasing twist: the ancient form made of high-tech material would be at once much older and much newer than the Louvre.” Washington Post
Pei, a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 1983, chose a pyramid as it is the geometric shape that encloses the greatest area within the smallest possible volume and based its dimensions upon the proportions of the Grand Pyramid of Giza. It was not Pei’s first pyramid, he had already used a cluster of glass pyramids to light an underground corridor at Washingtons National Gallery. Although the pyramid shape appears throughout the history of French architecture, Pei disavowed any debt to historical precedent.
Originally a royal palace, the Louvre has been a national monument for over eight centuries, central to the people and spirit of France and the intervention of Peis modernist structure created great controversy. But time has blunted this opinion and it is generally regarded today as a brilliant example of juxtaposing styles of architecture.
Although aesthetically iconic, the structure must also be applauded for what it achieves in practical terms. Mitterand’s brief was that the Louvre be modernised and expanded without compromising the classic integrity of the museum. So without changing any of the exterior architecture, Pei created the new main entrance to the Museum by excavating the Cour Napoleon, which had previously been used as a car park. The descent down to the lower level entrance is dramatic and capable of ingesting 15,000 visitors an hour. The project also included the construction of a shopping mall, cultural center, an auditorium, and parking. Light is provided to these subterranean spaces by the Pyramide Inversee located under the Carroussel du Louvre.
“The centre of gravity of the museum had to be in the Cour Napoleon. That’s where the public had to come. But what do you do when you arrive? You need to be welcomed by some kind of great space. So you’ve got to have something of our period. That space must have volume, it must have light and it must have a surface identification. You have to be able to look at it and say, `Ah, this is the entrance.’” Pei
The Pyramid is associated with an urban myth initially prevelant in the eighties but regaining popularity in recent years due to Dan Browns bestseller, The ‘Da Vinci Code’. It is claimed that the number of glass plates in the pyramids construction total 666, ‘the number of the beast’ and it is therefore a building buillt in homage to Satan. Un-mythically, this famous story has its roots in the offical opening brochure citing this figure in error. There are actually 603 diamond and 70 triangles of glass!

“I was working on a number of projects in Paris at the same time that the renovation of the Louvre Museum was underway. The project was a point of lively discussion and cloaked in controversy, speculation and anticipation. I would walk along the Seine in the evening to try and glimpse the work in progress but unfortunately was not in Paris when the Pyramide was unveiled. When I did visit the completed project some months later, I was amazed at the perfection of scale and the incredible juxtaposition of the contrasting styles of the classical facades of the Louvre and the contemporary Pyramide. I still am amazed. The Pyramide could be regarded as a work of art in itself but in fact is there to serve the purpose of introducing daylight to the Hall of Napoleon below. It is a perfect solution for the entrance to this famous museum.
The artificial lighting within the Pyramide was designed by Claude Engle and transforms the structure into an elegant and glowing jewel in the hours of darkness.”
Maurice Brill – Maurice Brill Lighting Design

 

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