Leoh Ming Pei World famous, was chosen in 1983 by François Mitterrand to design the main entrance to the Louvre.
Attracted by American skyscrapers
Throughout his career, the American architect Leoh Ming Pei has never ceased to reconcile the modernity of his art with the cultural and historical specificities of his achievements. Born in Canton in 1917, Leoh Ming Pei grew up in an old family in Suzhou, a garden city near Shanghai whose harmony between nature and constructions would be a source of inspiration for the future architect. Fascinated by the technical prowess deployed in the construction of the skyscrapers that flourished in Shanghai in the 1930s, and attracted by the America seen in the films of Bing Crosby, in 1935 he trained as an engineer at MIT ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology), before studying at Harvard.
A library dedicated to John Kennedy
For the library dedicated to John Kennedy (1979), Jackie Kennedy chose Leoh Ming Pei because, according to her, “the best of Pei is yet to come”. He first proposes a glass pyramid – already! – but ends up building a triangular concrete tower. So the orders are pouring in. After seeing the extension of the National Gallery in Washington (1978), François Mitterrand offered him to work on the Grand Louvre. It was a very large-scale project that was born at this time, already announcing the dizzying growth in museum attendance. It was therefore necessary to provide a central access point that would streamline the entrance of visitors. The idea of access through the basement in the middle of the Cour Napoléon then emerged. But, the risk is to see this entrance turn into “a huge metro station with a low ceiling”. In 1983, I.M Pei therefore drew up the plan for a pharaonic glazed construction that would bring light to these underground corridors.
Strongly criticized in France
Painstaking work began in 1985, with a major challenge: to find a glass that was transparent, light and very resistant at the same time. Delusions of grandeur oblige, an exceptional glass, which was called “Diamond glass“, was created especially by the Saint-Gobain factory. But the hardest part is yet to come: for 4 years, site personnel and architects battle to flatten the surface of the glass roof as much as possible, mounting and deforming the steel reinforcement that holds it all together. This glass and metal pyramid erected in the middle of the Napoleon courtyard of the Louvre palace in Paris, the most visited museum in the world, was strongly criticized in France.
A symbol of modernity
Despite everything, this commission from President François Mitterrand has since become the “symbol of modernity of the museum and an emblem of Paris”, as explained by the President of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, in 2017. Opened to the public in 1989, this gigantic structure was designed to better welcome visitors. Ieoh Ming Pei’s tour de force was to imagine an entrance in the basement capable of connecting the three different wings of the establishment by underground passages. The central hall, located under the pyramid, is bathed in light thanks to the glass structure of the colossal achievement. A Pritzker laureate in 1983, he retired in 1990, but continued to work on buildings such as the glass lattice tower, headquarters of the Bank of China, in Hong Kong. Institution that his father had run in the 1930s.