The Louvre pyramid is one of the most iconic monuments in Paris, but it created controversy at the time of its creation.

Photography : Elisabeth Perotin

The Louvre pyramid

A colossal project

At the heart of the Cour Napoléon stands the Louvre Pyramid, an architectural challenge which has become the very symbol of the museum. It is only the emerging part of a colossal project : the Grand Louvre which modernized the museum in the 1980s. A monumental entrance in the shape of a pyramid! It took all the audacity of the Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei to dare to transform the very heart of the palace. His spectacular creation made the Louvre one of the rare museums to have a work of art for its reception hall !

The Louvre pyramid
The Louvre pyramid

The “Grand Louvre” project

The Louvre of the 1980s was very different from the museum of today. While attendance increases more and more, the museum seems less and less adapted to welcome its visitors. The “Grand Louvre” project must meet two major objectives : modernize and expand the premises. Ieoh Ming Pei, who already has to his credit the extensions of the Fine Arts Museum in Boston and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, was appointed in July 1983 as the architect of the project, supported by the President of the Republic François Mitterrand. He imagined a central underground reception allowing direct access to the three wings of the museum and which would revolutionize circulation within the Louvre. This monumental entrance takes the unexpected shape of a pyramid.

Numerous debates and controversies

And that’s not all ! As part of the Grand Louvre, Ieoh Ming Pei is responsible for the new museographic spaces in the Richelieu wing and the underground reserves for the collections but also for all the spaces necessary for welcoming the public in the basement spaces: auditorium, ticket office, cafes, restaurants, bookstores… A shopping mall even provides an underground connection with the nearest metro station. The gigantic construction site is the subject of numerous debates and controversies. Opponents denounce a “pharaonic project”. The Pyramid attracts all the criticism. Ieoh Ming Pei nevertheless places himself in the long history of the multiple transformations of the Louvre. His project respects the main axes of the palace and the geometry of the whole, while developing a structure that is as transparent, luminous and airy as possible… a real technical challenge met brilliantly. He himself says: “I worked as a landscaper rather than an architect. I was inspired by Le Nôtre more than any other. The very geometry of the module which punctuates the Pyramid is French. »

Four years of construction

The Louvre Pyramid is based on simple shapes, the square and the triangle, which multiply in the space of the courtyard. They are used for the design of the pools surrounding the Louvre Pyramid, and even on the pavement of the courtyard. After four years of construction, and the intervention of companies specializing in boat rigging to build the metal frame, the Pyramid was inaugurated with great fanfare on March 29, 1989. It became the very symbol of the Louvre.

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