Where is the Louvre
Located on the Right Bank of the River Seine in Paris, the Louvre is the world’s largest (and probably most famous) art gallery. It displays 35,000 works of art.
Conceived as a way to handle the Louvre’s growing number of (French and international) visitors, the Louvre Pyramid (pyramide du louvre) was completed in 1988. It was part of a larger renovation known as the ‘Grand Louvre’ project.
Designed by renowned Chinese American architect I. M. Pei, the Louvre Pyramid is now renowned as a significant architectural achievement. It has won numerous awards, including the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) prestigious Twenty-five Year Award in 2017. This honour is “conferred on a building that has stood the test of time for 25-35 years…"
However, this popularity is a relatively recent thing. Indeed, at the time of its construction and its opening, there was much controversy surrounding the work. Some dismissed it as a vanity project for then French President François Mitterrand, (who announced the plans for its construction in 1981); others argued that its modernist style did not fit well with classic French Renaissance style of the Louvre, while others still saw the fact that it was inspired by the Egyptian pyramids of Giza (which were, themselves, symbols of death) as problematic.
Along these same lines, some even argued that the number of glass panes it had (666) was the devil’s number and therefore the work was an apocalyptic sign. However, it turned out that these people got their facts wrong. The Louvre Pyramid (pyramide du louvre) has 673 glass panels, not 666.
What is the Louvre and when was the Louvre built
The argument about the inconsistency between the new addition and the older building was perhaps the most credible of these.
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries and opened as a museum in 1793, le Louvre Paris is a treasured French institution and one of the world’s great art galleries. Regardless, the Louvre Pyramid endured the criticism and is today valued as part of the heritage of France.
Made of mainly glass and steel, the Louvre Pyramid is 21.6 metres high. Its square base has sides of 34 metres and a base surface area of 1,000 square metres. It features 603 rhombus-shaped and 70 triangular glass segments. It is designed to the exact dimensions of the aforementioned Great Pyramid of Giza.
The pyramid’s glass panels are in the shape of triangles and diamonds. Together, whether viewed from above or below, these have the appearance of diamonds or cut jewels.
Five pyramids, not one
Today, the Louvre glass Pyramid is known world-wide as a symbol of Paris. It is an important part of le Louvre Paris. However, few people who have not visited the city realise that the Louvre has more than just one pyramid. It actually has five.
The main large pyramid – the one we all know and the one that acts as the gallery’s entrance – sits in the Louvre’s main courtyard (Cour Napoléon), opposite the Jardin des Tuileries. Apart from that main transparent masterpiece, there are also three smaller, similar looking ones that stand adjacent. Functionally, these provide light for the artworks above which they stand.
Then, unbeknown to those who haven’t (yet) visited Paris, there is a fifth pyramid, (‘Pyramide Inversée’ or inverted pyramid). As pictured above, this pyramid is essentially a mirror version of the larger shape above. Again, in terms of functionality, it is a sky light that illuminates the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall in front of the Louvre Museum.
I. M. Pei and his broader body of work
In 1983, when I. M. Pei was announced as the Louvre Glass Pyramid architect, he came in for criticism on the grounds that he wasn’t French and therefore not able to grasp the significance of the task he sought to take on.
Not everyone agreed with this, of course. In some quarters, those who held these views were dismissed as parochial or worse. Regardless, Pei completed the job, and it is perhaps sufficient to say that the regard the Louvre Pyramid is held in today counters the ‘not French enough argument’ as well as anything.
The Louvre Pyramid was not I. M. Pei’s only major architectural achievement. Indeed, he has a history of designing noteworthy urban buildings, including a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City in 1960; the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at Harvard University (1964); the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1978); John Hancock Tower, Boston (1973), Indiana University Museum (1979); the west wing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1980); Nestlé Corporate Headquarters (1981); El Paso Tower (1981); and the Beijing Fragrant Hill Hotel (1982).
Born in Guangzhou, China in 1917, Pei moved to the US in 1935 when he was 18 years old. A decorated architect he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ the Royal Gold Medal in 2010, and the Legion of Honour in 1993.
Though a modernist who was also known to sometimes incorporate cubist elements in his work, he was not one to be bound by such labels or who was even much interested in such notions. Rather, he was more interested in the social implications of architecture. As the louvre Pyramid illustrates, he was a master of using geometric patterns – triangles, diamonds, squares, circles, and so on – in his designs; and of modifying traditional principles within his designs.
I. M. Pei, the architect who designed the Louvre Pyramid died in New York City in 2019, at the age of 102.