Thirty years after its inauguration, the Louvre pyramid stands in front of the most visited museum in the world and, despite its relative youth, it has become an essential part of the famous Paris cityscape. Rivaling the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe for the title of Paris’ most recognizable landmark, the Pyramid officially opened in 1989 and gained instant notoriety, and not what the designers had hoped.
The glass and metal structure designed by Chinese-born architect and founder of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the late IM Pei, sits atop the Louvre’s subterranean, but light-filled, hall connecting the museum’s three pavilions – Denon, Richelieu and Sully. With a square base and a top of 71 feet (21 meters), its dimensions form a miniature of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Originally built in the 12th century as a fortress, what is now the Louvre Museum served as a royal residence before becoming a public museum in 1793 after the French Revolution. So how did a modern take on ancient Egyptian architecture end up in the City of Light? Here are seven facts about this pyramid.
1. It was designed to serve a purpose
Although an architectural marvel that draws a lot of attention on its own, the pyramid was commissioned for a functional purpose. French President François Mitterrand announced the Grand Louvre project in 1981, which included a redesign of the museum and the addition of space. The museum would integrate the Richelieu wing of the palace, which at the time served as the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance. At the end of the Grand Louvre project, the exhibition space has doubled, the Pyramid serving as a new entrance for visitors and giving access to the three pavilions of the museum.
“The program provided for more than 92,000 square meters [990,279 square feet] of floor space,” Pei said in Philip Jodidio’s 2009 book “IMPei: The Louvre Pyramid.”
“It was not possible to create so much space above the ground near the Louvre, so it had to be put under the courtyard… We experimented with different shapes, we even tried a cube or a curved hemispherical shape But, if you look at the silhouette of the Louvre, there is no curve, so we had to exclude the curves. I concluded that the pyramid was the only acceptable shape. It is the most appropriate shape .
2. It’s been called an “architectural joke”
Mitterrand selected Pei for the Grand Louvre project, avoiding an architectural competition often held for large public projects, a decision that “infuriated many”, according to Architect Magazine. Pei’s design was not much better received than Mitterrand’s one-sided decision, and criticism abounded.
“I expected controversy in this case, and I wasn’t surprised when we were attacked,” Pei told Jodidio.
When the design was first presented, the Pyramid “aroused much media controversy and sparked both aesthetic and technical passions,” according to a press release from the Louvre.
But today, the Pyramid is a famous part of the Parisian landscape, like that other initially controversial structure of the Eiffel Tower. Although Captain Bezu Fache refers to the pyramid as “a scar on the face of Paris” in the movie “The Da Vinci Code”, a 2010 article in Arch Daily states that “the juxtaposition of modern structure and architectural style of the French Renaissance of the Museum creates a complementary effect that enhances each of the details and beauty of the design.”
3. It’s actually too small now
Despite the Pyramid’s intention to improve visitor reception and the addition of 650,000 square feet (60,386 square meters) of underground space, the resulting accommodations of the Grand Louvre project have already been overtaken in popularity. growth of the museum.
In 1989, the Louvre welcomed 3.5 million visitors, but in 2018, 10.2 million people visited. Insufficient to receive such staggering attendance – the average number would be over 27,000 people per day if the museum were open every day, which it is not – a reorganization took place from 2014 to 2016.
The Pyramid Project has improved the flow of visitors by reorganizing the entrances and reception areas. With the addition of two information-covered information counters embedded in large, easily identifiable soundproof pillars, better signage, redesigned ticketing facilities and other changes, access control at the entrance to the pyramid has been doubled.
4. A new glass has been developed to build it
Pei insisted on the pyramid’s glass being completely transparent so that when visitors look through it, there is no noticeable change in the palace. Finding clear glass was a serious challenge because the glass has a slight bluish or greenish tint. So he turned to French manufacturing company Saint-Gobain to create new glass specifically for the project.
“Months of exhaustive research have gone into the development of this 21.5 millimeter [0.8 inch] extra-clear laminated glass, with exceptional mechanical properties and high optical quality,” explains Patricia Marie, communications director for Saint-Gobain in an email. “This glass has notably been stripped of its iron oxides to avoid any green reflections.”
It took about two years to get it right, and the removal of the iron oxides required the company to build a special furnace. The resulting “Diamond Glass” is laminated like automobile windshields, so if it breaks on impact, the plastic retains the fragments. There are 19,375 square feet (1,800 square meters) of glass in the pyramid — 675 “diamonds” (the diamond-shaped glass segments we associate with the pyramid) — and 118 triangles, Marie says. These rest on a structure made up of 6,000 metal bars, bringing the total weight of the Pyramid to 200 tons (180 metric tons). Just in case any pieces of glass break, Saint-Gobain has done enough to build two pyramids, although after more than 30 years no repairs have yet been needed.
5. Cleaning it is a monumental task.
While the Louvre pyramid escaped the need for glass repair, maintenance was another story. If you think cleaning your windows is difficult, what about windows with a 71-foot sloped structure? Regular jib or trolley systems dropped from the top of the building are unnecessary and scaffolding is impossible. Elevator bucket systems also do not work.
So in the beginning, climbers were actually hired to scale the pyramid and clean the glass, but an automated method was needed. In the 1990s, a robot was designed to do the job. Then, in 2002, Seattle-based Advanced Robotic Vehicles developed a new model, a “double breadbox-sized robot.” Operated by remote control, the robot climbs the Pyramid on rails and is attached to the glass via suction cups. It has a squeegee and a rotating brush.
However, some tasks are impossible to automate, explains Marie. The water features near the Pyramid deposit a scale-laden haze on the glass, and it is necessary to descale the glass from time to time. “Ropes are still used to repair joints,” she says. “Only a human being can achieve this.”
6. Its design aligns with the French tradition
Despite its apparent contrast to the French Renaissance style of the museum, the Louvre pyramid conforms to certain French architectural traditions. Pei’s choice of a pyramid was not arbitrary, according to W. Jude LeBlanc, associate professor at Georgia Tech School of Architecture. In fact, the country had a neoclassical relationship with the Platonic solid, and although it is not a tetrahedron due to its square base, the Louvre pyramid bears witness to this relationship.
“Avant-garde and innovative, the neoclassical architects of the late 1700s, such as Boullée, Lequeu and Ledoux, experimented with pyramidal forms deployed as monuments, cenotaphs or other programs,” explains LeBlanc.
In fact, when the Pyramid opened in 1989, The New York Times noted that it “communicated” with existing monuments in Paris and that the country’s architectural history was “laden with references” to architects like these, which “relyed heavily on blunt geometric forms”. , including the pyramids.”
LeBlanc further notes that Napoleon’s exploits in Egypt were reflected in some examples of the 19th century Empire style. And of course, it’s also a short walk from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde and its 3,300-year-old obelisk brought from the Egyptian temple of Luxor in 1833 and erected by King Louis-Philippe.
7. It’s not the only entrance to the Louvre
Although the pyramid was built to accommodate a visitor entrance, it’s not the only way to enter the Louvre – and sometimes it’s not the best way to enter. Given the large number of visitors that flock to the museum, it is recommended that you purchase tickets online in advance. . By purchasing a ticket online for a specific date and time slot, visitors can expect to enter the museum in less than 30 minutes.
Upon arrival at the museum, even those with advance tickets will join a queue, possibly in front of the pyramid. However, visitors with individual or group tickets can enter through Passage Richelieu, which is just off Rue de Rivoli across from the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre metro station. The Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping and dining space opened in 1993, is another access route. Le Carrousel provides direct access to the museum, and it is also the location of the suspended inverted pyramid. Whichever entrance you choose, they all converge under the Louvre pyramid in the lobby which provides convenient access to all three wings, just as Pei intended.