The most visited museum in the world ships a third of its collection.
As Elaine Sciolino reports for the New York Times, the Louvre Museum in Paris has spent the past 16 months transporting more than 100,000 of its 620,000 artefacts to a conservation center in the commune of Liévin in northern France. Eventually, the bespoke space, which opened in October 2019 after six years of planning, will serve as a haven for some 250,000 works of art previously threatened by flooding, according to a statement.
Home to works of art as famous as mona-lisa and Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Louvre is located on the right bank of the Seine, a precarious position given the frequent flooding of the river. In 2016, when heavy rains brought the Seine to its highest level since 1982, the museum undertook a “24-hour emergency operation” to move its cultural treasures from underground storage to safety, notes the Time.
A study conducted shortly after the floods found that climate change had nearly doubled the likelihood of heavy rains in Paris. The disaster forced the Louvre to close for four days and prompted staff to leave many items wrapped up for quick future evacuation, writes Ryan Waddoups for Area magazine.
Although the museum has had a flood risk prevention plan in place since 2002, the protocol does not provide enough evacuation time to save all of the Louvre’s vulnerable holdings.
“The reality is that our museum is in a flood zone,” Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez said. Time. “You can’t just pick up and move marble sculptures.”
Built at a cost of $73 million, the Louvre Conservation Center is designed to be the lifeline of the museum, housing hundreds of thousands of artifacts previously stored in more than 60 locations in and outside Paris. According to the Louvre’s website, the 2.4-acre site includes six storage areas, a photography studio, workshop rooms and even a rooftop garden. Each of the concrete-walled storage vaults focuses on preserving a different type of object, from paintings to sculptures and metalwork.
“The building is located on a well-drained basement; chalky sand on a layer of chalky bedrock,” says John McElgunn of Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners, the company that designed the facility. Architectural Summaryit’s Nadja Sayej. “Everything is sized to handle rainfall well above current historical records and future rainfall projections for the region.”
Additional protective features include a double-sealed roof with special leak detection technology, green lights that capture pests such as the common beetle, and programmed security systems to protect the artifacts from fires and terrorist attacks.
According to Time. Although the majority of undisplayed objects will be moved to the conservation center, another 250,000 light-sensitive drawings, prints and manuscripts will remain in the Louvre, where they will be stored on a high floor to mitigate the risk of flooding.
The center is more than just a storage space: Area remarks, the establishment is on the way to becoming one of the largest art research centers in Europe, attracting experts from museums, academics and restorers alike.
“We are able to do extensive research here, away from the hustle and bustle of Paris and away from the worry of flooding,” said Isabelle Hasselin, senior curator at the Louvre. Time. “What a relief.”