History & Origin:

  • Standing tall amidst the courtyard of the Louvre Palace, this giant pyramid is one of the most visited tourist destinations after Eiffel tower in Paris. The newly built modern structure garners focus still, being a part and parcel of the classical architecture.
  • A French historian, Henri Sauval named it the “Louvre” which meant “castle” according to a Latin-Saxon glossary.
  • The history of the Louvre Paris dates back to the 12th Century. Moreover, it is deeply rooted in the history and culture of France. It was constructed at the site of a dungeon and fortress for Philippe Auguste. The same structure, later in the year 1546, was converted into a palace under King Francis I. King Louis XVI in the year 1793 converted the Louvre into a museum, as we see it now.
The Iconic Louvre Pyramid

Recent Developments:

  • In 1981, the newly elected French President, Francois Mitterrand, launched a renovation campaign for all cultural institutions throughout France. The renovation and reorganization of the Louvre became an integral part of this campaign.
  • Soon after, while touring Europe and the United States, the President hired a Chinese American architect, I.M. Pei to refurbish the structure. This was the first time ever that an architect from a different regional background was hired to work on Louvre.
  • Pei’s design of the Louvre included a large glass and steel pyramid surrounded by three smaller triangles that illuminated the inner space. For Pei, the glass pyramid indicated a symbolic entrance, with historical and figural importance, thus encompassing the main entrance.

Criticism & Change of Perception:

  • Much of the criticism surrounding the renovation was not due to the addition to the museum structure itself. However, it was due to an issue of styles.
  •  Many had that perception that Pei’s modern design aesthetics would clash with the Louvre’s classical architecture.
  • However, with the passage of decades and modernization of Paris, Pei’s design has become deeply engrossed in the Parisian culture.
  •  It is regarded with similar importance as that of Eiffel Tower, thus, becoming an icon for the people of Paris, as well as the world.
  • The design has now become an inseparable entity from the Louvre Palace. The 70-foot-high glass pyramid initially appalled preservationists, but the public eventually warmed up to it.
I.M. Pie

Pie, the Creator!

I.M. Pei, a dedicated modernist, started his long-standing career with designing buildings for a New York real estate developer. Sadly, he ended it as one of the most revered architects in the world in early May 2019.

However, he made his biggest international mark,, with a smaller but far more contentious project of refurbishing the Louvre Paris. Pie also became the Pritzker laureate in 1983 for providing the world with some wonderful architectural marvels like Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado in 1955, and the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing.

As observed by President Mitterrand, Louvre was in need of renovation so as to accommodate a huge increase in tourists. Thus, Mr. Pei proposed building a large pyramid-like structure in the center of the ancient Cour Napoleon. It was proposed to act as a grand entrance to the museum and to engage the flux. The National Gallery Project helped Mr. Pei to get the renovation of the museum in Paris done. He was soon found in the limelight due to widespread controversy, being accused of defacing one of the world’s greatest landmarks.

It indeed looks more beautiful in the Darkness!

Conspiracies around the Pyramid:

  • The Pyramid also became the center of some conspiracy theories in the country as well as the world. The pyramid was commissioned by President Mitterrand and theoretically, it is said that he ordered to have 666 glass panels in the design, which is called the number of beasts, a demonic number. The entire pyramid is based on the number”6”. 
  • It is so much more than an Architectural theory. The agnatic pyramid also became popular due to Dan Brown’s novel entitled “Da Vinci Code”. In the book, the main character also talks about President Mitterrand’s strange desire of having a glass pyramid with 666 panels built outside the famous museum in Paris.
  • According to Dominique Stezepfandt’s book, François Mitterrand, Grand Architecte de l’Univers, there are many other conspiracy theorists which say, that the pyramid is typically symbolic to the elite as well as their associates. The freemasons have supported the science and opposed the reigns of the Christian Church eternally. They have often be referred to as the “Satanists”.
  • According to these theories, the powers are commissioned through symbols out of which one is the symbol of the “Pyramid”. These signs co-exist in the sphere of nature, which is remarkably a part of all the spheres of society, whether it is political, commercial, or educational. So, why was this chosen to be a pyramid?

A few more Theories:

  • The experts say that the pyramid internally has thirteen layers. It is similar to thirteen horizontal lines in the pyramid, which defines the so-called top-down organizational rule with leaders at the top. The middle part is symbolic to the middle class who have resources to educate their children and live moderately. Whereas, the common people are at the lowermost strata.
  • Some beliefs are based upon the fact that the pyramid can produce, resonate, and reflect the energy of some sort. It is also believed by some that there were some dark rituals performed inside the pyramid soon after its inauguration night on March 29, 1989, by the elites. Everything seems to indicate that the structure is much more than an architectural marvel. However, will we ever know the truth about the Louvre Paris?
  • What resulted from that day, however, was not Mr. Pei’s argument, true as it may have been, but President Mitterrand’s determination. The pyramid opened in the spring of 1989, and the elegance of the finished building, not to mention its geometric precision, won over most, if not all, of its opponents.

Within a few years, the pyramid has become an accepted, and generally admired, symbol of a re-energized Paris. And like the Kennedy Library, the John Hancock Tower and another controversial Pei project from the 1980s, the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, the design stood as a measure not just of I. M. Pei’s talent, but also of his patience and perseverance.

As far as Louvre Paris is concerned, Pie argued that his glass pyramid was merely an updated version of the traditional pyramid, a simple geometric form. It was rigorously rational, in other words, and in that sense classically French.

Intricately designed Structure of the Pyramid!

Architecture and Planning:

The Idea:

  • As an Architect myself, I would like to say that the built space is responsive to its context with respect to a Heritage Classical Museum and solves its purpose.
  • Louvre was basically an underground addition within the central courtyard representing the main entrance for the visitors to the museum, with no visual impact on the existing structure. One can easily go down through a spiral staircase or a lift to the reception area joining all the existing museum spaces.
  • Its form is symbolic of the Giza, which in itself is a historic, sensitive, and figurative form. The form is proportionate to Giza; however, it still maintains its individuality depicting strength, stability, power, and presence.
Beauty lies in the smaller Details!

The Materials used and the Unique Planning:

  • The built space is responsive to the courtyard as well. Pie’s redesigned courtyard draws great influence from the geometric work of the French landscape architect, Le Notre.
  • One inverted glass pyramid serves as a skylight to illuminate the underground spaces. The glass and steel structure connects the visitor entrance to the entire existing structure. Moreover, it is visible in the night sky too.
  •  The material showcases a marvelous contrast, giving a sense of a transparent reflection of the Louvre.
  • Thin steel lines create a frame that is nowhere near differentiating spaces yet connecting them. The glass of the pyramid in itself an engineering marvel. It was a transparent glass (before, glass used to have green color in them), particularly designed for the Louvre Pyramid.
  •  The circulation is a continuous axial flow of spaces and corridors if you closely look at its plan.
  •  A spiral staircase blends seamlessly within the space, enclosing a lift within its cylindrical pedestal to the busy lobby, which is never visible from the courtyard. For the museum, some storage spaces have also been created within the lobby.

The great “Mona Lisa” peacefully resides in this modern art skylight gallery which on its own has a great story to tell, also conveyed beautifully in Dan Brown’s novel “Da Vinci Code”.

This structure in true words is an epitome of Pie’s quote, “I believe that architecture is a pragmatic art. To become art it must be built on a foundation of necessity.”

Image Courtesy: Somya Suneja