A Second Look at the Louvre

The iconic I.M. Pei pyramid has been making 21st-century headlines.
15 May, 2017
When Emmanuel Macron became the youngest leader of France since Napoleon, he needed an iconic backdrop.
The new president – constantly mindful of French history and culture – delivered his May election victory speech in front of Musée du Louvre and the entrance pyramid that makes the museum instantly recognizable the world over.

What people don't always know is what it took to build the pyramid, or that elements of its design are linked to projects developed by the architects of the French Revolution. Modern architect I.M. Pei, now a centenarian himself, designed the pyramid after receiving a 1983 commission from former President François Mitterrand. The project was completed in 1989, as what Pei called "a work of our time."
Images: Archdaily
Behind the scenes, technicians and designers at the Metra firm in Italy were managing the materials that made the pyramid a reality – including 50 tons of aluminium and steel that was crucial to success.

The main pyramid is 21.6 meters high, with each base side running 35 meters long. The exterior surface is composed of 603 rhombus shapes and more than 70 triangles. The structure is a 200-ton diamond, almost half of which is the weight of the glass panels that have made the pyramid breathtaking, day and night, for almost 30 years. All that glass rests on aluminium frames that essentially function separately from the stainless steel pyramid frame, although the metals are connected by screws and fasteners.
Image: Emaze
Metra explains that the pyramid relies on "structural glazing," a technique in which glazed transparent parts are bonded to metal profiles. At the Louvre, the scaffold-like pyramid frame was coated with a fluorine carbon lacquer that helped it adhere to the sealants that hold the glass in aluminium profiles.

The end result is an uninterrupted external surface – and what became a new symbol of eternal Paris.
The Louvre's history dates back to the 12th century, and it was a palace prior to its final iteration as a museum. The National Assembly took the decision to transform the building into a home for the nation's art collection during the French Revolution, and the museum as we know it today first opened its doors in 1793. Since then, its French Renaissance architecture had served as cultural mecca at the heart of the Parisian city for nearly 200 years. For that reason, some critics were lukewarm about the modern architectural vision, metals and materials that Pei brought to the project.

Fair enough – some people still think the styles clash rather than complement – but the truth is that prior to the execution of Pei's vision, for which he recently received yet another accolade from the American Institute of Architects, the Cour Napoléon was, believe it or not, a parking lot. It's just as fair to argue that Pei's project restored the courtyard to its original grandeur and saved it from old Citroëns.
The overdue upgrades that Mitterrand championed meant sweeping changes to the entrance, and that's how most people envision Pei's pyramid, which is built to the same proportions as the Egyptian pyramid at Giza. Yet there are also three smaller pyramids made with the same glass and aluminium exteriors, which are part of the simultaneous expansion of the Louvre exhibition space at the time of the upgrade.

Those pyramids allow light into the underground halls beneath the entrance courtyard – and of course, the inverted pyramid that was added to the lobby in 1993. They remain a top attraction for more than 7 million visitors each year, who see the Pei pyramids as much of an attraction outside the Louvre as the priceless works of art within.
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