Part I The Four Elements of The Grand Louvre (Glass Pyramid)
During a long period of development of designing, exhibition design is no doubt an art developed from designing, which reaches to a certain degree. The exhibited design is actually a kind of display designs.
Museum exhibition is a typical exhibition art, and the Louvre Museum, which is one of the world’s largest, oldest and most famous museums, is a distinct example. With 400,000 collections, the Louvre Museum owns not only Mona Lisa, Venus and Nike de Samothrace these three treasures of the museum, but also the glass pyramid in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace.
The Louvre Pyramid is constructed by Chinese American Ieoh Ming Pei. Although before constructing the pyramid, Ieoh Ming Pei faced with great pressure from the publicity, the Louvre Pyramid which once was blamed when it was completed has been a symbol of the Louvre Palace. Its position can be put on a par with the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
There must be a reason for the birth of each successful design and the Louvre Pyramid is no exception. The reason for the success of the Louvre Pyramid is that it thoroughly reflects the four connotations of designing.
(I) Morality is the root—the people-oriented thought
Morality is the root. From the perspective of morality, the Louvre Pyramid possesses its unique humanistic care. The pyramid is the tomb originally built of stones for the dead in ancient Egypt. The Louvre Pyramid was built of glass—a kind of transparent material and it is an artwork designed for the living.
A transparent pyramid generates respects towards the old Palace, the history and the art culture by reflecting brown stones consisted in around architectures. At the same time, it is full of vitality and opens to the future. In this museum admitted millions of tourists each year, this glass pyramid in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace can hold more tourists. It perfectly meets the requirements of real life—the morality requirement of being beneficial to people.
It sufficiently reflects the feature of the design conception of the pyramid—reasonable. The feature is mentioned above—generating respects to the past and facing the future.
This people-oriented design notion is revealed naturally in the Louvre Pyramid. This makes it well-accepted by people though it is breaks the convention with originality.
(II) The branch of art—a symbol of transparency
As a well-accepted design, the high artistry of the Louvre Pyramid is self-evident. It is hard to imagine other than this pyramid, what kind of solid expansion could be integrated with the dim old Palace ravaged by time. The pond in the courtyard is cut into an outside-wide and inside-narrow trapezoid plane by a huge square. This is used as the new main entry of the Louvre Museum. Several triangles rotate 90 degrees in the pond and form a delicate flat combination, showing great ingenuity from lines, structures or layouts. The main pyramid is enclosed with the pond and its body shines with light blue. This is a clever design as a result of using the rays of light and the water. The light blue of the pyramid body echoes the dark blue in the roof of the main construction of the Louvre Palace. The architectural form of equilateral triangle coordinates the spatial relationship with the in-tilted roof, making the whole outside space more beautiful. The underground installation—three light wells outside the pond are covered with three small-scaled glass pyramids. They light up the main pyramid from different angles. The water columns spewing from the pond strengthen the innervation effect of the glass pyramids, endowing the immobile architectures with vitality.
Concise modern style constructions are inside the huge glass pyramid, but the design is not confined to usual functionalism and pragmatism. By partial inversion, rotation, retraction, moving forward and backward and superb optical design, the whole underground space is plentiful and vivid, without the sense of depression and baldness. In the corner of the middle hall, a huge spiral stair with beautiful curves connects the platform which is high up in the air formed with the four square columns from the around. The veneering is milky marbles, which keeps unified and harmony with the decorative style of the around halls. It makes a transition from steel structure to glass structure. The huge space truss of the pyramid is combined by the refined steel chord members on the platform support. The truss is covered with a large area of natural color glass. Using the triangle as the topic, the body is formed with beautiful geometry layout. Throughout the glass of the pyramid, the graceful architectural form of the classical style Louvre Palace can be seen clearly. The pyramid with edges and corners makes a sharp comparison of new and old, bright and dark, and light and heavy with the around massive French classical style architectural complex. A relative unification is formed from contradiction. It is with special artistic effect.
(III) The branch of science—the art of structure
The Louvre Pyramid looks ordinary from its structure, but it is not as simple as we think. The construction materials are of technological features and make the simple stainless steel stair unique. Without any pillars, its own spiral shape supports the stair. The height of the whole stair is 8.8 meters. The test of the height is quite shocking.In order to show a beautiful appearance, the thickness of each stainless steel plate cannot be too thick. So the constructing of the pyramid is full of wisdom. The height of the pyramid is 21 meters, the bottom width is 30 meters, and the side is consisted with 673 rhombus-shaped glass. The site area is about 2,000 square meters. The weight of the pyramid is 200 tons. The net weight of the glass is 105 tons. The metal truss is only 95 tons. That is to say, the carrying capacity of the truss outweighs its own weight. Experts consider this glass pyramid is not only a masterpiece of showing modern art style, but also a unique attempt applying modern science and technology. The structure of the main body is a huge and complicated cable net system. The claw pieces educed from the cable net are fixed at each corner of the glass. Each parallel glass of the four sides is supported by four pairs of crossing claw pieces. Each pair of claw pieces combine the inner and outer claws to fix the whole. There is no seam between each piece of glass. This is to avoid overlapping weight of the glass without impacting on the carrying capacity of each cable. In order to avoid sags and crests on the pyramid surface, the prestressing force of all cables and chord members is calculated dedicatedly, and they exactly undertake the weight of the glass.
(IV) The Economy Benefit is the Result—the Louvre Pyramid Effect
As a design perfectly displays its morality, scientificity and artistry, its economic benefit will achieve good results. The Louvre Pyramid brings bright spot and attractiveness to the old Louvre Museum. According to surveys, among the most popular artworks in the Louvre Museum, the Louvre Pyramid ranks the third place, behind Mona Lisa and Venus. A third of tourists insist walking into the Louvre Palace from the pyramid, neglecting the other two entries inferior to the pyramid. Tourists would rather wait in a long queue on the courtyard. Currently, the underground courtyard beneath the glass pyramid has an attendance of 7.5 million tourists admiring for the pyramid every year. Since the world’s popular book The Da Vinci Code has been sold like hot cakes, the Louvre Pyramid brings out a series of pyramid effects. Tourists who read the book and watched the movie come to Louvre Palace by its reputation. The economic benefit they created is amazing.
Generally speaking, from morality, artistry, scientificity or economic benefit, the Louvre Pyramid is no doubt an excellent design work. The combination of modern technology and historical architecture is perfectly integrated in the Louvre Pyramid. It is dignified as a shining “flying diamond” on the courtyard of the Louvre Palace.
Part II The Story Behind
Why was it necessary to make some alterations to the Louvre?
The Louvre City was built as a barrier in Year 1983. At that time, it took the recommendation to alter this place into an attraction tourist site since the Cour Napoleon, with invasion of weeds, was not quite safe at night. From the perspective of urban planning, the Richelieu Wing was opened from the Louvre, which could be regarded as another incredible creation. As a matter of fact, the passages of Li Kalliel Palace and the Richelieu Wing had been occupied by the Ministry of Finance and were never open to public. But after opening the passages, the Louvre was altered into a much safer place as the bridge connecting the Seine River from one side to another. The Louvre, firstly built in 12th Century, was a castle originally and it had been used as a palace in later period. One of the issues at that time focused on how to alter the palace into a modern museum. Now that the display space inside the Louvre was enormously large-scaled; however, as it lacked of space for building infrastructure, such as mechanical equipment, storage of arts & crafts, restaurants, coffee houses and stores, the Louvre Palace would be shut up without making any alterations as a general museum; in that case, the Seine River might still have been divided by such barrier. The Louvre Palace was like a big house, huge and dark, which looked quite frightening but without any attraction to most people. Therefore, either storage room and hardware systems or a fascinating entrance were necessary to be altered of this museum.
Why pyramid was used to alter the Louvre?
Formally speaking, pyramid was the building which matched the Louvre Palace most, especially its retroverted roof. Besides, the pyramid was also the most stable form, thereby satisfying the design requirement of high transparency. The glasses and metal constructions adopted by pyramid stood for the characteristics of our age which completely separated with the past. If it adopted stones instead, the whole space might turn into an enclosed world beyond reach. On the contrary, the glass structure got access to the underground world and the building as well. In case looking up into the sky through steel & glass structure standing beneath the pyramid, it would be more vivid to feel the magnificent feature of the Baroque architecture. The French still remembered that Napoleon had gone on an expedition with Egypt, but the truth was, such event could never be regarded as the reason why I.M.Pei adopted the design (of pyramid). The glass pyramid designed by Pei had nothing to do with the stone pyramid, as the former was built for the dead, but the latter was constructed for the living people.
Support and Opposition
As for Pei, the design plan of the Louvre was the challenge second to none in his whole life. Well, it took him total 13 years to finish the design of the Louvre from beginning to end. With a rough beginning, this design had been criticized now and then, while ninety percent of the Parisians were against this project in the first place. The fact that, most people expected the Louvre Palace, which was considered as the landmark of France to remain its appearance as it used to be, was not surprising at all. During the period from the year 1984 to 1985 after the design plan of the pyramid was exhibited to public, the argument for that matter had become more and more fierce and on the other side, Pei made himself disagreeable everywhere in Paris.
Madame Pompudoaur, Catherine Deneuve and Pierre Boulez were supporters of Pei. From the year 1984 to 1985, the Parisians were extremely against this project. Michel Guy, who used to be the Minister of Culture of the Pompidou Government, might be the mildest critic during such period. In addition, there were another three critics co-published the best seller called the Confusion of Paris. They criticized Pei to have altered the historic spot like the Louvre Palace into a huge market of art in his work of design, and in so doing to please the majority who had not the faintest interest in art. Due to her experience in the Pompidou Center, Madame Pompudoaur fully understood the necessity to make art for the general public. Since Mrs. Deneuve, one of the famous performance artists in France, could never make any performance in her films just for the upper class, likewise, the rich collection of the Louvre shall be available to the public. It might also be paraphrased in Malraux’s words that: the outstanding works of mankind deserve to be appreciated by the most people.
Another focus of comments then was people’s fear of the “American Popular Culture”, which had acquired enthusiastic support from President Mitterrand though, but still was strongly objected by most people concerning such issue. On Jan. 23, 1984, this design was caught in a dilemma by the Supreme Council of Historical Relics. At that conference, they described Pei’s design as nothing but a huge piece of rubbish, and it was beyond understanding. When Pei explained that the pyramid looked like a sparkling diamond, their answer was:” No, Sir. It shall look very ugly, or as the same as a cheap fake diamond.”
It was not surprising to see the refused records of design plans of the Louvre in history. We shall bear in mind that, Francois Mansart had designed fifteen different layouts of the Palace for the Louis XIV to select three hundred years ago, but all of them were refused unluckily. After that, Bernini came to Paris but eventually, he returned to Italy quite depressed.
Jacques Chirac, the Mayor of Paris during that period, could be taken as another big shot to have initiated the entire case. Actually, he was not very supportive of the design plan in the first place, and he even required Pei to build a pyramid model with the ratio of one to one before starting his construction.
At the time, Pei had met with Jacques Chirac, trying to explain the design thoroughly. The meeting was arranged at the Hotel de Ville. Unexpectedly, Jacques Chirac was quite friendly to Pei during their contact, and thus, his comments were cited in the headlines on various newspapers the very next day as, “I really enjoy the whole design of this project in terms of the city, but I am not quite sure about the size and ratio of the pyramid. I had demanded for building a model with equal ratio to its entity before, and in that case, we might have a vivid understanding of our future pyramid”.
The press finally took the suggestion of Jacques Chirac. Because of the limited time, some people advised Pei to use crane to lift the huge parts of the pyramid off one by one. Jacques Chirac stared at the pyramid model comprised of steel and said,” Not bad”, then he went away. There were less and less opinions against the design of pyramid since that moment on.
The pyramid today was often recognized together with the Eiffel Tower as the landmark and symbol of Paris, which was compliment of course. But the different part lied in that, people were unable to see the pyramid from the skyline in Paris unless they entered into the Cour Napoleon. By contrast, the Eiffel Tower was incomparable because it could be seen from everywhere in Paris.
Inspiration of the Design
The glass pyramid symbolized the entrance of the Louvre. It was just right to fall on the centre of gravity between the three atriums, and lots of people (including Michel Guy) expected me to add several doors which could divide the Palace into separated museums, but I refused as it might cause great trouble to the tourists. I believe a large-scale museum with multi-functions like the Louvre must offer a main entrance to tourists. Artists who showed clear interest were suggested to select their own routes to enter the Museum in advance, trying to avoid the constantly increased visitors; however, as for common tourists, there must be an entrance to central place but it was not always the only entrance for them. The vital significance of the pyramid shall be that, it had provided with an entrance to central place for the building clusters which were connected but without centre of gravity. We took the size of the pyramid into account from the very beginning. It shall highlight the central position of the Louvre on one hand; on the other hand, it shall not cover up the solemn and majesty of the Museum. The most amazing part of the Louvre design plan was not necessarily the pyramid but the alterations made to space of atriums. Comparing with the atrium of Richelieu Wing altered in accordance with Pei’s design plan, now with sculptures displayed inside and day lighting on the top of glass ceiling, the atrium looked fabulous. Before 1989, the Louvre Museum was located by the riverside of the Seine River, and its main entrance was designed at Denon Plaza. Consequently, it took quite a long period before we started to work on the problem of Richelieu Wing. Well, the Richelieu Wing at that time belonged to the Ministry of Finance. Due to failure of the socialist party in the general election of the year 1986, considering the Minister of Finance would rather stay where they were, President Mitterrand made the promise that the Ministry of Finance would be moved into the new building in Bercy. The alterations to the Richelieu Wing had vital importance to success of constructing great Louvre Palace; the Cour Marly was the formal entrance for ministers, while this place was always full of parked vehicles. It was such a waste from the perspective of museum layout. During the discussion on alterations in the Arcachon Meeting of 1984, Pei proposed to add a roof on the top of the Cour Marly as well as another neighboring courtyard used by the Ministry of Finance. As a matter of fact, the effort of adding glass ceiling on these courtyards might cost a little energy but would greatly expand the space of displaying sculptures. The Chevaux de Marly today was originally located at the Place de la Concorde, but apparently, the two places shall be separated sooner or later. As France was hoping to move the Chevaux de Marly indoor, the Louvre Statues Preservation Bureau offered great support for building two courtyards covered up with glass ceiling.
With respect of architecture, the Louvre was nothing near so good as either the Cisterician Cathedral designed by Le Thoronet or the Gothic Churches created by Chartres; however, the huge rocks of the Louvre was the perfect witness of eight hundred years’ history of France and meanwhile, the truth that the Museum was located in the center of Paris shall never be ignored. First of all, President Mitterrand moved the Ministry of Finance from the Louvre into Bercy. Such an alteration had transferred the focus of the Louvre to the location of the Cour Napoleon, which was also the place of the pyramid. Besides, any design implemented here shall be matched with the Louvre.
Process of Construction
Back to the 12th Century, the Louvre was a castle where city guardians used to store their food and ammunition. As the building had been continuously expanded in hundreds of years, and once upon a time it was taken as the Royal Palace; in later period, several kings had exhibited their works of art here, not until it was in the age of Napoleon that the Louvre turned into a public museum. The modern Louvre could be regarded as a museum though; its entity would impossibly satisfy the needs of multi-functions. During the first involvement in 1983, Pei had made up his mind to resolve this issue. There might be possibility of finding spaces out inside the original building, but Pei would rather not destroy any pretty room in the Louvre. As a result, the only way to resolve such issue was to locate the storage room and passage underground; so it definitely had to dig down (inside the Louvre).
Now let’s move to the Cour Carree and the Cour Napoleon. It was necessary to figure out what might the underground be like before digging. The Cour Carree, which was located at the place of castle in old times, was the most ancient parcel of field in the Louvre; thus, the only way was to dig down along the field with protection. The Cour Napoleon was more like a shot for us. The design team found the old archeological drawing, and the Archeological Consultants were deeply convinced of the accuracy of these data, while luckily, they were proved to be correct after digging later. Fortunately, there was almost anything with historical value underground the Cour Napoleon. It took as long as one year to excavate the two atriums and it was surely, could be implemented as per original design. Otherwise, the entire project might be called off at that point.