When it comes to innovation in architecture, Paris has long been a leader and in the last 150 years, dozens of architectural gems have made it famous for originality and boldness. Just a few include the Eiffel Tower, Pompidou centre, the Louis Vuitton Foundation and La Grande Arche in the Défense business district. These new designs have sparked controversy and debate, often intensely disliked before being accepted. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to the Pyramid at the Louvre
How did the Pyramid at the Louvre come to be?
It was designed by the Chinese-American architect known as I. M. Pei. He also conducted a radical overhaul of the layout of the Louvre museum to present the collections and exhibitions in a more meaningful way. He added shops, cafes and other facilities and totally renovated the rather dated and dark inside. His brief also included a requirement to create a better entrance to cope with the queues of visitors. He designed the Pyramid.
When the project to build the giant glass pyramid was made public, it was massively unpopular. It is located on the old zero meridian of Paris in the courtyard of the ancient Louvre, a former fortress and home to the royals of France and has the exact same proportions as the Great Pyramid of Giza, a reminder of the importance of the Egyptian antiquities collection inside the museum.
Many felt that the intensely modern look would never harmonise with the ancient walls that surrounded it. The project went ahead, inaugurated on March 29, 1989 and opened to the public on April 1, 1989.
What’s to love about the Pyramid
When the pyramid finally opened, it won hearts and minds, a tour de force of art and innovation. Officially consisting of 673 glass panes created by master glass makers at St.-Gobains. The structure is constructed entirely of glass segments and metal poles. 95 tons of steel and 105 tons of aluminium support the structure. It reaches a height of 21.6 metres. The square base has sides of 34 metres and a base surface area of 1,000 square metres. It consists of 603 rhombus-shaped and 70 triangular glass segments. It’s commonly reported that there are 666 panes of glass – totally wrong! Allegedly the rumour started when the number was erroneously reported in an official brochure. Then the author Dan Brown reinforced the error in his book the Da Vinci Code.
During the daytime the Pyramid has a clear outline, it’s crisp and sparkling. At night it’s almost other worldly, lit up with a soft glow from inside, a bright streak of red like lightning runs from the tip. It makes for a fabulous main entrance to the Louvre Museum.
There are 5 Pyramids at the Louvre
There are actually five pyramids at the Louvre! The main pyramid entrance to the Louvre is accompanied by three smaller ones. They have been positioned to create light shafts which highlight parts of the museum’s collections. Finally, there is an inverted pyramid, visible from underground at the Carrousel shopping centre with an entrance to the Louvre.
Practical info for the Louvre
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Night opening until 9:45 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Free admission on the first Saturday of each month from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.