I.M Pei and the Louvre Pyramid

I.M Pei and the Louvre Pyramid

In the architectural field, the most significant measure of greatness is not whether a project will stand out in the present day but if it will retain its relevance for centuries to come. This is the standard that has been used by the American Insititute to select some of the excellent architectural designs that have been raised in various parts of the world. The Le Grand Louvre was finished in 1989, but it was not liked by most of the people in the society. However, the structure has been termed as one of France’s most essential twentieth-century architecture, and it is named as a  turning moment in the comprehension of the various ways to enrich historical architecture with a modernist spirit. Pei was given the opportunity to restructure and modernize the Louvre by President Francois Mitterrand, in 1983. He architect took more than four months while considering the scope of the project before he could agree to work on the project. This paper will seek to present the various factors that made the Louvre Pyramid folly to become of the world’s most astounding work of architecture.

The major challenge that made the Grand Louvre project a folly, in the beginning, was because the historic buildings that housed it were in a disrepair shape. Studies by Reis & Souza (2016) posit that the galleries in Louvre project were disjointed resulting in more than some visitor getting lost while walking through a series of corridors searching for the washrooms. It is worth pointing out that in the initial structure the galleries took a significant amount of the interior space, leaving the maintenance team minimal amount of space to use for management, storage, and take great care for the various pieces of art that were stored within the building. The building lack of space was because it was used for public administration purposes which consumed a significant amount of space that could have been used for the museum section. For instance, the French Minister of Finance had taken the Richelieu Wing for its offices, thereby, shuttering it from the public and did not agree to leave at the time when the museum desperately needed space to run its business effectively.  Thus, the insufficient space problem that was affecting the Grand Louvre Museum project was as a result of the use of more galleries that paved no way for management, storage, and care for the artworks, and usage of the facility for political administration.

Secondly, the Louvre architectural design was first perceived as folly because the architects did not design it to be used as a museum. Muge & Naciye (2015) claim that the ministry of finance had taken more than “half of the building since 1870, and the last most significant amendment on the structure being done in 1880”. After this era, the building has been receiving more than three million visitors who had to call for help about its confusing layout and a significant number of galleries with limited modern museum aids as well as amenities. For instance, Gabriela (1998) claim that there were only two significant washrooms and a small restaurant that was available for the public. This made the use of the facility a challenging venture as people had to carry their lunch and struggle with queues to the washrooms. Moreover, the people of Paris always had a problem with getting to the main door, which demotivated many from visiting the museum.

Even though the amount of artwork collected in the Louvre was increasing day after day, storage space remained the biggest threat. Researchers claim that hundreds of thousands of artwork items were collected, but only a small fraction of them could be presented on display because of the buildings limited gallery space (Muge & Naciye, 2015). The other significant pieces of art were stored or loan to other museums in the nation making a very hard for the people to gain access to some of the segments in the building. It was discovered that the Louvre’s need for space left only ten percent of the interiors for non-gallery usage, which were used essential functions such as storage, conservation of materials, as well as research (Muge & Naciye, 2015). The latter was very small since most of the modern museums were required to allocate more than fifty percent of their interior space for gallery use only.  Thus, the initial failure was as a result of poor management of space and the usage of the structure for purposes it was designed to serve.

The success that Pei realized in modernizing the structure was based on the fact that the government of France was willing to spend vast sums of money to ensure that the museum acquired the modern standards. Gabriela (2018) posits that if the “French heads of state have dedicated themselves to great building programs for their glory, they have also been serving the public trust.” Unlike the other parts of the world, the French leader does not abandon their cultural monuments in the fate of private philanthropists. This makes the revitalization of the Louvre project a statewide problem that needed to be corrected using any available resources. The government understood that the Louvre was a great source of revenue considering that over three million tourists from various parts of the world could visit the attractive area and enjoy the broad array of French artwork exhibited in the museum. They knew that if the building would be modernized, then it would attract and satisfy the needs of the visitors. Thus, I.M. Pei was given the much-needed resources and time to think of a better way to resolve the current spacial problems that were affecting the success of the building. Moreover, the government strictly regulated the finishing of the design to ensure that the assigned architect made no errors.

To modernize the building, Pei developed the glass pyramid that serves as an attraction and a way of extending the Louvre museum. Studies by Gabriela (1998) purport that the main aim was to broaden the museum using an underground building that could act as a bridge between the current wings of the building. The positioning of the new element in the courtyard offer sufficient distance to the existing historic building, but the mass of the glass pyramid contrasts the volume of the Louvre museum. Even though the scale used in designing the building was smaller as compared to that of surrounding monumental buildings it was percent since it does not overwhelm the existing historic structure.  When studied based on its rhythm and proportion, the Louvre Pyramid goes against the current arrangement with the visible form of the new structure being purely in a geometric construction. This implies that the pyramid shows no relationship to its closest urban elements. The new additions that Pei did on the existing building did not have any adverse effects on the environment, but instead, it positively contributes to the perfect image of the region (Muge & Naciye, 2015).

Another thing that makes Pei’s modification of the current structure a great success is that he did not use any precedents that were employed by the past designers in the Louvre (Gabriela, 1998). The fact is a series of precedence cannot back up an inter-cultural bridge as it limits itself to the predetermined culture. Thus, since Pei did not use any precedents used in the previous years, he had room to express his creativity by using the glass pyramid in the middle of the courtyard.

In conclusion, Pei’s success in modernizing the Louvre Pyramid was because he did not use any precedents and he had great support from the French government. The main problem that was affecting the monumental building was limited space for management and storage of the artworks. The royal designers did not intent the building to be used for museum purposes. Some section of the building was taken by French leaders resulting in the reduction of the overall amount of space used by the Museum to serve the needs of the visitors. The only hope was to modernize the building and provide an open entrance to help the tourists to gain easy access to the facility. Mr. Pei working with the French government used great creativity in designing the Louvre Pyramid that gave the area a new aesthetic value and did not harm the surrounding. The development of an underground building helped in the resolution of the space problem that was adversely affecting the success of the entire unit.

Pei’s success can also be attributed to the fact that took a considerable amount of time to study the major problem affecting the space problem in the building. The time taken was used to research and review the various modern features that could be used on the Louvre Pyramid to expand its volume and still maintain its great relationship with the environment. The government of France also took part in the restructuring of the magnificent building by closely reviewing the construction by the contractor till the end. This lowered the chances of errors being done on the structure that could adversely affect the environment, it cultural value, as well as, use in the society.

Images Page


These images were retrieved from https://www.architectmagazine.com/awards/aia-honor-awards/louvre-pyramid-the-folly-that-became-a-triumph_o




Gabriela, G. (1998). Creative Architectural Design: Reference Versus Precedence. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 15(3).

Muge, R. & Naciye, D. (2015). The Critical Lacuna Between New Contextual Juxtaposed and Freestyle Buildings in Historic Settings. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 32 (3).

Reis, A. T., & Souza, G. N. (2016). ‘Le Grand Louvre’project: An aesthetic and uses analysis. Arquiteturarevista12(2), 140.