THE SCAR ON THE FACE OF FRANCE – OR IS IT?
It was once decried as an architectural "obscenity", but as the Louvre's glass pyramid celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this modernist pyramid plonked in the middle of the French capital has now become a cherished national icon.
Thirty years ago, a “gigantic, ruinous gadget” appeared in the middle of Paris. The thoroughly modern 22-meter-high glass-and-steel pyramid flanked by three smaller pyramids seated in the courtyard of a centuries-old palace that was once the residence of French kings was tantamount to blasphemy and so angered French traditionalists in 1989 that its Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei, was hounded on the streets.
“The first year and a half was really hell,” said Pei, who will be 102 next month, “I couldn’t walk the streets of Paris without people looking at me as if to say: ‘There you go again. What are you doing here? What are you doing to our great Louvre?’”
Pei who was commissioned by the then president of France, François Mitterand, first unveiled his design in 1984 and the reactions were as sharp as they were brutal. Critics slammed Pei’s pyramid as “an eyesore”, “an architectural joke”, “an anachronistic intrusion of Egyptian death symbolism in the heart of Paris.” Such was the hatred for this project that there was a real fear that during its construction, Mitterand may not get re-elected and the project would be stopped. So it had to be constructed out of sequence: the glass pyramid structure was built first, before the base. The rational being was that it would have been harder to abandon the project once it existed in concrete form.
But as with the outcry over the “useless and monstrous” Eiffel Tower in 1889, the French have had a change of heart about the Pyramide du Louvre.
Pei's masterstroke was to create a subterranean entrance hall - the Hall Napoléon - with access to the three different wings offering space for shops, restaurants and other amenities, it also provided another entrance, and, perhaps most important, gave the centuries-old institution a distinctive symbol.
Such was his success that the conservative French daily Le Figaro, which had led the campaign against his "atrocious" design for years, celebrated his genius with a supplement on the 10th anniversary of the pyramid's opening in 1999.
The pyramid as we see it today is unchanged from Pei’s vision. It consists of 70 triangular and 673 diamond-shaped glass panes however some conspiracy theorist claim that there are in fact 666 which is the sign of the devil! Standing 22 metres high and to ensure the pyramid’s glass remains clean trained mountain climbers scale the shape to polish the glass.
Now, Pei’s pyramid is heralded as a French monument, the structure has been the venue for public gatherings, fashion shows, music video’s screenings, and political rallies. It’s also been a favourite backdrop for tourists visiting the French capital. In large measures, Pei’s addition has helped the Louvre become Europe’s most popular museum on social media, with over 3 million geotagged images.
The Louvre’s current director, Jean-Luc Martinez, believes that Pei’s architecture has been central to the museum’s growth and success. More than 10 million people passed through the museum’s doors last year, compared to that of 3.5 million in 1989.
To celebrate its 30th birthday, French artist JR created a huge new trompe l'oeil installation that created the illusion of a larger pyramid emerging from rocks as if it had been discovered by an archaeological excavation.
Article provided courtesy of Luxury Living Magazine