The Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre) is a large glass and metal pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) in Paris. The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1989, it has become a landmark of the city of Paris.
Design and construction
Commissioned by the President of France, François Mitterrand, in 1984, it was designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. The structure, which was constructed entirely with glass segments and metal poles, reaches a height of 21.6 metres (71 ft). Its square base has sides of 34 metres (112 ft) and a base surface area of 1,000 square metres (11,000 sq ft). It consists of 603 rhombus-shaped and 70 triangular glass segments. The pyramid structure was engineered by Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Ltd. of Montreal (Pyramid Structure / Design Consultant) and Rice Francis Ritchie of Paris (Pyramid Structure / Construction Phase).
The pyramid and the underground lobby beneath it were created because of a series of problems with the Louvre's original main entrance, which could no longer handle the enormous number of visitors on an everyday basis. Visitors entering through the pyramid descend into the spacious lobby then ascend into the main Louvre buildings.
For design historian Mark Pimlott, "I.M. Pei’s plan distributes people effectively from the central concourse to myriad destinations within its vast subterranean network... the architectonic framework evokes, at gigantic scale, an ancient atrium of a Pompeiian villa; the treatment of the opening above, with its tracery of engineered castings and cables, evokes the atria of corporate office buildings; the busy movement of people from all directions suggests the concourses of rail termini or international airports."
Several other museums have duplicated this concept, most notably the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The Dolphin Centre, featuring a similar pyramid, was opened in April 1982, by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The construction work on the pyramid base and underground lobby was carried out by the Vinci construction company.
In 1839, according to one newspaper account, in ceremonies commemorating the "glorious revolution" of 1830, "The tombs of the Louvre were covered with black hangings and adorned with tricolored flags. In front and in the middle was erected an expiatory monument of a pyramidal shape, and surmounted by a funeral vase."
The construction of the pyramid triggered many years of strong and lively aesthetic and political debate. Criticisms tended to fall into four areas: (1) the modernist style of the edifice being inconsistent with the classic French Renaissance style and history of the Louvre; (2) the pyramid being an unsuitable symbol of death from ancient Egypt; (3) the project being an immodest, pretentious, megalomaniacal folly imposed by then-President François Mitterrand; and (4) Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei being insufficiently French to be entrusted with the task of updating the treasured Parisian landmark.
Those criticizing the aesthetics said it was "sacrilegious" to tamper with the Louvre's majestic old French Renaissance architecture, and called the pyramid an anachronistic intrusion of an Egyptian death symbol in the middle of Paris. Meanwhile, political critics referred to the structure as Pharaoh Francois' Pyramid. Many still continue to feel the harsh modernism of the edifice is out of place.
During the design phase, there was a proposal that the design include a spire on the pyramid to simplify window washing. Pei objected, however, and this proposal was eliminated.
Urban legend of 666 panes
It has been claimed by some that the glass panes in the Louvre Pyramid number exactly 666, "the number of the beast", often associated with Satan. Dominique Stezepfandt's book François Mitterrand, Grand Architecte de l'Univers declares that "the pyramid is dedicated to a power described as the Beast in the Book of Revelation (...) The entire structure is based on the number 6."
The story of the 666 panes originated in the 1980s, when the official brochure published during construction did indeed cite this number (even twice, though a few pages earlier the total number of panes was given as 672 instead). The number 666 was also mentioned in various newspapers. The Louvre museum, however, states that the finished pyramid contains 673 glass panes (603 rhombi and 70 triangles). A higher figure was obtained by David A. Shugarts, who reports that the pyramid contains 689 pieces of glass. Shugarts obtained the figure from the Pei's offices.
Elementary arithmetic allows for easy counting of the panes: each of the three sides of the pyramid without an entrance has 18 triangular panes and 17 rows of rhombic ones arranged in a triangle, thus giving rhombic panes (171 panes total). The side with the entrance has 11 panes fewer (9 rhombic, 2 triangular), so the whole pyramid consists of rhombi and triangles, 673 panes total.
The myth resurfaced in 2003, when Dan Brown incorporated it in his best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, in which the protagonist reflects that "this pyramid, at President Mitterrand's explicit demand, had been constructed of exactly 666 panes of glass — a bizarre request that had always been a hot topic among conspiracy buffs who claimed 666 was the number of Satan." However, David A. Shugarts reports that according to a spokeswoman of the offices of Pei, the French President never specified the number of panes to be used in the pyramid. Noting how the 666 rumor circulated in some French newspapers in the mid-1980s, she commented: "If you only found those old articles and didn't do any deeper fact checking, and were extremely credulous, you might believe the 666 story."
The Pyramide Inversée (Inverted Pyramid) is a skylight in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall in front of the Louvre Museum. It looks like an upside-down and smaller version of the Louvre Pyramid.
Designed for a museum that attracted 4.5 million visitors a year, the pyramid proved inadequate by the time the Louvre's attendance had doubled in 2014. Between 2014 and 2017, the layout of the foyer area in the Cour Napoleon beneath the glass pyramid is undergoing a thorough redesign, including better access to the pyramid and the Passage Richelieu.
Pei's other glass pyramids
The same year the Louvre Pyramid opened, Pei included large glass pyramids on the roofs of the IBM Somers Office Complex he designed in Westchester County, New York. Pei returned again to the glass pyramid concept at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, opened in 1995.
In popular culture
Near the beginning of the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code, the main character Robert Langdon meets French Police Captain Bezu Fache in front of the Louvre pyramid. The Louvre Pyramid has become Pei's most famous structure.
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