AD Classics: Le Grande Louvre / I.M. Pei

© Reji K. A

In 1981, the newly elected French president, Francois Mitterrand, launched a campaign to renovate cultural institutions throughout France.  One of the most advantageous of those projects was the renovation and reorganization of the Louvre.  In 1983 after touring Europe and the United States, President Mitterrand commissioned the Chinese American architect, I.M. Pei.  It was the first time that a foreign architect was enlisted to work on the Louvre museum.

Completed in 1989, ’s renovation redesigned Cour Napoleon, the main court of the Louvre, in order to alleviate the congestion from the thousands of daily visitors.  A new grand entrance provided a convenient, central lobby space separate from the galleries, which provided focal point for the cyclical process of one’s experience through the museum.   In addition to providing a new entrance to the Louvre, Pei’s design featured a new underground system of galleries, storage, and preservation laboratories, as well as a connection between the wings of the museum.  The addition and relocation of the supporting spaces of the museum allowed for the Louvre to expand its collection and place more work on exhibit.

© Flavio Bragaia

Pei’s design of the Louvre addition implemented a large glass and steel pyramid that is surrounded by three smaller triangles that provide light to the space below Cour Napoleon.  For Pei, the glass pyramid provided a symbolic entry that had historical and figural importance that reinforced the main entry.

“Formally, it [the pyramid] is the most compatible with the architecture of the Louvre…, it is also one of the most structurally stable of forms, which assures its transparency, as it is constructed of glass and steel, it signifies a break with the architectural traditions of the past. It is a work of our time.” – I.M.  Pei

© Greg Kristo

The monumental appearance of the glass and steel pyramid fixed in the middle of the court provides a central focal point that compliments the scale and design of the Louvre. The scale of the large pyramid, which is designed to the same proportions of the famous Pyramid of Giza, does not detract from the historical nature of the museum rather the juxtaposition of the modern structure and the French Renaissance architectural style of the museum creates a complimentary effect that enhances each of the design’s details and beauty.  So much so that the sloping glass walls of the pyramid begin to pay homage to the mansard roofs of the museum, and the opaque, heavy qualities of the Louvre’s façade exaggerate the transparency of Pei’s design.

With the history of the Louvre dating back to the 12th Century, one could imagine that the modern design implemented by Pei would not be fully accepted by the historically enamored Parisian’s.  The site of the Louvre was originally a dungeon and fortress for Philippe Auguste, which was later transformed into a palace under King Francis I in 1546. It wasn’t until 1793 that Louis XVI had turned the Louvre into a museum.  The Louvre has been deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Parisian people.   Much of the criticism surrounding the renovation was not because of the addition to the museum itself, but more of an issue of styles.  Most felt that Pei’s modern design aesthetic would clash with the Louvre’s Classical architecture; appearing as an alien form.

© Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

However, as the decades have passed and has modernized Pei’s design has become embedded in the Parisian culture.  It is regarded with similar significance to that of the Eiffel Tower becoming an icon for the people of Paris, as well as the world.  Pei’s design has become synonymous with the image of the Louvre marking it as an inseparable entity from the museum and of Paris.

Architect: I.M. Pei
Location: Paris, France
Project Year: 1983-1989
Photographs: Flavio Bragaia, Greg Kristo, Reji K. A

Cite: Kroll, Andrew. "AD Classics: Le Grande Louvre / I.M. Pei" 18 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • DDSF

    I never comment on this site. It feels to me like talking loudly in church.

    But this story does bring up a memory worth repeating:

    My visit to Paris with my partner (now of 24 years) to see our beloved friend Bruno (who was a costumer on such films as Anthony and Cleopatra with Ms. Taylor and Ms. Burton ) in 1989. Bruno was very ill and we knew this was the last time we’d see him.

    We stayed with his sister at her unbelievable old estate, tucked inside a city block on Blvd. Montparnasse. Imagine that.

    We did a little tour of Paris one day in her Volvo and as we passed the newly updated Louvre the anger and dismay at the pyramid was startling.

    Apparently much of Paris really hated it.

    Bruno and his sister sure did.

    I wonder what the sentiment is now.

  • up_today_arch

    I always like this piramid, since I’v seen it first time…

  • brb001

    Paris—despite all of its history, tradition and protests against the new—seems to do a wonderful job of incorporating alien, contemporary architectural forms, whether the Eiffel Tower, Centre Pompidou or Louvre Pyramid. These projects were all considered eyesores in their time yet today seem to fit in quite nicely.

  • Leonardo Ximenes

    10 years ago, as an Arch student, I recollect most of the people in my university disliking it. I actually had the 1st chance to see it live a month ago, and it was as I always imagined…a diamond necklace around Louvre’s old neck!
    Functionally, it doesn’t only organize the flow of the museum, but also helps to anchor the enormous (and otherwise loose and bare) Cour Napoleon. On an urban scale, the tip of the pyramid reinforces the visual line connecting old Paris and La Defense. Its transparency provides a delicate insertion on that historical site, but with a delightful twist: seeing the Louvre’s main facade through the fragmented glasswork is like seeing it through Picasso’s eyes. I can’t possibly imagine a better design for the site.

    • Jiao

      The architect is one of my favourite cause can you recall any other Chinese architect?I have never been abroad but I visited some of Pei’ s works in China.From then I came to love the old man.(sorry for my poor English)



  • Veritas

    “…it signifies a break with the architectural traditions of the past. It is a work of our time.”

    No, Mr. Pei, it signifies two idiotic sentiments. 1) that the past is an independent construct that can be separated, and 2) That architecture is representative of times rather than places. The reverse is true.

    And then people call this “progressive”. Ladies and gentlemen, progress does not mean “forward”, it mean improvement.

    It’s a terrible juxtaposition. The museum: warm, personal, crafted; The pyramid: cold, impersonal, machined. It’s such an egotistical work, it makes me sick.

  • Dorian

    Hello, just a friendly message to signal a small mistake in the title. It’s ‘Le Grand Louvre’ without an E . ‘Louvre’ is masculine not feminine, therefore ‘grand’ and not ‘grande’.

  • Ting Zhang

    Pei fought with the Parisian’s stereotype of preserving their “patrimony” and “national pride” as sacred and untouchable by creating transparency and openness to optimize human experience. This innovation of the Louvre did not simply change the human relationship with this monument, more importantly, it changed the cultural value regarding the preservation of the Louvre. Preserving does not mean unchanging. The best way of preserving this cultural legacy is maximizing the influence it has on human being. This transformation on cultural value shows the power of modern architecture.