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AN ICON TURNS 25

Posted on March 13, 2014

Louvre IM PeiI.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid has become so integral to the image of the museum, and to Paris itself, that it’s hard to believe it was unveiled just 25 years ago, this month.

“Today, people will say ‘it’s always been there’ and that’s what we wanted them to think,” says C.C. Pei, son of I.M. and one of the lead architects on the project, now co-owner of Pei Partnership Architects.

Of course, at the time the team designed it, many Parisians felt that an expansive glass-and-metal piece of futurist architecture in the center of the classical palace was an outrageous affront.

With this in mind, the famed architect aimed for a design that shared the city’s DNA. He strolled the Louvre’s galleries and the gardens of Paris, drawing inspiration from French landscape architect André Le Nôtre, known for a highly geometric expression to the natural landscape.

The grayish sky of Paris and palace’s slate roofs provided the color palette for the pyramid’s glass.

“It was a way to say ‘it’s not really here. You are really just seeing the sky,’” says C.C.

As important as the aesthetic considerations were the political ones. Pei’s team strove to win over potential critics. This meant creating a full-size model of the pyramid in the courtyard with cables pulled taut by a crane, so then-Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac could personally review it.

The pyramid was just the tip of the iceberg that made up the massive redesign project below it, totally transforming the Louvre. But it was the first piece that Pei’s team completed, to ensure it could not be scrapped should the political winds shift.

“It was as if we were constructing a house and built the roof first,” says C.C. “It’s not usually done that way.”

The results speak for themselves. When the team started, the museum had less than 1 million visitors per year. It now sees close to 12 million, making it the biggest visitation of any museum in the world.

Read the story in Rhapsody.

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