louvre pyramid

Discover the Iconic Louvre IM Pei Pyramid

Louvre Museum opened on August 10, 1793, with a modest but priceless collection of 537 paintings, with most of the works being from the royal collection or confiscated church property. In 1981, then-French President Francois Mitterrand proposed the Grand Louvre plan, which called for relocating the France Ministry that was housed in the Louvre and subsequently renovating the museum. As a part of the plan, I.M. Pei was tasked with constructing the glass pyramid in the Louvre's central Cour Napoléon.

Until the late 1980s when the pyramid opened, the Louvre had several street-level entrances. Since 1993, the underground space under the Pyramid has been been the main entrance of the museum. However, the story of the Pyramid has not been all smooth sailing with several design elements and even the choice of the architect being a source of contention for Parisians. Despite the controversies surrounding it the Louvre Pyramid has come to become an iconic structure, one that is symbolic of the museum itself.

Who Built the Louvre Pyramid?

Francois Mitterrand, then President of France, selected the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei as the architect of the Louvre Pyramid in 1983.

Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Ltd. of Montreal (Pyramid Structure / Design Consultant) and Rice Francis Ritchie of Paris (Pyramid Structure / Construction Phase) engineered the pyramid structure. The underground entrance to the museum, restaurants, auditorium, exhibition rooms, warehouses, a bookstore, and the base of Pei's famous glass pyramid was constructed by VINCI, a French construction company.

Why Was The Louvre Pyramid Built?

Louvre Pyramid

In 1981, French President Francois Mitterrand initiated a decade-long project: The Grand Louvre. The project was motivated by the fact that over the years as the museum's collection grew, and the management shifted to curatorial practices, the Louvre became short on space. Over the years, the Louvre was forced to release some of its holdings to other museums in Paris, including Musée d'Orsay. However, this did not do much in terms of easing the pressure on the museum's space and did not allow room to add any modern facilities such as restaurants, or washrooms. Additionally, the exteriors of the museum needed to be remodeled as well.

The Grand Louvre project involved removing the French Finance Ministry that was being housed in the northern wing of the museum from the building. This would allow room for expanding and renovating the Louvre. The pyramid, designed by I.M. Pei was designed to be the centerpiece of the project.

Construction of the Louvre Pyramid

Constructing the Louvre Pyramid and the three accompanying pyramidions was part of the first phase of the Grand Louvre project. The construction was completed in late 1987. The open space surrounding the pyramid was rebranded as Cour Napoléon and opened to the public on 14 October 1988.

The pyramid along with the vast lobby beneath it, which is known as Hall Napoléon, and the underground complex, was inaugurated on 29 March 1989 and opened to the public on April 1, 1989. 

Design of the Glass Pyramid at Louvre

Louvre Pyramid

I. M. Pei designed the pyramid in a way where the visitors would enter the pyramid and descend into the spacious lobby and then make their way into the main Louvre buildings.

Records state that the main pyramid consists of 603 rhombus-shaped glass segments and 70 triangular glass segments and metal poles integrating 95 tons of steel and 105 tons of aluminum. You will find 171 panes on three sides and 160 panes on the fourth side, which has the entrance to the pyramid. The pyramid is about 21.6 meters tall covering a base surface area of 1,000 square meters.

The glass pyramid, inspired by the Pyramid of Giza, was designed to provide a contemporary spin to the surroundings while acting as a central focal point. However, the modern structure is not supposed to take away from the traditional nature of the museum but rather complement it.

Reception & Controversy Around The Louvre Pyramid

While the construction of the Pyramid helped the Louvre Museum gain popularity nationally and internationally, the project was criticized by a few.

The Mitterrand's project encountered criticism, for a couple of reasons, including its cost. The Grand Louvre project cost over a billion euros. His decision to entrust the project design to I. M. Pei, a Chinese-American architect was also not well-received. Many worried that entrusting someone who was not well-versed with French culture would not be able to do justice to the task of modernizing and renovating an important Parisian landmark.

When he presented his design for the pyramid to the public in early 1984, the concerns of the dissenting voices were only further cemented. The choice of the shape of the structure, the pyramid, was seen as inauspicious as it also represented the symbol of death from ancient Egypt.

The campaign against the pyramid peaked in 1985, when the Culture Minister, Michel Guy, started an association to this end. Scholars Bruno Foucart, Sébastien Loste et Antoine Schnapper and photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson banded together to published an indictment: Paris mystifié: La grande illusion du Grand Louvre. The criticism was directed at the idea of contemporary architecture against the backdrop of classic French Renaissance style. Those criticizing the aesthetics said it was "sacrilegious" to tamper with the Louvre's majestic old French Renaissance architecture. Many began referring to the structure as Pharaoh François' Pyramid, a jab at what was seen as a rather megalomaniacal project by Mitterrand.

Despite all the criticisms, once the pyramid opened, it received great praise and has come to be one of the most recognizable architectural icons in France. The addition of the Louvre pyramid helped triple the Louvre's surface area, which meant that the exhibition space almost doubled from 31,000 to 60,000 square meters. The number of museum attendance also increased significantly after the pyramid was completed.

While most of the controversies and debates around the pyramid died since one continues to stand: that the pyramid has 666 panes. The rumor began sometime in the 1980s after the official brochure cited the number twice. 666 is a number associated with Satan and is usually referred to as "the number of the beast". The myth resurfaced in 2003 when The Da Vinci Code was published. In the book, the protagonist claims that the pyramid was constructed using 666 panes of glass at President Mitterrand's demand. However, Pei's office denied this and said that Mitterrand never specified the number of panes.

Interesting Louvre Pyramid Facts

Here are our top facts about the Pyramid that you need to know before visiting the museum:

Louvre Pyramid

 The Glass was Built from Scratch

It was I.M. Pei’s vision to have total transparency in the pyramid glass. Considering the faint bluish or greenish tint that glass holds, the mission to create a crystal clear glass was a big challenge. After months of exhaustive research and planning, his dream became a reality with the help of Saint Gobain, who produced a new glass from scratch specifically for this project. Within two years, the team together developed this 21.5-millimeter extra-clear laminated glass. Although no changes have been made in the last 30 years, Saint-Gobin had created enough glass to build two additional pyramids just in case any glass piece ever fell apart.

Louvre Pyramid

Cleaning the Pyamid Is No Joke

Imagine cleaning windows with a 71-foot sloped structure! Earlier, the museum hired mountaineers to scale the Pyramid and clean the glass. But, this solution could not be used long-term. In the 1990s, they began using a crane that would be driven up to the Louvre to hand a cleaning machine. In 2002, Advanced Robotic Vehicles, a Seattle-based company, created another robot that could be controlled using a remote. The robot, dubbed LL1, climbs the Pyramid is secured to the glass using suction cups, and climbs to the top on tracks. It features a squeegee and rotating brush that is used to clean the glass. However, for some tasks, such as descaling the glass, they still rely on ropers.

Louvre Pyramid
Louvre Pyramid

The Pyramid Is Is Not Big Enough

The Pyramid was built with the intention of expanding its spacing to welcome more visitors. I. M. Pei did make this possible by increasing the area to double by adding 650,000 square feet of space underground. In 1989, the Louvre was able to welcome 3.5 million visitors, as result. However, by 2018, the venue had become too small as the number of tourists increased to 10.2 million, which meant an average of over 25,000 visitors daily.

Louvre Pyramid

The Louvre Actually Has Five Pyramids

The I.M Pei Pyramid is the primary entrance to the Louvre, located in its courtyard. The structure serves as a constant reminder of the Egyptian Antiquities collections and their significance within the museum. The main Pyramid is accompanied by the three small ones which are placed to create light shafts for the museum’s collections.

The fifth and final one is the inverted pyramid which can be viewed when using the Carrousel du Louvre entrance underground. This, too, was designed by I. M. Pei and was completed in 1993.

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Frequently Asked Questions About The Louvre Pyramid

Q. Do I need tickets to enter the Louvre Pyramid?

A. Since the Louvre Pyramid, or the I.M. Pei Pyramid is the main entrance to the Louvre, you would need tickets to enter.

Q. Where is the I.M. Pei Pyramid located?

A. The I.M. Pei glass pyramid is located in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Q. When was the Louvre Pyramid built?

A. I.M. Pei, the architect of the Louvre Pyramid came up with the design in late 1983 and the construction was completed in late 1987. The pyramid was inaugurated on 29 March 1989 and opened to the public on April 1, 1989. 

Q. Who designed the Louvre Pyramid?

A. The Louvre Pyramid was desigend by Chinese-American architect, I.M.Pei.

Q. Why was the Louvre pyramid constucted?

A. With Louvre's collection growing exponentially the museum was running short on space. The building was not equipped with modern facilities and was unable to accommodate its increasing number of visitors. The pyramid and the underground lobby was designed to help expand the museum's surface area and allow room to add the necessary facilities and create enough space for more visitors.

Q. What is the Louvre Pyramid made of?

A. The Louvre pyramid is made of 673 glass segments and metal poles that integrate 95 tons of steel and 105 tons of aluminum.

Q. How many glass panes is the Louvre Pyramid made of?

A. The Louvre Pyramid is made of 603 rhombus-shaped glass panes and 70 triangular glass panes, totalling to 673 glass panes.

Q. How many glass panes are there on each side of the Louvre pyramid?

A. You will find 171 panes on three sides and 160 panes on the fourth side where you will find the entrance into the Pyramid.

Q. How tall is the Louvre Pyramid?

A. The Louvre Pyramid is about 21.6 meters, i.e, 70 feet tall.

Q. What is the Louvre Pyramis used for today?

A. The Louvre Pyramid functions as the main entrance to the museum. Underneath the Pyramid you will find restaurants, lockers, toilets and information desks.

Q. Is the entrance into the Pyramid wheelchair accessible?

A. Yes, the Louvre Museum as a whole is disabled-friendly. There are tube lifts for disabled visitors to use that will allow them to descend to the lobby underneath. Wheelchairs are made available at the museum for guests to borrow during their visit.

Q. Is the Louvre Pyramid the only Louvre entrance?

No, the Louvre has four entrances. While the Pyramid is the main entrance, if you wish to avoid the massive crowd you can enter from Passage Richelieu or from the Carrousel du Louvre entrances. The fourth entrance, Porte des Lions, has been closed temporarily since 2019.