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I. M. Pei - The Louvre

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Last month saw the passing of the great architect I.M. Pei. He was 102. Pei designed many well known buildings and was recognised with multiple awards and honours including the AIA Gold Medal in 1979 and the Pritzker Architecture prize in 1983. He is probably best known for his renewal of the Louvre in Paris, France.

The Great Louvre is the national museum and art gallery of France. Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei renovated the Paris landmark in the 1980s and ‘90s. Yet it has a rich history that precedes him by 700 years. Before housing the Mona Lisa, it was built as a fortress and royal residence in the 12th century. When Louis XIV, the Sun King, moved to Versailles in the late 17th century, artists moved in. It became a hub for the already booming art world. After the French Revolution, it became a public museum. At the time, revealing quality artwork to the public was a shocking idea.

In 1983, Pei was summoned by French president Francois Mitterand to modernize the Louvre. The building ached for a renewal. The architect brainstormed in secret for four months.

When inspiration struck, he put pen to paper. The renovation incorporated a new entrance, in addition to a network of rooms beneath the central courtyards -- easy for visitors to navigate.

It added yet another scandal, the glass pyramid. The New York Times deemed it a “gigantic, ruinous gadget” amidst the city’s beloved baroque architecture. Yet the glass is so clear that when you look through on the other side, you see the historic buildings in all their glory. The museum opened in 1989, and in 2017, won the AIA Twenty-Five Year Award.

Sources: Architect Magazine, Architectural Digest, Britannica.

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