In 1983, French President François Mitterrand commissioned I.M. Pei to modernize and expand the Louvre, one of the world’s greatest art collections and an inviolable national monument at the very heart of French history and culture; no matter the solution nor how sweeping the intervention, the integrity of the near-sacred 800-year-old palace was not to be compromised. The seemingly impossible project, executed over a decade, involved the reorganization of the long J-shaped museum into a compact “U” around a focal courtyard. In the center is a prominent new main entrance: a 71-foot-high glass pyramid providing equal access to the museum’s three wings. Like the proverbial tip of an iceberg, this simple sculptural element is the only visible part of a huge underground expansion building; neither is there any hint of the major changes made on the interior of the Louvre palace. The completed project not only equipped the historic building to function as a modern museum, but also helped integrate the half-mile-long building – previously a barrier, now a bridge – within the newly revitalized center of Paris.
The Louvre was the most complex and difficult of all buildings by I.M. Pei, and arguably the greatest. It drew on the cumulative experience of everything he had done before and summoned his full strategic reservoir of design, engineering, and planning, together with his legendary social, cultural, political, and diplomatic skills in a way that vastly expanded the scope of architecture.
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