Whenever I mention that I only made it as far as the front courtyard of the Louvre, most people berate me for not going inside. They’re right, I would love to have seen the Mona Lisa or the Egyptian collection. What I wanted from Paris wasn’t in the Louvre, though. I love architecture. I wanted to climb the Arc De Triomphe, the Eiffel tower, and I wanted to see IM Pei’s pyramids at the Louvre. Most of the people I’ve asked think that the glass pyramids poking up out of the front courtyard of the Louvre are a blight on that ancient structure.
I think I understand what IM Pei was trying to do in the courtyard. I’ve spent a lot of time in one of his buildings. The Wilson Commons at the University of Rochester was designed by IM Pei. The story goes that the University chose the site for the new student building, but the benefactor stipulated that the library be visible from the Freshman Dorms. IM Pei took this restriction and created a “Hollow” building. After hanging out in the building for 4 years, I can see how this modern building didn’t diminish the older structures, but it didn’t complement them in a way that was immediately obvious.
The Louvre pyramids line up precisely with the existing buildings, in 3 dimensions. IM Pei takes the viewer on a visual tour of the Louvre. Taking sight lines from each of the smaller pyramids focuses on a different entrance. Light acts on both structures, but it’s the interaction between them that makes the pyramids so interesting. I was only able to stay there for an hour, but I saw how the pyramids change the lighting on the museum. Sometimes they reflect the building, sometimes, they obscure it. I think he bridged classic and modern architecture quite successfully without diminishing either.