First Look: SANAA's Louvre Lens

The Pritzker-winning firm has designed a shimmering glass- and metal-clad outpost of the venerable Louvre museum for the city of Lens in northern France. Located on a former minefield, the structure encloses 301,390 square feet in five volumes that will house major works from the Louvre's collection when the museum opens on December 12. Click the image below to view early shots of the nearly complete project.

By Fred A. Bernstein
November 28, 2012
Photo © Iwan Baan

Louvre Lens
Lens, Pas-de-Calais, France

The new branch of the Louvre couldn't be more different from the museum's iconic Paris home. The 300,000-square-foot building, in the city of Lens, France, sprawls across a brownfield site without a single capital or caryatid (or even anything as ornate as I.M. Pei's glass pyramid) thanks to its lead designers, the Tokyo-based Pritzker Prize-winners SANAA. The new building, called the Louvre-Lens, consists of five large boxes, attached corner to corner rather than stacked as at SANAA's New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan. The curtain walls are largely aluminum, in a reflective finish that turns the building, one visitor reported, into a "metallic cloud" (amidst a mounded garden by Paris landscape designer Catherine Mosbach).

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The building, which officially opens next week, is the product of several competitions. First, half a dozen French cities competed for the cultural and economic plum—the first the branch of the Louvre outside Paris, meant to ease crowding at the "main" museum and help revive a struggling city. Lens, scarred by both war and coal mines, was selected in 2004. Then came the architectural competition, which resulted in the choice of SANAA and the Manhattan firm Imrey Culbert. (Imrey Culbert, which specializes in exhibition design and has formed teams for other museum competitions, eventually sold its portion of the contract to a French exhibition designer, Adrien Gardère, a result that principal Celia Imrey describes as bittersweet.) But Imrey will be celebrating the opening, along with SANAA principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, whose building bears a strong resemblance to their 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, and their Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio, both often hailed as masterpieces. Thousands of works from the Louvre's core collection will rotate through the new building, which will also be the site of museological experimentation not easily accommodated by the Louvre itself.


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