August 8, 2005
Images Courtesy Musée
The French have never been shy about
marrying contemporary architecture to historic monuments.
I.M. Pei proved this when his glass entry pyramid for the
Louvre opened in 1989. In July, French President Jacques Chirac
announced another new addition to the Louvre a Department
of Islamic Art.
The Louvre, like the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and
the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, holds one of the
most important Islamic Art collections in the world. The adjacent
Decorative Arts museum owns another 3,000 objects that have
not been shown in public for over 20 years. The two collections
will come together in a two-story, 36,000 square-foot design
by Milanese architect Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti, a
French architect based in Bandol, in the south of France.
Bellini and Ricciotti were chosen in a competition that also
included Zaha Hadid and Coop Himmelblau. Their design will
fill most of the ground floor of the Cour Visconti, a courtyard
within the southernmost wing of the Louvre. A second underground
level will be accessible from galleries created by Pei. A
shimmering, undulating glass roof, made up of glass disks,
will allow diffused sunlight to penetrate into the space.
It also offers visitors glimpses of the surrounding neo-classical
facades. It is, say the designers, "architectural integration
without violence." It is also a very open design with
no superfluous circulation space. Instead linear benches are
used to divide thematic spaces. Set to open in 2009, the $67
million project benefited from a $20 million donation from
Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal.
The project has also been helped along by a chance to mix
politics with culture. It will, according to Chirac, "remind
the French people and the world, of the important contribution
Islamic civilization has made to Western culture."