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Louvre to Open Islamic Art Wing

Images Courtesy Musée du Louvre

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."

Claire Downey