A modernized synonym to the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Louvre Pyramid situated in Paris, France has become a spectacle of the city’s architecture. This glass pyramid was designed and executed by the renowned Chinese-American architect I.M.Pei, the structure underwent a series of debates and disputes until it became the marvel that it is now. Completed in 1989, the project was a part of a series of new buildings that President Mitterrand sought to construct in France to elevate its architecture, back in the 20th century. I.M.Pei made covert visits to the Louvre Museum to study its architecture and surroundings before his journey of creating a futuristic and unique landmark. 

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I.M.Pei at the Louvre Pyramid construction site.©www.architectmagazine.com
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Louvre Pyramid sitting between the museum buildings. ©www.pcf-p.com/

Why, Louvre Pyramid? 

Louvre Pyramid serves as a grand entrance to the existing Louvre Museum, which had been a palace previously. What was the need to initiate an additional structure to the museum, though?   

The predominant reason was to attenuate and ease the traffic of visitors to the museum. The original layout consisted of a huge courtyard in the middle of C-shaped buildings, upon which the pyramid has been constructed. Court Napoleon, the main courtyard of the Louvre, houses the pyramid which acts as the central lobby and the focal point for the visitors. It acts as a connection between the several wings of the museum and has an underground system of galleries, creating an interesting journey into the expansive lobby that re-ascends to the main buildings.  

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Pei’s initial conceptual sketch of the pyramid. ©www.pcf-p.com/
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An illustration of the Louvre complex with the pyramid and museum blocks. ©www.architectmagazine.com

The Design Intent and Philosophy | Glass Pyramids

“Formally, it is the most compatible with the architecture of the Louvre…, it is also one of the most structurally stable of forms, which assures its transparency, as it is constructed of glass and steel, it signifies a break with the architectural traditions of the past. It is a work of our time.” – I.M. Pei 

As described by the designer himself, the pyramid is an amalgamation of glass segments and steel, which ensures stability and transparency. With a height of 20.6 meters (about 70 feet) and a square base of sides 35 meters (about 115 feet), this revolutionary structure consists of 603 rhombus-shaped and around 70 triangular glass segments. Interestingly, the team stipulated a method of glass manufacturing that would yield clear glass panels or panes which would minimize the impact of the structure and provide a clear see-through feature. 

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The clear glass and transparency of the pyramid ©www.pcf-p.com/

A structure that would blend with the architecture of the Louvre but still stand out is what I.M.Pei aimed at and eventually accomplished. Along with the main Louvre Pyramid, three smaller and supplementary pyramids were created. The architectural union of the pyramids and the museum creates a myriad of experiences as it exhibits the attributes of different eras and stands as an exquisite piece of art. 

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The beautiful amalgamation of the futuristic pyramid and museum buildings of the old eras ©www.pcf-p.com/

The Materials and Structural Development 

A glance at the structure and one can infer the two main materials the pyramid is composed of- metal and glass. The reason that Pei used numerous glass panels was that he was “building a structure as transparent as the technology could reach.” Although glass is predominant in the envelope of the pyramid, it is NOT the structural element. The structural frame is a combination of stainless steel and aluminum profiles which are cladded with glass. The pyramid can be described as a “space (metal) frame with integrated glazing (glass)”. 

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Night view of the Louvre Pyramid ©pxhere.com/
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The structural framing in plan and elevation ©www.pcf-p.com/
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The relation between inside and outside. ©pxhere.com/

This glass pyramid sits on a 2-meter thick concrete slab with large spans, with a staircase of a 540-degree self-supporting curve that connects the Napoleon court and the underground space of the main pyramid block.

The staircase and the sunlight reflecting through the transparent pyramid. ©www.archdaily.com
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Night view inside the underground space. ©www.pcf-p.com/

The structure is supported on stainless steel poles that carry the weight of the structure and also withstand high wind loads. The marriage of the two metallic elements forms the frame via a system of gib screws and eccentrics, in which the glass panels are infilled. Pei wanted glass panels as clear as possible and Saint Gobain made it possible by twitching their production method and creating a new one.

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Installation process of the clear glass panels on the aluminum frames ©facadesconfidential.blogspot.com
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Before and after the installation of glass on site. 

The external surface of the glass has no interruptions and is free of the aluminum profiles or mullions which hold it from inside. The panels are fixed to the frame with fluorine carbon lacquer which improves the adhesion of the sealant. Air fans situated at the bottom of the inner face reduce the risk of condensation increasing durability and efficiency. The pyramid would remain strong and intact even if all the rhomboidal glass panels are removed! 

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Air fan’s situation at the bottom of the structural framing. ©facadesconfidential.blogspot.com

An “Inverted” Pyramid, Too? | Louvre Pyramid

The main pyramid along with the three sibling pyramids, water bodies, and landscape consist of I.M.Pei’s illustrious project that went on to become an architectural wonder similar to the Eiffel Tower. Not a part of the original scheme, Pei added an inverted pyramid to his planning in 1985 which acted as the pivotal point from the underground parking system. Exactly opposite to the main pyramid in terms of orientation, and structural techniques, the inverted pyramid acts like a unique skylight. Glass panels serve the purpose of the structural enforcement of this pyramid and metal frames act as support!

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A view showcasing the main pyramid and the inverted one. 
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Sectional view showing the Louvre pyramid on the left and the inverted pyramid on the right. ©facadesconfidential.blogspot.com
The inverted pyramid and the underground area.  ©facadesconfidential.blogspot.com
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The inverted pyramid and the surrounding galleries. ©www.pcf-p.com/

The Louvre pyramid has been the center of controversies back in the day and also received backlash from the French citizens. I.M.Pei’s vision, determination, and confidence in his design gradually altered the perception of the people and became a sensation amongst the Parisians, but in a good way. The pyramid was indeed ahead of its time, and the team went out of its way to develop novel techniques and even materials that became the basis of several structures in the future. 

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The complex showing the pyramids and water bodies.©www.architectmagazine.com
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Plan of the complex showing the main pyramid and its sibling pyramids. ©dailyoverview.tumblr.com
Small pyramid, main pyramid, and museum buildings in one line.©pxhere.com/ 
Low angle view of the pyramid and museum. ©pxhere.com/

Aishwarya Khurana is an architect and creative writer, who likes to express herself through humor, words, and quirky ideas. A design enthusiast, butter chicken lover, and music junkie, she loves to read and write about art & architecture and believes that nobody can defeat her in a pop-culture quiz.