A special trip to a special place

View of the Louvre courtesy of Google Earth

View of the Louvre courtesy of Google Earth. Click to enlarge

I was going through some old travel photographs today, which for me is always a pleasant experience. I’ve been blessed to be able to visit some wonderful places, many of them with my wife Kathy.

Back in the summer of 2011, our younger daughter Mandi had just graduated high school with honors. To celebrate the event, Mandi, Kathy and I were in the City of Lights–yes, Paris, France–visiting the Louvre Museum. The weather was perfect as we entered the northwest side of the museum’s main courtyard, the Cour Napoleon.

As an architect, I was fascinated to see (in person) the impact made by I. M. Pei’s addition of a large glass pyramid and three smaller pyramids in the main courtyard of the revered museum. It was almost as if a spaceship from another planet had landed very carefully in the courtyard.

The project has an interesting history. Soon after his election in 1981, France’s president Francois Mitterrand led a campaign to renovate many of the French cultural institutions. The Louvre renovation was to be the most visible and important of all of the projects. After conducting a worldwide search for an architect, President Mitterrand chose (gasp!) American architect I. M. Pei for the job.

I. M. Pei was already known for designing a number of museum buildings in the United States, including the Des Moines Art Center Sculpture Wing, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts West Wing, and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

The Victory sculpture from the island of Samothrace

The Victory sculpture from the island of Samothrace

At the time, the existing Louvre entrance spaces were being overwhelmed by crowds coming from all over the world to see the museum and its treasures, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, the armless Venus de Milo sculpture, and the winged Victory of Samothrace.

A Shocking Proposal

Pei shocked the cultural world by proposing an ensemble of crisp, ultra-modern glass pyramids in the main courtyard, with new public entrance spaces concealed underground. The addition’s design seemed to bear no similarity to the neo-Renaissance original building and classical additions that had contributed to the museum’s vast floor area up to this point.

Many observers, especially those partial to traditional French classical architecture, raised a collective uproar over the brazen approach taken by the American architect. Undeterred, President Mitterrand approved the design, and the addition was completed in 1989.

Over the years, the pyramid strategy has gained respect. Many people have come to appreciate Pei’s unconventional design for preserving and, in a strange way, complementing the old historic building whose wings wrap around three sides of the courtyard. There are still grumblings from dissenters, of course, but over the years the Pei addition has become a widely accepted, vital part of the world’s largest museum.

Outrage to Affection

The main pyramid over the underground entry lobby

The main pyramid over the underground entry lobby

Personally, I think it was a brilliant and courageous design. By moving the entry facilities underground, the architectural impact on the historic part of the museum was minimized. We’re talking a lot of square feet (including toilets) that had to go somewhere. The glass pyramids are as transparent as the most advanced technology of the time allowed them to be. Pei was not one to buy structural systems off-the-shelf. The architect and his team designed custom space-frame components, each part optimized for its particular role while keeping mass to a minimum. The shape of the pyramid is inherently stable, allowing the designers to make the sloping walls as light and open as possible.

Why write about the Louvre addition today on Best CAD Tips? Regular readers will notice that the background image of the website has been updated. I replaced the old “blueprint” image with a photo of the Louvre pyramid. The photo is one I took from the underground lobby, looking up at the glass enclosure. I hope that the change gives a fresh, “techy” look to the site.

Bringing an Idea to Life

Also, I love to look at the photo and think about the creative process that led to this unique building. It all started with an idea–something completely non-physical. A big part of the *magical* process of turning the idea into a functioning, physical building was the team of super-talented designers and engineers who brought all of the parts together successfully. Without people trained to think and work using CAD tools, I’m not sure it would have been possible.

Right now, thousands of talented, CAD-equipped designers are vital members of teams realizing amazing new design projects. Have you seen videos of SpaceX’s pinpoint rocket landings? Wow. (SEE POST)

It’s not just about making drawings. It’s certainly not about a particular software product. To me, it’s about turning exciting ideas into real, physical things, and maybe, as Steve Jobs said so poetically, “putting a dent in the universe.”

Please share your thoughts in the comments space below. And as always . . .

Keep on CADDing!  🙂


For further information about the Louvre addition, here’s a link to ArchDaily’s website:   ArchDaily article on Pei addition