Museum Louvre-Lens in Paris

The Louvre-Lens project was the result of a common desire. It was a meeting of minds involving a governmental decision to carry out a new phase of decentralization, the desire of the Louvre to renew its tradition of action in the provinces and a conviction on the part of the municipalities of the Nord-Pas de Calais region - primarily the Regional Council - that development now needs a strong and ambitious cultural action as a vector.

The establishment of the most widely know museum in the world in Lens is illustrative of the strong will to move toward decentralization and cultural democratization. In 2003, the Minister of Culture and Communication, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, put out an appeal for support in decentralizing the major Parisian cultural institutions. In response to this appeal, the Louvre museum, under the impetus of its President-Director Henri Loyrette, committed to the establishment of an «other Louvre» in one of France’s regions. On 29 November, 2004, on the recommendation of the Minister for Culture and Communications, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin chose Lens from among six candidate cities as the site for the new Louvre.

The Architectural Design
The choice of placing the museum on a former mine illustrates the intent of the museum to participate in the conversion of the mining area, while retaining the richness of its industrial past. The Louvre-Lens site is located on 20 hectares of wasteland that was once a major coal mine and has since been taken over by nature since its closing in 1960. The land presents some slight elevation, the result of excess fill from the mine. The Japanese architects from SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa wanted to avoid creating a dominating fortress, opting instead for a low, easily accessible structure that integrates into the site without imposing on it by its presence. The structure is made up of five building of steel and glass. There are four rectangles and one large square with slightly curved walls whose angles touch.

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It is reminiscent of the Louvre palace, with its wings laid almost flat. The architects wanted to bring to mind boats on a river coming together to dock gently with each other. The facades are in polished aluminum, in which the park is reflected, ensuring continuity between the museum and the surrounding landscape. The roofs are partially in glass, reflecting a particular advantage to bringing in light, both for exhibiting the works and for being able to the sky from inside the building. Natural light is controlled by means of a concealment device in the roof and interior shades forming the ceiling. Designed as an answer to the vaulted ceiling, the surface retains in its light the change of seasons, hours and exhibitions.

The entire structure of 28,000 square meters extends over 360 meters long from one end of a central foyer in transparent glass to the other. The buildings located to the  ast of the entrance – the Grande Galerie and the Glass Pavilion – primarily house the Louvre’s collections. To the West of the entrance is the temporary exhibition gallery and La Scène, a vast «new generation» auditorium, whose programs are in direct relation with the exhibitions. The museum also includes a large, invisible, two level space, buried deep in fill from the site. This space will be dedicated to service functions for the public, but will also be used for storage and logistical functions of the museum. Two independent buildings house the administrative services, to the South, and a restaurant, to the North, thus establishing a link between the museum, the park and the city.

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The landscaping desing
The park will furthermore provide a strong link between the museum, the city and the surrounding territory: This place has been designed to highlight the memory and history associated with the site. The designers used the vestiges of the mining operations on the site, known as «Shaft number 9» for inspiration. Thus the paths follow the course of former paths, rails that linked the pits to the station for moving coal dug out of the mine. The historical site and mine entrance have also been preserved and incorporated as benchmark elements of the project.

From the park, the qualities of the entire territory hold the place of honor through view points over the urban landscape and distant horizons. Vegetation also received particular attention through the preservation of rare species on site and planting of native species as well as non-native plants, intended to set the conditions for a sustainable landscaped environment that infuses the museum with long-term vitality. Access to the park is free of charge and it will be open outside of museum hours. Work on the park was completed through a gift by Veolia Environment.

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