We are introducing a new news feature here at uncube called »Building of the Week«. Our inaugural building of the week is an addition to the Louvre in Paris. It is the recently opened Department of Islamic Arts, designed by Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti. The project is the result of an international competition held in 2005, and the project was opened to the public in September 2012.
The new gallery space houses sculpture, painting and other work by Islamic artists spanning from the 7th to the 19th centuries. Two-thirds of the space is underground. The main feature is the projects' undulating sculptural roof that looks like a piece of fabric – or, appropriate to the Islamic art collection it houses, a rolling, golden magic carpet. The architects refer to the roof as the “Golden Cloud." Architecture as cliché? The expressive form of the roof is nevertheless an appropriate response to the neoclassical façades that surround the Cour Visconti courtyard. The pale stone of the buildings and dark grey paving perfectly offset the glittery metallic surface, complimented by the warm blue tone of the Parisian sky on a sunny day.
The roof clearly references architect IM Pei’s once-controversial 1989 glass pyramid structures in the front of the Louvre. The tessellated surface of the roof is composed with thousands of glass triangles, some 2,400 pieces, each covered individually in golden mesh. It is immensely appealing in its visual complexity and for its impressive structural gymnastics. A welded tubular steel frame provides the shape and lateral support for the roof. Reaching a maximum height of eight meters off the ground, only eight columns support the roof vertically, and it never touches the ground or the buildings that surround it. A wall of glass panels is set under the roof to enclose the ground floor exhibition area. This further encourages the perception of a floating form, while allowing visitors views into the surrounding court and natural lighting into the space.
Strategic openings cut into the floor of the courtyard-level exhibition space allow sightlines from the belowground gallery spaces into the top floor, roof and beyond into the courtyard. These openings and the space under the golden roof were carefully coordinated with the Louvre’s curators to allow for the display of light-sensitive artworks. The first floor gallery, under the roof houses artworks from the 7th to the 10th century, while the belowground floor contains a collection of carpets and artwork from the 11th to the 19th centuries.
Though this new addition seems quite abstract and futuristic, it avoids the stark and insistent juxtaposition that caused public uproar when Pei’s pyramids were unveiled in 1989. The project is quite appropriate to the moment as it comes during an era when architecture continuing to leverage technological breakthroughs to create expressive singular forms. The pure beauty of the roof owes its existence to a signature innovation of the Islamic world: complex mathematics. That the innovations of the current day are used to create a spectacular situation at the Department of Islamic Arts, for the cultural and artistic expressions of the distant and ancient past, is somehow wholly appropriate. Especially given the grand scale of the Musée du Louvre’s cultural project and its standing as the most visited museum in the world.