By Eva Bjerring
The new expansion of the Louvre in Lens is 360 meters of steel and glass unfolding on top of an old coal mine and expected to attract 500.000 visitors each year. It is a museum that aims at educating visitors in how to look at art and on top of that revitalize the post-industrial town Lens in France.
The Louvre-Lens is the sister gallery of the Musée du Louvre based just one hour from Paris with the TGV high speed train. The Louvre-Lens was one of France’s biggest developments in 2012 and opened in December of the same year after an international competition won by New York-based Imrey Culbert, Tokyo-based Pritzker Prise awardee SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa), and French landscape architects Mosbach Paysagistes in 2006.
Since 1793, the Louvre Palais has been a national museum whose collections are available to the entire nation of France and whose mission is to reach out to regions beyond Paris. The new gallery holds its own departments and a full range of artistic, social, and educational programs and activities. Though it won’t have a collection of its own, it will be filled with works of art from the collections of the Louvre.
Dissolving into the landscape
The SANAA branch of the Louvre spans 300,000 square feet of new construction, devoting over 75,000 square feet of galleries and accessible storage areas for hundreds of treasures from the Louvre’s collection.
Because of the 153 acre site being slightly higher than its surrounding the design strategy called for a series of five pavilions – low one-story structures that gracefully enhance and dissolve into the landscape rather than overpower it.
All of the buildings, whether reflective or transparent, meander slightly along with the gentle curves of the site. To actually fuse nature with the structures a highly reflective polished and anodized aluminum facade clads the volumes, creating blurred reflections of the surroundings, changing with the scenery, the weather, and the position of the person viewing it.
The roofs, partly in glass, bring in daylight and the sky above lifting the gallery to modern, airy and welcoming standards. A design grip characterizing all of the Louvre-Lens, described by the SANAA office as a low, easily accessible structure that integrates into the site without imposing on it by its presence.
|We conceived this new Louvre to be everything the Palais Louvre is not, and sought to create transparency both literally and figuratively.|
|/ Celia Imrey, Principal of Imrey Culbert|
Mirroring Louvre Paris – in its own fashion
The 5 buildings, 4 rectangular and one large square in the center, mirror the design of the Paris Louvre with its two outstretched wings.
At the Louvre-Lens the transparent center square serves as the main reception area and a public space for the local population. Here you will also find the up to date multimedia library, museum store and the cafeteria.
The two easternmost pavilions are the principal exhibition halls, one being the opaque Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time) – this semi-permanent installation exhibits the masterpieces from the Louvre Paris regardless of styles and places of origin and arranged in chronological order, which is a striking departure from the way art is exhibited in the Louvre Paris. The main focus is art from the periods of the Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern art.
The center pavilion serves as the main reception area and a public space for the local population. Here you will also find an up to date multimedia library, museum store and the cafeteria. The next pavilion houses temporary exhibitions, and the final a 300-seat auditorium.
The master wing of the museum, the Galeries du Temps, Le Pavillon de Verre (Glass Pavilion) is a continuation of the Galerie du temps. Here visitors find artworks from neighboring museums in the region. Finally, La Galerie d’Exposition Temporaire houses the museum’s two temporary exhibits per year.
How to look at art
One of the museum’s objectives is to teach the public how to look at art. Works will be presented in an educational context, which will draw heavily on the latest information and communication technologies.
To make the works easier to understand, the collections will be displayed transversally, reaching beyond the limits of the traditional museum departments, thus giving visitors a new understanding of the works.
The architects have added an Introductory Gallery, accessible via a large staircase, where visitors can peer down onto the museum’s reserves and the studios where artworks are being prepared for display.