10 November 2012

Louvre-Lens Museum Opening: Seven years in the making


December 2012

Public Opening: December 12, 2012 

Lead Design Architect Tim Culbert, formerly of Imrey Culbert and now founder and principal of Atelier CULBERT is pleased to announce the inauguration of the new satellite museum for the Louvre, located in the northern former mining city of Lens, France. In a joint venture with SANAA of Tokyo, Culbert is the co-author of the building design with Kazuyo Sejima - having invited his Japanese counterpart to join a team he created in 2005.

The joint-venture team included Mosbach Landscape Design of Paris, and engineers ArupLighting of London and Bollinger + Gohmann of Frankfurt for the international competition that included 116 firms worldwide.

The Louvre-Lens project represents a significant cultural and political success for the Region of the Nord pas-de-Calais, close to the Belgium border, which spent 10 years prior to the museum launch bidding against other northern French cities as a unique "decentralized" location of France's art heritage. Since the construction launch of the satellite museum, the Louvre Museum has proceeded with its expansion plans, notably with the recent opening of the Cours d'Islam in Paris and the Louvre Abu Dhabi by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, currently under construction.

Concept Sketch by T. Culbert
Tim Culbert, an American architect raised in Japan and Switzerland with a degree in architecture from France, considered the Louvre-Lens competition to be a perfect platform to merge both his personal background, with his knowledge of both French and Japanese cultures to address the paradigm shift of the museum in today's society. Creating a Japanese-American team for the Louvre competition was an overt attempt to address all of these in one building type with an approach that would put on equal footing landscaping, art installation, visitor flow and architectural forms.

The completed building and installed galleries fuses artifacts, painting and sculpture with architecture, circulation and nature, engaging the visitor in a new social space and expanding the imagery and visitor's confrontation with the Louvre's archive of artistic practice. The transversality that is achieved, integrates and regenerates classic art forms and techniques, embracing an overt approach to a "panoramic culture", bridging classic art departments or formats, appropriate to a new generation of viewers, as well as an experienced viewership seeking alternatives to how cultural history is represented. The building is a receptacle, ethereal - at times invisible - backdrop to this agenda, allowing for a broad range of experiments on how meaning is made through perception. To paraphrase the artist Anselm Kiefer, the new Louvre-Lens takes a risk - 'expanding and building an arch across time; stretching the curving rainbow of art across historical intervals'1.

Entrance Hall
The original design text and presentation in 2005 included the following text (and oral presentation to the Senate by Tim Culbert), remains relevant to describe the built work 7 years later: "The design for the new satellite of the Louvre consists of gently curving pavilions that dovetail with the landscape – a 62-hectare former mining site – creating a “museum-park”.  The roofs of the galleries are entirely glazed and slightly diffused, ideal natural daylighting under the grey skies of Lens. The ethereal quality of the façade – a single height of brushed aluminum alternating with clear glass – and the slight curvature of the pavilions will create blurred reflections of the surrounding landscape. This out-of-focus impression speaks to the new mission of Louvre-Lens: to question reality and perception, to teach how to look at art anew.  Gallery volumes are gently linked at their corners, allowing for a transversal experience of the rotating exhibits. The design reinforces the curatorial blueprint, effectively repealing the classic art departments that have defined – and confined – the collection in the Louvre Palace over the last two centuries." TC

Designed as a series of wings that spread-out from a 4,000 square meter central hall, the project acknowledges and undoes the hierarchical typology of the Paris museum itself, with difficult to reach multi-floor "wings" around the below-grade entrance hall designed by I.M. Pei. At the Louvre-Lens, the gallery wings and public spaces are all on one level and spread out asymmetrically from the entirely glazed entrance hall, creating a tension in its relationship with the landscape, while not entirely dismantling the concept of centrality and cartesian symbolism of the "original" Louvre.

The satellite museum will include a visitor-guided storage and conservation area, located at the core of the cluster of buildings - directly below and accessible from the main hall building itself -  to speak to its dual mission for the preservation and display of artifacts and artworks.

Competition Rendering
The 30,000 square meter, 150 million Euro stand-alone building is the first museum designed and built in France by SANAA and Imrey Culbert.

The international competition was won by SANAA and Imrey Culbert with Mosbach (Landscape Design) and a large international design and engineering team from France, England and Germany and took 7 years to complete.

Client: the Region Nord Pas-de-Calais in partnership with the Louvre Museum in Paris. Complete project specifications and team credits can be found at www.louvrlens.fr