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I. M. Pei poses with the architectural model of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. Photo: AFP
(The Louvre Pyramid under construction, commissioned in 1984, it opened in 1989. Photo: AFP)
(Francois Mitterand at the grand opened in 1989. Photo: AFP)
Already in his mid-60s when the project began, nothing had prepared Pei for the hostility his plans would receive.
He needed all his tact and dry humour to survive a series of encounters with planning officials and historians.
One meeting with the French historic monuments commission in January 1984 ended in uproar, with Pei unable even to present his ideas.
“You are not in Dallas now!” one of the experts shouted at him during the “terrible session”, where he felt the target of anti-Chinese racism.
The Louvre's then director, Andre Chabaud, resigned in 1983 in protest at the “architectural risks” Pei's vision posed.
The present incumbent, however, is in no doubt that the pyramid helped turn the museum around.
Jean-Luc Martinez is all the more convinced having worked with Pei in recent years to adapt his plans to cope with the museum's growing popularity.
Pei's original design was for up to two million visitors a year. Last year the Louvre welcomed more than 10 million.
“The Louvre is the only museum in the world whose entrance is a work of art,” Martinez insisted.
The pyramid is “the modern symbol of the museum”, he said, “an icon on the same level” as the Louvre's most revered artworks such as the “Mona Lisa” or the “Venus de Milo”.
(The pyramid is now a staple for tourist photos from around the globe. Photo: AFP)