Landmark At The Louvre: The Pyramid Turns 20 The Louvre's famous pyramid turns 20 this year. When architect I.M. Pei first designed it in the 1980s, critics said tampering with the Louvre's majestic architecture was "sacrilegious." Today, it's a destination all its own.
NPR logo

Landmark At The Louvre: The Pyramid Turns 20

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/121097261/121146923" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Landmark At The Louvre: The Pyramid Turns 20

Landmark At The Louvre: The Pyramid Turns 20

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/121097261/121146923" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And we take you next to Paris, where many of the city's most famous museums have been closed for days. Workers are on strike, protesting government plans to fill only half the vacancies created by retiring workers. But yesterday, strikers called off their protest for a single day, because admission is free on the first Sunday of each month. The union was apparently concerned the public would be angry if the museums remained closed on the free day.

One of those museums, perhaps the most famous, is the Louvre. Strike or no strike, its glass pyramid entryway is always open and that pyramid turns 20 this year. NPR's special correspondent, Susan Stamberg, says that what some French called sacrilegious and a gigantic gadget has now become a cherished landmark.

SUSAN STAMBERG: On a sharp and sunny fall day, fountains in the courtyard of the Louvre burbled briskly near a gleaming three-story high glass and metal structure that has become a destination.

Hello, will you speak to me for moment for radio?

Unidentified Man: Certainly.

STAMBERG: What do you think about this pyramid? It's just turned 20.

Unidentified Man: I'm telling you, we just arrived. It's taken us a bloody two hours to get here and we just arrived. I think it's fantastic.

STAMBERG: Yeah.

Unidentified Man: Beautiful.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

STAMBERG: The French love it now, the transparent piece of glass geometry that architect I.M. Pei designed as an entrance pavilion to the ancient, beloved Louvre. Built as a medieval fortress, the Louvre became a palace, then one of the world's greatest museums. And to tamper with it 20 years ago seemed, well, a sacrilege.

Mr. HENRI LOYRETTE (President, director of the Louvre): It was very controversial, you know, there was a lot of debates, I mean, and many, many people were very hostile.

Henri Loyrette, president and director of the Louvre. He says before the pyramid went up, that Louvre courtyard was not much to write home about.

Mr. LOYRETTE: Tourable squares, you know, and parkings.

STAMBERG: I remember that too. It was a parking lot. It looked awful.

Mr. LOYRETTE: Awful, awful, terrible.

STAMBERG: So Pei's pyramid cleared away the cars and gave Paris a new, sparkling glass heart.

Mr. LOYRETTE: When there is a line, for example, and we say to people: We have another entrance you could go through this entrance. They do not want because they want to go through the pyramid.

STAMBERG: Some 25,000 to 30,000 visitors every day. Henri Loyrette thinks the pyramid is more like sculpture than architecture, a masterpiece, he says. Apparently tourists agree.

Mr. LOYRETTE: And when you ask the visitors, why are you coming to the Louvre? They give mainly three answers: For the �Mona Lisa,� for the �Venus of Milo,� and for the pyramid.

STAMBERG: More than eight million visitors a year leave their mark on the glass pyramid or marks.

Mr. LOYRETTE: And once a month we clean the glasses also, with alpinists, which were�

STAMBERG: �Alpine climbers.

Mr. LOYRETTE: Yes, because I mean it's something that's a very special job, so nobody can do it except alpine climbers.

STAMBERG: That's what you would call European ingenuity. This particular European, Louvre Director Henri Loyrette, thinks I.M. Pei's pyramid gave his revered old museum a today message.

Mr. LOYRETTE: It made the Louvre modern.

STAMBERG: And now it's 20. Is that really possible? This shiny tip of the iceberg Louvre entryway, 20 years old? Indeed it is.

Unidentified Woman: It seems out of place.

STAMBERG: And still sometimes controversial after all these years.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

Unidentified Woman: It looks too modern for what's surrounding it. It just doesn't seem to fit right in the - amongst all this ancient architecture.

Unidentified Man: Well, it's beautiful.

STAMBERG: You think it fits in?

Unidentified Man: No. I don't think it fits in. It doesn't match.

STAMBERG: But you don't care, it's still beautiful?

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Now you can decide for yourself. I'm looking here at npr.org at pictures of the Louvre. There's one photo under construction and then there's another photo of the pyramid completed. You can see the blue Paris sky through the panes.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.