In 2004 a decision to create a new wing of the Louvre to be created outside of Paris resulted in Lens in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais winning the honour to host the new Louvre museum. More than one hundred and twenty architectural firms, from all over the world participated in the competition to bid for the design to build the Louvre Lens structure. The selected project team chosen in September 2005 was that of the Japanese agency Sanaa , combined with an American firm of architects specialising in urban and museum project – Imrey Culbert, and the French landscape architect Catherine Mosbach, the landscape company’s projects are well-known in France and include the Botanical Garden of Monaco. The premise of the design for the new Louvre provides an architecture of glass and light and is resolutely contemporary.
This museum will not be a mere annex of the Louvre , but the Louvre itself, in all its forms and in all its missions, artistic, social and educational. The new and innovative approach of presentations at the Lens Louvre will give a new meaning to the works of the Louvre. Artworks in the Louvre are viewed only in distinct departments—for example, French Painting, Near Eastern Art or Sculpture— a system established some 200 years ago and which has grown to an enormous collection. The intention of the new gallery is to experiment and radicalise the displays sourced from the Louvre’s core holdings in its eight departments in the Paris palace and to allow for larger visitor numbers outside the confines of the Paris. The distinct categorisation of the Louvre Paris will be challenged by the Lens Louvre and promises to be an exciting presentation.
There will also be greater visibility of the museum’s functions, for instance the restoration work and display preparation which is usually undertaken behind the scene can be viewed from a glass mezzanine floor.
Training, education and lectures are on offer at the Lens Louvre as they are in Paris and it is hoped that this will become a centre of excellence for the preparation of those wishing to work in the world of art restoration.
The building is capable of receiving between 500 and 600 major works, with a core gallery showing art created over several centuries and funded by the local regional government, the Nord Pas-de-Calais. The gallery has 28,000 square meters of usable space built on two levels, with semi-permanent exhibition space covering at least 6000 m². There is also be space set aside for rotating temporary exhibitions.
The project will also feature a multi-purpose theatre and conservation areas. The architectural team have created a low, open building clad in glass and stainless steel in the middle of a 60-acre former mining site, largely reclaimed by nature and before work started, completely overgrown. The new Louvre has been called “an abstracted version of the Louvre Palace with its wings pinned back”. The building will be surrounded by woodlands, walks and formal gardens, the Museum promises a “museum in a park” which will enhance the building with its transparent facades and light reflected into the surrounding areas.