It is time to respect the Louvre Colonnade

All the versions of this article: English , français

Addendum (May 24, 2:15 pm): Only fools don’t change their minds. Having read the comments to this article (in French, we wish these comments could be common to both French and English articles) and discussed with historian friends, I think the position of the defenders of the heritage and the Louvre should be this: if the removal of the Duban state and the digging of the ditches was in my opinion a mistake - that they were originally planned does not make their digging three centuries later legitimate - they exist and are not contrary to the architecture. We should not be under any illusion: the return of the gates and gardens will not happen. Given what the Louvre wants to do here, we risk a real heritage disaster. We must therefore oppose filling in the ditches, whatever we want to put there, obviously remove the prefabs once and for all, and above all not put trees there, which is an architectural contradiction, and be content with transforming the site in a respectful and economical way. We will fight for this.

1. La Place du Louvre
On the left the old city hall of the Ist arrondissement by Hittorf,
in the center the belfry of Ballu, on the right
Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois (December 2011)
Photo: Mbzt (CC BY-SA 3.0)
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A meeting was organized today at the Paris Centre City Hall by its mayor Ariel Weil to launch a reflection on the "Place du Louvre," an inappropriate term since this one, which is in front of the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois and the former Ist arrondissement City Hall by Hittorff (ill. 1), is now enlarged by the rue de l’Amiral de Coligny which separates this complex from the Louvre and by adding the esplanade and the ditches along the Colonnade. "Reinventing Paris", when we mainly ask the elected officials to take care of it, is decidedly a mania. It is true nevertheless that the places are not in an ideal state. And for once it is not really the City of Paris that is responsible for this but the Louvre: not only has it been occupying the ditches with prefabricated buildings (ill. 2 and 3) for years, or even decades, but it also regularly organizes lucrative events in the Cour carrée that spill over onto the Colonnade (ill. 4 and 5) and contribute to the deterioration of the site (see this article).

3. The barracks in the ditches of the Louvre in February 2021
Photo: Didier Rykner
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3. The barracks in the ditches of the Louvre in May 2023
Photo: Didier Rykner
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4. Barracks set up in front of the colonnade for an event in the Cour carrée (March 2, 2019)
Photo: Didier Rykner
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5. Barracks set up in front of the colonnade for an event in the Cour carrée (September 2, 2022)
Photo: Didier Rykner
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If the museum has finally planned to remove these undignified barracks, which almost no one has ever been scandalized by, before the end of the year, it is also because it has big plans for the place. The president of the Louvre, Laurence des Cars, wishes to create a new entrance in the Colonnade to better distribute the flow of visitors. A necessity that we have already stressed on several occasions, which would help reduce the excessive number of visitors, especially in the Grande Galerie, and increase it in the rooms around the Cour carrée, especially on the second floor where Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin are exhibited, but which are nevertheless often very empty (see this article).

6. The Colonnade of the Louvre seen from afar (you can’t see the barracks in the ditches) and without any temporary barracks or cars parked in front of it,
on July 14, 2010 (an extremely rare situation)
Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (CC BY 2.0)
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Everything would be better in the best of worlds if excess did not point to its nose. There is already talk (see Le Figaro of today) of an international architectural competition! Let’s remember that we are here in an outstanding historical monument, the Perrault colonnade (ill. 6), like the entire Louvre. The ditches dug by Malraux are threatened because the museum would like to be able to install exhibition rooms there, those under the pyramid being notoriously impractical because they are too low. Let’s admit that we are rather indifferent to the future of these ditches which have no historical justification.

7. The Colonnade of the Louvre before the work done by André Malraux
Ancient photo
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The historical study carried out by Grahal at the request of Ariel Weil has, moreover, shown this well: the most satisfactory state was that of the Second Empire, imagined by Duban (ill. 7) after the houses still existing between the Louvre and Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois had been razed. The gates around the lawns were beautifully crafted and certainly enhanced the facade better than the ditches do. Removing the gates around the gardens is definitely a mania in Paris, and it already existed sixty years ago. Malraux did it, showing once again that if he was a defender of heritage, this positive side is completed by a darker side. The destruction of the Duban state, replaced by these ditches and especially by a large dusty esplanade, was an act of vandalism that we would hardly accept today.

In short, we will not fight against the disappearance of the ditches, but various sources make us fear the worst: the Louvre would seriously consider covering them with large transparent slabs in order to bring light into the exhibition rooms that would be underneath. A very bad idea and again a vandalism that would disfigure the façade as surely as an architectural gesture. It is obvious that either the ditches are kept (but without barracks), or they are removed by building exhibition rooms in the basement, but without being noticeable on the surface.

8. The ditches of the Colonnade (with the prefabs), the esplanade,
the rue de l’Amiral de Coligny, the place du Louvre.
Photo: Google Earth
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During the meeting at City Hall, there was constant talk of a "Place du Louvre" which would therefore bring together everything between the colonnade and the monuments facing it. But it is in no way a square. Very elongated, this space was born from the demolition of the houses that were there, and from the later construction of the town hall and the belfry. It is not a square, it is the meeting of three areas (ill. 8). It is true that this ensemble should evolve in a coordinated manner, but there is no obligation to carry out a major project.

Ariel Weil, like the Louvre, is thinking of an international competition. But there is no guarantee that the City Council and the Louvre will agree, especially since both want to appeal to the President of the Republic. One wonders - along with Claire Bommelaer in Le Figaro, who also questions the legitimacy of the latter to take an interest in such a question, which depends above all on the Ministry of Culture - what Emmanuel Macron would have to do with the matter. But it is true, it is whispered, that Laurence des Cars would only deal with the President of the Republic, bypassing as much as possible the Minister of Culture.

9. Artist’s view presented by the Mayor of Paris Centre Ariel Weil
(he specifies that this is not a project, only an illustration)
© Ville de Paris–Apur-Celine Orsingher
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So let’s admit our concern. Ariel Weil has shown some visuals (ill. 9) whose purpose is simply to suggest what could be done there. He is careful not to imagine anything too violent, but we can see these large open lawns that the Paris City Council is so fond of, which are degrading at a high speed, and trees in the ditches, which is rather inconsistent with their architectural function (if they are kept). But our concern is perhaps even greater for the Louvre.
Things are simple: the project to have visitors enter through the Colonnade - which existed before the Grand Louvre - has no reason to turn into a pharaonic construction site. As for the development of the "square", it would be good to simply take inspiration from the Duban state, typically Parisian, which would be very easy to reconstitute and which could lead - let’s admit that this solution would finally suit us - to fill in the ditches, and to allow the museum to create the large exhibition halls that it lacks.

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