Hadid Does the Louvre

Zaha, that is.

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These renderings are her design for the Department of Islamic Art at the Louvre in Paris. According to the institution's web page, "The Louvre's collection of Islamic art is currently displayed on the lower ground floor of the Richelieu wing, but will be transferred to newly created display areas in the Cour Visconti (Denon wing) over the next five years."

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This design is sure to be controversial for the way it forces itself into the classically-scaled and proportioned courtyard, as well as for its neo-Islamic / neo-Escher / neo-Libeskind's-vetoed-Victoria-and-Albert-Museum-ish skin. But I.M. Pei's glass pyramid caused quite a stir late last century and it has grown to be an accepted part of the Louvre and the city of Paris. Perhaps this won't be as controversial, given its secluded site.

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I actually find it rather appealing, if a bit arbitrary. The fluid, bending form creates an always-varying interstitial space in the courtyard as it rises to about the height of the existing cornice. By breaking the skin down to smaller elements either applied to or cut out of diamond-shaped metal panels, the skin has a better chance of looking similar to the renderings, as opposed to uniform skins that are so prevalent in renderings today but so hard to pull off. It would be interesting to see how the plans work inside and how the functions relate to the form of the intervention.

More images can be seen at kultureflash. (via dezain)

Update 12.20: After learning, via Javier's comment below, that Hadid's design is merely an entry in the competition for the Islamic Department and not the winner, I thought I'd better post some images (found here with more images here) of the winning design, by Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti.

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Rather than an iconographic object within the courtyard, the winning schemes opts for a "magic carpet" effect that plays down its presence in the space.

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Compared to Hadid's renderings, these don't even try to articulate scale or material in the gallery's roof surface. It begs the questions, "of what is it made?" and "can we walk on it?"

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Another question that arises is, "is the same program contained in both schemes?" The Hadid scheme seems to contain more, but that may be owing to its presence more than a guess as to floors and areas inside. Regardless, it should be interesting to see how the construction of this design unfolds in the years to come.


  1. Does context mean anything?

  2. I think it does. If we assume that we can accmplish almost anything (within reason) due to technology nowadays, it's the relationships between things that's more important than the things themselves. Just think about how this gallery relates to its context; if it were a different context, it would be a different design. In this case, for whatever reasons, Hadid developed this particular design in reaction/relation to the size, scale, texture, etc of the courtyard, the gallery's context. It could be done other ways, ways more in keeping with the existing, but then the relationship between the two would be different. I think the relationship here is dynamic and could be pretty interesting if built.

    Anon - Do you not think context should be considered?

  3. I think Anon is confusing context with mimicry. Making it more similar to the existing. I like the way Zaha uses the context to free up the form. If she does the same building out in a wide open field, there would be no sense of scale or humanity. Because the existing building already provides that sense of human scale, she can be more free with the forms of the addition.

  4. I think this is an excellent example of how an unprecedented style can respect the integrity of it's context. If one attempted to fill the courtyard with a psuedo-rennaisance masonry building, the courtyard would be crowded with undifferentiated forms, creating a clumsy, claustrophobic space. Because it's facade and geometry are so radically different, and ample sightlines are retained, one can appreciate the original design and visualize the courtyard as it once was.

  5. Anon response:

    Yes, context matters.
    The original architect had an idea, a form, a style of how to build the Louvre, and so he did. Shouldn't historical building additions be remodeled to match existing in respect to the original building language? Or does Za ha Hadid assume to own the building and have free artistic license of what should be added to correct it?

    The same idea is as if an architect wanted to add a large metallic ball on top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. This disrespects the original design idea.

    I believe I.M. Pei succeeds where Hadid fails in that the abstraction of his design still relates back to classical shapes (i.e. pyramidal formsand conical stairways).

    The polymorphism of Hadid is not in a "Classical" architectural language and as such doesn't relate to the original building.

  6. Brandon Pass:

    i'm not ever in favor of zaha's arbitrary forms. they manifest themselves beautifully in her drawings and painting, as graphic compositions, hence the problem when they are attempted to be translated into architecture. i think that this is where the merit of her work typically comes crashing down. they are gestural forms where function comes as an after though. it is not unlike the cliche about the square peg in a circle hole, dig?

    however, i do like the very literal generator of the al-Masjid al-Haram (or 'The Sacred Mosque') as the holiest place on Earth. i'm sure many will find it offensive, but to a person like me where the beauty and spirituality of art is the most powerful form of expression by man and gives more insight into humankind than any religion, i find the derivative quite nice.

  7. Anon - By that rational, if one adds to an ugly or artistically-misguided building, the new design should match the existing. Sure, that's another extreme, but the idea that an architect now should respect an architect from a long time ago is fraught with complications, mainly that we have no idea what the old architect would accept as an addition/renovation/etc. But I think the view you propose is a view shared by many: that the old building is penultimate, and any addition that veers from it is not acceptable. In this case, a matching courtyard addition might be something along the lines of the Tempietto, which would be closer to being an aesthetic match but it might also be even more of a disconnect between form and program as the Hadid design.

    Your comparison of the Louvre addition to adding a ball atop the Gateway Arch is bit misleading, though. A more apt comparison might be adding a ball to the base of the arch; that would also be disrespectful to something pure but would not be as noticeable.

    And I see what you mean about the classical shapes/forms, but that acceptance (from my recollection) came after the fact. At the time, it was an abomination.

    BP - I think these renderings are much closer to an actual representation of built form than any of her other renderings. As I said, the skin has a scale that is otherwise non-existent, aiding in that transition. I'd like to see plans before making any final judgement on these pretty pictures, though.

  8. I have nothing against contemporary inserted into old - Pei's addition works beautifully and the space inside works and looks as wonderful as it does outside in the courtyard. The problem I have with Zaha Haha Hadid, however, is that it's all style over substance. What's the programme here? You can't tell if it's going to be successful architecture from some CAD funk. I'm afraid I have never visited a Hadid building - but I've seen plenty of CAD funk and her team is probably the best there is at staying true to their renderings. At least, the published images suggest that. But is that what architecture has come to? Published images? I find that tragic.

  9. In some ways I think this proposal would work best in a videogame. In a cyberspace it will never tarnish, warp, rust, decay. An alien spaceship perpetually esconced.

    The practical problem is decay and maintenance. If it can be managed perfectly, the form will be gorgeous when constructed. If not, however, every new wash of acid rain will slowly eat away at the facade with gentle layers of oxidation, individual panels will change color, the once unified cells of the organism will slowly disinherit each other, and we'll have a big serrated hodgepodge in among facades that have already matured by time (mansard roofs & dormers that have turned green, once white stone now streaked forever beige-gray, etc).

    There ought to be a second rendering, "The Long View," a fourth-dimensional perspective of the project, factoring in such problems as age. Then we'll see whether Hadid's Islamic blade really belongs.

  10. Famous Person:

    Nicely said. Is anyone out there doing 'contemporary' work also doing such 'Long View' renderings?

  11. This competition was won by Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini in July 05.

  12. Architectural context aside, I like that Hadid's design invokes the Kaaba at Mecca inkeeping with the fact that it's an Islamic Center for the Louvre. The gold on black resembles the verses inscribed on the black silk of the Kaaba, and it's relationship to the Louvre resembles that of the Kaaba's and its surrounding mosque.

    A literal interpretation of a spiritual center. Very symbolic.

  13. You can get the best sense of the Bellini+Ricciotti at europaconsorsi

  14. Guys,

    I agree and disagree with some of your comments. I like the fact that Hadid is using different form, materials, etc. It shows an effort to be noncompetitive with the already adored Louvre. The courtyard is already filled with the Renaissance Architecture, why bring in something like the Tempietto or some comparable building to ruin that vibe, or even worse, compete with it.
    Rather i feel, it is necessary to distinguish itself as a separate piece of art, with different function.
    However, i do agree on one topic. Hadid does need to find a direct and obvious relation to the Louvre, that people can grasp (Pei's Pyramid, Picasso, etc.). I think this is actually rather important and why i dont quite feel the idea works.
    This all follows two of FLW's famous quotes:
    1. "The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built."
    2. "No house should ever be on any hill or on anything. It should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the happier for the other."

    I think both of these quotes do and should apply to this circumstance.

  15. Absolutely wonderful post. Your blog is a revelation. Here's my take:

    A fleeting feeling of dhimmitudinous fear

  16. Hadid's scheme seems very uncomfortable in its setting, a bit violent. i keep seeing it like a cobra in attack mode.

  17. binh an choi qua, ba nay ba binh nang roi.


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