Integrative Transparency: Louvre-Lens by SANAA

The decentralisation of French cultural institutions continues. After the Centre Pompidou in Metz, the most frequently visited museum in the world has also opted for expansion in a provincial area. The annex of the Louvre in the northern French city of Lens is intended to revitalise the structurally weak Nord-Pas de Calais region –- but without blatantly imposing on it. The new museum was officially inaugurated by the President of France on 4 December 2012.

Architects: SANAA Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, Tokyo
Location: rue Paul Bert, F-62300 Lens
We wanted to have an open house, open for society, for visitors, as well as for all of the people living in the city... (Kazuyo Sejima)

Landscape and architecture are inseparable. A person does not experience a garden or a house by itself. That's why the continuity of landscape and architecture was one of the most important aspects for us in this project. (Ryue Nishizawa)

The biggest coal piles in Europe can be found in Lens – black pyramids silhouetted in perfect geometry. They were classified as world cultural heritage by Unesco this year. The decision to move to a former coal mining region illustrates the determination of the new museum to contribute towards the transformation of the mining area while keeping alive the memory of the industrial past. The Louvre-Lens is situated on the wasteland on top of a significant coal mining site. This has been slowly reclaimed by nature since its closure in 1960, although slight elevations due to excess fill from the mine remain.

Working as a team with landscape planners, museum designers and structural engineers, the Japanese architects at SANAA have developed a low-rise, metal-and-glass solution for this spatial situation. The Louvre outpost is easily accessible and merges with the landscape harmoniously without dominating it. An exhibition area of 28,000 m² in total is divided over five rectangular structures stringed together on 20 hectares of land.
“In order to visually and physically open up the site, the main glassed area features a hollow in the core of the building. This delicate glass box serves as an entry hall to the museum and is a genuine public space for the city of Lens. It is transparent and opens up to several directions of the site, and it can be crossed through to get to different quarters of the city. The spaces are contained by a façade of anodized, polished aluminium that reverts a blurred and fuzzy image of the site's contours, reflections that change as one strolls by depending on the landscaping and available light.” (SANAA)
The generously designed transparent entrance building (68.5 m x 58.5 m) admits visitors from various directions and offers a view of the park and the city of Lens. A number of service islands appear to float freely inside the hall. The 3-metre-high glass “bubbles” accommodate facilities such as a cafeteria, a book and museum boutique or enclosed spaces to retreat in. The service, storage and workshop areas located in the lower levels can be accessed from the foyer.
The entire building ensemble stretches over a length of 360 m on either side of the central foyer. Although the Grande Galerie to the east of the entrance hall mainly accommodates the collections of the Louvre, the conventional division into sections that one might expect cannot be found here. Contained in this “Large Gallery”, the Galerie du Temps presents 205 works of art on an area of 3,000 m², spanning the period from 3,500 BC to the middle of the 19th century, without any division according to type or geography. The free view of the entire gallery encourages visitors to go on a cultural history discovery tour and allows new interrelationships to be identified.
Light is very important for us. This area has a special kind of light. Compared to Japan, the angle of incidence is shallower, the light is colder and we wanted to respond to this special light....a large proportion of daylight in the building was generally important for us – because of its quality and atmospheres, but also because of the associated reflections. The reflections of the exhibits as well as of the visitors on the aluminium walls lead to a special relationship between observer and object. (Kazuyo Sejima)
Client: Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais
Museum design
: Imrey Culbert Architects, New York
Landscape architecture: Mosbach Paysagistes, Paris
Structural engineering and façade design: Bollinger + Grohmann, Frankfurt am Main
Museography: Studio Adrien Gardère

Competition: 2005
Building period: 2010–2012
Opening: 4 December 2012
Cost: EUR 150 million
Total area: 28,000 m²
Total exhibition area: 7,000 m² (Grande Galerie: 3,000 m²)
Gross floor space: 14,000 m²
Façade area: 6,600 m²
Roof area: 12,500 m²
Auditorium: 280 places
Total parking area: 20 ha
Number of visitors expected in the first year:
700,000, with an average of 500,000 from 2014 onwards Peter Popp / Emilia Margaretha
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