RSHP's new Louvre building revealed

08 October 2019

RSHP completes a new conservation and collection facility for The Louvre in Northern France.

RSHP completes a new conservation and collection facility for The Louvre in Northern France.

Together with the Louvre, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners celebrated the completion of the new Conservation and Collection Facility for The Louvre in Liévin, on Tuesday 08 October 2019 with an inauguration, offering a behind-the-scenes tour to invited guests to this otherwise private facility.

The facility is in the commune of Liévin, Pas-de-Calais, in Northern France, 120 miles from Paris. It is a new phase for both the Louvre and for the local area, being previously an industrial town, it is now an important centre for art research and conservation - in line with the local authority's ongoing efforts to develop and revitalise this former mining basin.

Vulnerability to flooding in the Louvre Palace in Paris and a desire to gather works currently scattered over 68 sites in one space has motivated the Louvre’s requirement for a permanent, robust off-site facility. Over five years, nearly 250,000 items will be brought together making the facility one of Europe’s largest study and research centres with the intention to change and enable the Louvre’s interaction with its collection in ways that have not yet been possible.

The private facility connects beyond a communal border to the public Louvre Lens museum, a sheer and translucent pavilion designed by architects SANAA. It is one of the most important museums housing the Louvre collection outside Paris. RSHP’s facility is designed to appear as a counterpoint to the Louvre Lens and to complement the area. It is reminiscent of the military architecture by the French engineer, Vauban – protecting the art using both the landscape and state-of-the-art conservation technology.

Remarkably for a building of its size, rather than dominate the area, it sits environmentally sensitively within it and is elegantly understated. It plays with what is hidden and what is revealed, partially beneath the ground, the one-storey structure with a green roof tapers and slopes into the landscape. The west-facing elevation is tall enough to accommodate a mezzanine floor of administrative offices and the most colossal items of the Louvre’s collection. From this end, the building slopes eastwards into the landscape, housing a number of storerooms of decreasing height, with 6m racking dropping to 3m at it lowest point. Grass covered, it appears as a natural slope. Embedded into the earth, it helps to sustainably control the climatic conditions necessary for the preservation of the collection.

Inside it has a simple, rational layout dedicated to protecting and studying art. Its backbone is the ‘boulevard of artworks’ measuring 36 feet tall, where all transported pieces arrive and pass each other into the storage rooms, with a combined length of bespoke shelving at approximately 16 miles. The building consists of approx. 18,500 m² of floor space, of which 9, 600 m² will be reserved for storing works, and 1,700 m² for study and conservation treatment.

Along the full-height glazed west façade of the building, 1,300 m² of space is dedicated to conservation treatment, study, and consulting the collection. The 8.5 m tall glazed façade brings in natural light for this purpose, with a generous overhang and aluminum brise-soleil to control solar gain.

The design intends to change and enable study and consultation of the collection in a way that has until now not been possible in any other museum facility. The observation spaces are flexible: rooms may be re-purposed and rearranged with sliding screens. The services have been designed to be discreetly hidden from both outside and inside in a separated space of their own in order to give over all internal space to the art. Overall, the design allows the easy manoeuvring of even the largest pieces in the collection into spaces to be studied side by side.

Graham Stirk, Senior Design Partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, said: “It has been a great honour to be part of this incredible endeavour. Very few clients are as prestigious as the Louvre and even fewer briefs carry more weight than the relocation of one of humanity’s great treasures. The use of simple, elegant forms, marked by a solidity that resonates with the brief to create a powerful language of great French fortresses, that in this case a large inclined park which protects the works of art below.”

Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of the Musée du Louvre said that: “It’s going to be a hive of activity! Imagine in the space of five years, nearly 250,000 works will be transferred there. It’s the biggest move in the entire history of the Louvre, and perhaps that of museums everywhere. I am proud of the Louvre and its staff for having the audacity to take on such a big adventure. I have also noticed that the world’s biggest museums are paying attention to what we are doing here.”