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Last edited 28 Mar 2020
RSHP conservation and collection facility for the Louvre, France
|RSHP's conservation and collection facility, the Louvre, France. Image courtesy of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.|
On Tuesday 8 October 2019, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners celebrated the completion and inauguration of the new Conservation and Collection Facility for The Louvre in Liévin, northern France. The event included a behind-the-scenes tour for invited guests of an otherwise private facility.
The facility is in the commune of Liévin, Pas-de-Calais, 120 miles from Paris. It is a new phase for both the Louvre and for the local area. Being previously an industrial town, Liévin 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 compliment 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 its 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, from 6m to 3m. 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 is a simple, rational layout dedicated to protecting and studying art. Its backbone is the ‘boulevard of artworks’ measuring nearly 11m-tall, where all transported pieces arrive and pass each other into the storage rooms: the combined length of bespoke shelving is around 16 miles long. 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 full-height windows bring in natural light for this purpose, with a generous external aluminium grid overhang to deflect sun rays.
The design aims to change and enable study and consultation of the collection in a way which 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. Services have been designed to be discreetly hidden from both outside and inside in a separate 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 that can 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 create a powerful language of great French fortresses which in this case [has resulted in] a large inclined park which protects the works of art below.”
Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of the Musée du Louvre said: “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.”
 About Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is an international architectural practice based in London. Over the past four decades, RSHP has attracted critical acclaim and awards with built projects across Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia. The practice is experienced in designing a wide range of building types including: office, residential, transport, education, culture, leisure, retail, civic and healthcare. The quality of its designs has been recognised with some of architecture’s highest awards, including two RIBA Stirling Prizes, one in 2006 for Terminal 4, Madrid Barajas Airport and the other in 2009 for Maggie’s West London Centre.
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