The Grand Louvre upgrade

The Grand Louvre project started in 1986. Designed by the architect Ieoh Ming Pei, this exceptional building led to the reorganisation of the museum space by making Cour Napoléon (the main courtyard) its focal point. All of this was done harmoniously by respecting existing buildings, the oldest of which date back to the 12th century. The construction of the Grand Louvre was both in visual and practical terms an architectural feat. This project facilitated access to the world’s most-frequently visited museum by transforming the points of entry into various buildings and opening up spaces beneath Cour Napoléon.


The Louvre Palace, before the Grand Louvre was built, was both an architectural gem and an organisational nightmare. In 1983, upon François Mitterrand’s request, the Louvre was to be renovated to enhance its integration within the urban landscape. So, the Grand Louvre project was a part of the program launched by the French president for the construction of major architectural projects to mark the end of the 20th century. Archaeological excavations started in the spring of 1984 and construction work in 1986, which was a short time span for such a large-scale project.


The construction work required many precautions to be taken to preserve the surrounding buildings. The worksite covered the perimeter of Cour Napoléon and went three levels beneath the great pyramid to the very foundations of the Louvre.
Careful attention was paid to the quality of materials used and the layout of the Grand Louvre structure. White architectonic concrete, exactly matching the tone and colour of the white Burgundy stone floors and walls, was used to cover the grey concrete employed in the construction phase. Likewise, special care was devoted to the pyramidal frames of the ceiling formwork to ensure that no trace of the construction was visible. In addition, the concrete was cast in segments of 500 m3 to prevent construction joints from becoming visible.
In addition to quality-related requirements, the project included bold technical features. For the reception hall below the great pyramid, for instance, a composite steel and concrete structure was used for the construction of five large metal structures covered in white concrete bearing the weight of the pyramid. But as the pyramid is very rigid and the elongated beams are deformable, to ensure the overall solidity of the structure, resistance and deformation studies were carried out.

Given all the challenges in the construction of the Grand Louvre, the two-year timetable was extremely short. That is why 1,200 people worked in continuous shifts around the clock to deliver the project on time.


The Grand Louvre project had two objectives. The first was to reorganise the linear row of buildings into a U-shaped museum with the pyramids in the courtyard as the centre to facilitate the movement of visitors and the organisation of the collections.
Then, the Louvre had to be integrated into the surrounding urban landscape. That is why a ground-level carpark was transformed into a square with a fountain. Passages through the buildings, which were previously closed to the public, were opened. A surface area of 75,000 m2 added through the Grand Louvre construction project contributed to the renewal of the Paris city centre. As for the Louvre Pyramid, it became a tourist attraction in its own right.

Project particpants

Établissement Public du Grand Louvre public authority

I.M. Pei & Partners

Key figures

Implementation dates
February 1986 to December 1988

95,000 m³

180,000 m²

Prestressing Steel
500 t

European Investment Bank