This weekend the Musée du Louvre is set to open the latest addition to its galleries - the Department of Islamic Arts. Designed by Italian Mario Bellini and the Frenchman Rudy Ricciotti, the gallery is located in the Visconti Courtyard and is covered in a luminous golden flying carpet. The two level gallery is flooded with diffuse natural light and it displays over 3,000 Islamic works, whose origins range from Spain to India and date from the 8th to the 19th century. The radical new gallery opens officially on September 22 and it will be the museum's largest intervention since I.M. Pei's pyramids in the central courtyard.
Plans for the new Department of Islamic Arts where unveiled in 2005 when Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti won a competition to design the new gallery. The two level gallery is sunken into the the Visconti Courtyard in the middle of the Louvre’s south wing, right below where the Mona Lisa lives. Not completely submerged, the gallery pokes out from the courtyard and is covered in what the architects called “a scarf floating within the space”. The roof is now being referred to as the “luminous veil,” or the “flying carpet” and provides 30,000 square feet of gallery space, which quadruples the space previously dedicated to Islamic Arts.
The roof is actually constructed of a free-form lattice composed of 8,000 steel tubes and glass covered by gilded metal. The undulating canopy contains the open floor plan gallery space where objects are displayed in glass cabinets. A large staircase descends to the lower level where natural daylight seeps in around the edges. A significant amount of work for the project required the team to excavate down 40 feet without disturbing the palace’s original foundation. The result is a cavernous space reminiscent of a tent illuminated with a soft golden light.
Images ©Mario Bellini Architects