Our Inspiration: A Visit to the Louvre
For architecture fanatics like Jesse and I, travel is a pillar of our design inspiration as it exposes us to a new pond of design details and characteristics. As we walk through different cities we document unique design ideas, proportions of structures that have been shaped by history and its policies, and unique craftsmanship details that are remnants of a lost skill set. With that in mind it is no surprise that our visit to the Louvre was an impactful moment, but at first it wasn’t for the same reasons one might think. As we approached the exterior of the structure we were both struck by the unique Paris limestone clad buildings, and the sheer amount of inspiringly detailed masonry features throughout the exterior. As you walk through the gardens and into the courtyard, you cant help but to be absorbed in the history, gazing at a structure that has stood for centuries and imagining that the view of past generations had the same view, dating back to the 1790’s. No matter where you look you are surrounded by the details of the past that today would be incredibly difficult to emulate not only from a craftsmanship perspective, but from a material sourcing perspective. This is worth noting as an important detail because the limestone used to clad the louvre was one of our favorite parts of the experience. Upon approach this material offers a radiating yellow/taupe hue that reads to viewers as uniquely luxurious even if you dont know the cost or the unique historic origins of the stone itself. Indeed there is a story that is fascinating to Jesse and I about Paris stone, otherwise known as Lutetian limestone.
Our understanding of this material was formed after our visit to the Louvre actually, during our mandatory Paris tourist visit to the catacombs. After traveling 60 feet underground using a winding staircase we were exposed to a highly similar limestone material that sat above a stair header that had the same bright yellow hue. As we continued to walk through the underground tunnel we realized that we were surrounded by it, but in a far less refined form as the walls, ceilings, and floors were all made from this same stone. As you go through the different information stations at this eerily historic site you will learn that the catacombs were not actually created for use as a graveyard initially. In the 1300’s these tunnels were originally mines used to extract Paris stone for use on some of the best architecture Paris has to offer, including Notre Dame. The mines spanned across 300 kilometers underneath Paris and the stone being extracted was between 40-48 million years old on the geological scale, dating back to the Roman era when Paris would have been called Lutetia. These mines were not well regulated by Parisian authorities and were formally closed on September 15th 1776 after a string of collapses. Charles Auxel Guilaumot was tasked with overseeing the stabilization of these underground quarries after a 300 meter span of road sank, swallowing up Rue Denfert-Rochereau. Today he is largely regarded as the man who saved Paris from sinking, and this unique building material can usually be found at one of 12 mines in the Southern Oise. As the story goes, once Charles’s work was done and Paris had public health concerns due to its above ground cemeteries, it was proposed that all remnants of human remains throughout the city were moved into the decommissioned tunnels below the city leading to the formation of what we understand as the Catacombs today.
Circling back to our visit to the louvre, the Paris stone we were so intrigued by the beauty of also clads the interior courtyard of this grand structure. A massive staircase, and courtyard walls with a similarly shocking level of detail are almost disregarded by many as they walk through the opulent halls heavily decorated with art and sculpture. We were surprised by this as in our minds, the courtyard we viewed by looking through an obscure window behind a sculpture was one of the best architectural views we saw in the city. With that said, we deeply enjoyed walking through the historic halls of this timeless building, admiring both the interior architecture and the historic sculpture and art pieces including the Mona Lisa. Some of our favorite details include the limestone clad walls of the sculpture halls, the unique limestone and painted ceiling details of the galleries, and the incredibly tall structural column details scattered throughout the museum. Everything from the statue of Psyche Revived by Cupids Kiss by Antonio Canova to Apollo Conquers the Serpent Python (the sculpture in front of the window we mentioned looking onto the courtyard), represents an obsession with perfect proportions by the artist. This inspires us to continue to seek to achieve this level of excellence in our own work, in hopes of one day being looked at as having achieved design excellence in proportion and form. Looking at design in this manner, with the understanding that the structures we design and construct today will outlive us creates a sense of stewardship and responsibility to operate at the highest level of home design. Afterall, our work today characterizes neighborhoods across Ontario that will inevitably shape the design inspiration of future generations. Careful attention to detail, proportions, natural light, and high quality building materials that will stand the test of the centuries is our firm’s focus in the never ending pursuit of creating timeless designs.