Louvre Lens Museum by Sanaa

You have probably heard of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa alias Sanaa. These two Japanese architects designed the Louvre Lens Museum, in Northern France with materials sent by their client. Kiiwan will lead the visit across this minimalist museum, from architectural details to scenography throughout landscape design. You can see more images with the galleries in the bottom of this page.


The Louvre Lens Musuem is an extension of the Louvre Museum in Paris, this project was born on May 23rd, 2003. In France a competition was organized to welcome the extension of the one of the world’s most popular museum, but the French government favorized Northern France because it’s an old industrial region with many economic difficulties. The six finalist cities were Amiens, Arras, Béthune, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Lens and Valenciennes. The French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced the winner on November 29th, 2004 and Lens was chosen.


Following the announcement of the winner of the nominated city, 124 architectural firms deposited a proposal, and six architects were selected. Among them, three architects named Rudy Riciotti, Lacaton & Vassal and Jérôme de Alzua. The other architects in list were Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl and the winner Sanaa. At this time, the cost of this building was estimated to 120 million euros with a completion date of late 2009. The Louvre Lens Museum was inaugurated on December 4th, 2012 with a building cost of 150 millions euros.


The museum designed by Sanaa is discreet and transparent. This building built in this mining area hides a coal field (slag heap). The old railway track is still visible. Does it hide too much? Time will answer us.


Posed on the mining zone 9.9, this building wants to be the new wing of the Louvre Museum. This idea is transposed by the Museum form. In the center, Sanaa designed the lobby with a square plan. Two rectangles are attached to it at the corners, The Time Galleries are at East side and the temporary Exhibitions are at West side. Two new rectangles embrace the extremities of the building, one for auditorium, the other for Glass Pavilion.


The glass block (68.5 x 58.5 x 5.5 meters) was designed by architects with the goal to offer a public space to the city. In fact, the park and temporary exhibitions are free access. The polished anodized aluminum walls are slightly curved to follow the landscape topography and offer a gentle touch to the long walls. To create an intimate space for visitors, Sanaa creates 3-meter-high circular rooms.


The entrance is exactly in the same place of the latest mining well and the walkway that was used by the miner workers is the same that the visitors use for visiting the Louvre Lens Museum. Nevertheless, the entrance is accessible by three doors, and none in particular emphasized by the architects. There are three doors corresponding to three access points to the park (Lens, Loos-en-Gohelle and Liévin).


Despite its appearance, the museum is in fact a two-level building, with a second level underground. This lower level is dedicated to the logistics and services. This level is placed on a frame of stakes. Visitors can see works currently being restored in the restauration department through the windows. There are eight lifts serve the lower level.


Another particularity of Louvre Lens Museum is the capacity to view the backstage. When visitors arrive to the lower level, they can see the majority of the museum collection. There are many sculptures in the Museum storage, which aren’t accessible to public viewing.


The building area is 28 000 squared meter and have 360 meters of length. Administration offices and the restaurant were built in a second building.


This oblong-shaped land stretches over several kilometers. It surfaces area is 20 hectares. This land was slag heap which spread across the area with 4 high meters compared to the neighborhood houses. During a long time, this land was a wasteland and short after vegetation began to grow. 


The landscape designer Catherine Morbach tried to enhance this vegetation with the layout. She explains:”The critical mass of this spontaneous vegetal vigor and that of the adjoining garden cities is a major asset for this urban complex. It is then a question of articulating the vegetal dynamics at the origin of the attractiveness of the land, the cultural dynamics of the museum itself with event platforms, with the gentle connections of the riders left over from the mining base. In other words, the park reactivates the living memory of the cycle of materials from the plant to the coal valued as an economic resource, then in reverse symmetry, from the coal to the plant valued as a heritage resource”


Many walkways are available, depending on the pace of visitors. Several Acacias follow the visitors along their trip to the museum. The park has more than 6 000 trees, 26 000 shrubs and 7 000 perennials. In proximity to the building, the soil becomes denser. The vegetable mass lessens as at blends into lawn creating some views on the Louvre Lens Museum and permitting a better viewpoint of the architecture.


The project’s museography was drawn in 2009 when Sanaa choose to work with the studio Adrien Gardère. He designed the Time Galerie without walls in order to not create a division between the different periods of Arts. This gallery is gigantic, it is 120 meters length and 25 meters large.


museographie-louvre-lens-sanaa-4The lack of partitioning allows anyone to create their visiting experience. The visitor can walk in any directions because there isn’t any furniture to hinder their movement.


  • Architects: Sanaa (Kazuyo Sejima et Ryue Nishizawa)
  • Team of Sanaa: Kazuyo Sejima, Ryue Nishizawa, Yumiko Yamada, Yoshitaka Tanase, Louis-Antoine Grégo, Rikiya Yamamoto, Kohji Yoshida, Lucy Styles, Erika Hidaka, Nobuhiro Kitazawa, Bob Van den Brande, Arrate Arizaga Villalba, Guillaume Choplain, Osamu Kato, Naoto Noguchi, Shohei Yoshida, Takashige Yamashita, Takashi Suo, Ichio Matsuzawa, Andreas Krawczyk, Angela Pang, Jonas Elding, Sam Chermayeff, Jeanne-Francois Fischer, Sophie Shiraishi
  • Client: Région Nord Pas de Calais
  • Client Associates: Adevia
  • Client Consultant: Cassiopee
  • Landscape designer: Mosbach Paysagistes
  • Museum designer: Studio Adrien Gardère / Imrey Culbert
  • Architect associate: Extra Muros
  • Lighting Engineer: Arup Lighting
  • Environmental Engineer: Penicaud Architecture Environnement
  • Acoustic Consultant :Avel Acoustique
  • Fire Consultant: Groupe Casso
  • Landcape Asosciate: Atelier LD
  • Signaletic: Norm
  • Multimedia: On-Situ
  • Structure: SAPS / Sasaki and Partners
  • OPC: EGIS Bâtiment Management / ASTEC-Conseil
  • Photographers: Julien Lanoo, Iwan Baan, Hisao Suzuki
  • Studies: August 2005 – april 2009
  • Building Construction: December 2009
  • Completion date: December 2012

Images copyright: 1 - © Julien Lanoo / 2 - © Sanaa / 3 - © Iwan Baan / 4 - © Julien Lanoo / 5 - © Julien Lanoo / 6 - © Hisao Suzuki / 7 - © Hisao Suzuki / 8 - © mosbach / 9 - © Julien Lanoo / 10 - © Hisao Suzuki / 11 - © mosbach / 12 - © Julien Lanoo / 13 - © Julien Lanoo / 14 - © Iwan Baan / 15 - © Studio Adrien Gadère / image : On-Situ / 16 - © Iwan Baan