Essential Architecture-  Architecture in the Da Vinci Code

La Pyramide Inversée


I. M. Pei


Address: Cour Napoleon, 75001 Paris, France. 






glass and steel


  See also The Louvre Museum
Relevance to the Da Vinci Code:

Teabing gives Langdon the cryptex and asks Langdon and Sophie to help him open it. Langdon figures out that the password is apple—the orb missing from Newton’s tomb. He opens the cryptex and secretly takes out the papyrus. Then he throws the empty cryptex in the air, causing Teabing to drop his pistol as he attempts to catch it and prevent the map inside from being destroyed. Suddenly, Fache bursts into the room and arrests Teabing. 
The papyrus inside the second cryptex directs Sophie and Langdon to Scotland, where Sophie finds her brother and her grandmother. During the reunion, she discovers that her family is, indeed, of the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Sophie and Langdon part, promising to meet in Florence in a month. Back in Paris, Langdon comprehends the poem, which leads him to the small pyramid built into the ground in the Louvre, where he is sure the Grail must be hidden.

The Inverted Pyramide, Photography by Eric Pouhier

La Pyramide Inversée (The Inverted Pyramid) is a skylight constructed in an underground shopping mall in front of the Louvre Museum in France. It may be thought of as a smaller sibling of the more famous Louvre Pyramid proper, yet turned "upside down": its upturned base is easily overlooked from outside.

The pyramid marks the intersection of two main walkways and orients visitors towards the museum entrance. Tensioned against a 30-ton, 13.3-meter square steel caisson frame, the inverted pyramidal shape in laminated glass points downward towards the floor. The tip of the pyramid is suspended 1.4 meters (a little more than 4.5 feet) above floor level. Individual glass panes in the pyramid, 30 mm thick, are connected by stainless steel crosses 381 millimeters in length. After dark, the structure is illuminated by a frieze of spotlights.

Directly below the tip of the downwards-pointing glass pyramid, a small stone pyramid (about one meter/three feet high) is stationed on the floor, as if mirroring the larger structure above: The tips of the two pyramids almost touch.

La Pyramide Inversée was designed by architects I.M. Pei, Cobb Freed and Partners, and installed as part of the Phase II government renovation of the Louvre Museum. It was completed in 1993. In 1995, it was a finalist in the Benedictus Awards, described by the jury as "a remarkable anti-structure . . . a symbolic use of technology . . . a piece of sculpture. It was meant as an object but it is an object to transmit light."

La Pyramide Inversée in fiction
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
The Inverted Pyramid rose to sudden fame in 2003-2004 because it figures prominently on the concluding pages of Dan Brown's international bestseller The Da Vinci Code. The author, or rather the protagonist of his novel, reads esoteric symbolism into the two pyramids: The Inverted Pyramid is perceived as a Chalice, a feminine symbol, whereas the stone pyramid below is interpreted as a Blade, a masculine symbol: the whole structure could thus express the union of the genders. Moreover, Brown's protagonist concludes that the tiny stone pyramid is actually only the apex of a larger pyramid (possibly the same size as the inverted pyramid above), embedded in the floor as a secret chamber. This hidden submerged pyramid is hinted to hold a sarcophagus with the remains of Mary Magdalene, plus a set of ancient documents setting out the "true" story of early Christianity: In the novel, these items are identified as the real Holy Grail, hidden away by a secret society when the new Louvre foyer was constructed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Up close, it is quite obvious that the stone pyramid below La Pyramide Inversée is merely sitting on top of the floor and does not really extend below floor level (it was indeed so designed that it can be slid aside when the floor is being cleaned). But while Brown's story is pure fiction, his novel generated such public interest in these architectural features that for a while the Louvre Museum roped off the area around the stone pyramid, evidently to prevent visitors from inflicting any damage.

Whatever one thinks of Dan Brown's fictionalized treatment of La Pyramide Inversée, the author can claim credit for having brought a remarkable work of architectural art to the attention of the general public. On pp. 453-54 of The Da Vinci Code, Brown lyrically describes the Inverted Pyramid "plunging into the earth like a crystal chasm...aglow with amber light" (the view from outside after dark), indeed a "breathtaking V-shaped contour of glass" (the view from below).

It should be noted, however, that the now-famous description provided in the novel is not in all respects accurate (irrespective of the claim that the stone pyramid "protrudes up through the floor" rather than simply sitting on top of the floor). On one point, Brown's description is indeed self-contradictory. He rightly describes the stone pyramid as being three feet tall and "almost touching" La Pyramide Inversée above, yet he also says that the tip of the pyramid is suspended "six feet above the floor": If so, there would necessarily be three feet between the tips of the pyramids, in which case they could hardly be described as "almost touching" one another. However, this is probably due to artistic license and the literary usage of hyperbole. Actually, the tip of La Pyramide Inversée is closer to the floor than six feet (rather, as noted above, 4.5 feet), so that it does indeed hover right above the tip of the three-feet stone pyramid below.

Brown is also wrong to imply that La Pyramide Inversée is visible from the entresol below the Louvre Pyramid proper (p. 22 of The Da Vinci Code). Rather, as correctly stated on p. 453, one has to leave this part of the entresol through a tunnel before one emerges in the mall where the Inverted Pyramid is suspended from the ceiling.

Other esoteric interpretations
Dan Brown was not the first writer to offer esoteric interpretations of the Inverted Pyramid, though it is unclear whether he came up with this idea independently or was influenced by others. In Raphäel Aurillac's work Le guide du Paris maçonnique the author declares that the Louvre used to be a Masonic temple (a notion conventional historians would dismiss). To Aurillac, the various glass pyramids constructed in recent decades include Masonic symbolism. As for the Inverted Pyramid, Aurillac notes that it lies on the so-called Paris Meridian (the "Rose Line" of The Da Vinci Code), to which a deeper, esoteric significance is sometimes ascribed. Aurillac sees the downward-pointing pyramid as expressing the Rosicrucian motto "Visit the interior of the earth will find the secret stone". Interestingly, the Holy Grail is described as a stone in some traditions, though Dan Brown preferred a radically different interpretation of its true nature. Another writer on Masonic architecture, Dominique Stezepfandt, sees the two pyramids as suggesting "the compass and square that together form the Seal of Solomon" (quoted in Code Da Vinci: L'enquête by Marie-France Etchegoin and Frédéric Lenoir).

According to I.M. Pei's biographer Carter Wiseman, he is interested almost solely in abstract geometrical forms, which if true would mean that the Inverted Pyramid has no other meaning or purpose than to function as a light-well in the underground shopping area where it is suspended.