Text & Photo Appeal Magazine/Nicoline Olsen



The coal mine is closed

After a long drive through a grey and flat landscape, we arrive in the city Lens in northern France, approximately 200 kilometres north of Paris. The town looks deserted, and the houses stand small and lonely in rows. A testify to the past when the city was a coal mining town. Lens has not been a prosperous town instead it has been devastated by both World Wars, the German occupation and deadly mining catastrophes with many victims. However, when the last mine closed in 1986, that was where hopelessness really occurred because of the unemployment rate rising to the highest in France and leaving the town with no future and in despair.

In 2003 the French government was accused of centralising art and culture in the larger cities especially in Paris. Luckily for Lens in 2003, the Ministry of Culture and the Louvre countered the criticism by launching a plan, to build a Louvre satellite museum in the small town. The idea of placing a museum in a city of despair like Lens took inspiration from the economic transformation of the Spanish industrial municipality Bilbao, by the construction of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao satellite. Its now known as the "Bilbao effect." By building the museum hopefully, many tourists would visit the town, and thus create growth.

However, it does not seem as if the plan has worked - we are looking for a cafe to get a coffee, but it is like an uninhabited city. Nothing is open, and no other tourists appear. Suddenly at the end of the grey street, the museum shows itself - and what a beauty. Appearing white with polished, aluminium facades reflecting the surroundings and encircled by a fantastic green landscape, it is designed by the Japanese architectural firm SANAA in collaboration with New York firm Imrey Culbert, French landscape architect Catherine Mosbach, and museographer Studio Adrien Gardère. The museum is built on an old mining site abandoned before 1960. It is stunning and alienated compared to the town blending into the landscape, and far away you dare to imagine the mountains of coal. It is a large flat building containing storage and service in the basement; go to the bathroom and look at the storage room built into the old mine behind glass. In the middle of the foyer, there is a large museum shop, reception and canteen. Two other buildings in the facility contain administration and a restaurant. The main attraction is the big exhibition room with The Galerie du temps. Presenting 5,000 years of history The Gallery of Time is the real heart of the Louvre-Lens. As a continuous open space covering 3,000 square metres, it is home to 200 masterpieces deposited by the Musée du Louvre.

There is not much to see in the area; nevertheless, this museum is impressive and if you are just the least interested in architecture, art and history - you have to go!

More info: https://www.louvrelens.fr/en/


The outdoor area and the timeline


View from the restaurant and the entrance hall