PARIS (AP) — The Louvre museum in Paris paid tribute Friday to the architect of its giant glass pyramid, I.M. Pei who died earlier this week at the age of 102 at his home in New York City.
Dozens of employees of the Louvre gathered under the pyramid, which serves as the museum's monumental entrance, for a minute's applause.
The President-director of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, expressed his "huge sadness" to the China-born Pei, whose creation helped cement the Louvre, home of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and countless other artistic treasures, as one of the world's must-go destinations.
France's former culture minister, Jack Lang, who was in office when the pyramid plan was unveiled in 1984, remembered an "extraordinary gentle man", who "inspired respect because he himself was very respectful of the history of the country."
The project launched by President Francois Mitterrand was met with much controversy.
"It shows that you must never fear to be audacious because in the end, when you bet on intelligence and beauty, it's a success", Lang told The Associated Press on Friday.
Many of the French vehemently opposed such a modern addition to the Louvre, which was once a royal palace.
But Mitterrand and his supporters prevailed, and the pyramid was finished in 1989. It is the symbol of two decades of renovation of the museum, Lang stressed.
"The Louvre was dirty, abandoned with very few visitors," Lang said. "Our dream was to realize one of the most beautiful museums in the world and this ambition we could realize it because Pei was a courageous, intelligent, creative man and nothing could stop his commitment."
Anne-Laure Beatrix, deputy administrator of the Louvre, described the pyramid as a "piece of art in itself" that the museum's millions of visitors every year admire.
She stressed that the museum was celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the pyramid.
"Throughout the year we have seen videos of Pei, so we were able to listen to his voice again and see his smile. We all know what we owe him because with this pyramid the Louvre entered modern era."
Nicolas Garriga and Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to the story.