An Italian in Paris - When Gae Aulenti Restored the Musée d’Orsay
Location: Musée d’Orsay
Address: 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur
“My principle aim was to best protect the identity of the building of Laloux without detracting from the identity of the contemporary building itself.” With this intent, Gae Aulenti transformed the former railway station of Gare d'Orsay into a refined treasure chest of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. One of the first examples of converting a train station into a museum. The project for the station created by architect Victor Laloux, inaugurated on July 14, 1900, within forty years had become obsolete, with the platforms too narrow to accomodate modern electric trains. Soon, the station became a reception center for prisoners and deportees in 1945, as well as a film location for Orson Wells and Bernardo Bertolucci. When the site was mere steps away from demolition in the 1970s, an idea began circulating of creating a museum inside the station which had already made a certified list of historical monuments. The project was entrusted to Italian Gae Aulenti who worked on it from 1980 to 1986. The designer engaged a team of Italian set designers and architects, collaborated with Italo Rota, lighting architect Piero Castiglioni and Richard Peduzzi, seeking to create a unified exhibition space with homogenous materials. Aulenti brought a fascinating exhibition space to life, designed to hold over four-thousand works in a succession of halls, galleries and spaces, each quite different than the other, heightening the rapport between visitors and the works. Aulenti declared that she received from her mentor, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, “the fundamental teaching to be an intellectual first and then an architect,” and, for her, the lighting was of absolute importance. The artificial and natural light were coordinated to allow for a better perception of the works. This balance between competence and passion has made the Musée d’Orsay one of the most celebrated and most highly-visited museums in the whole world.