Museum plan finally passed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 1996, 12:00am

It took three attempts to win Luxembourg's approval but plans for a $600 million Museum for Contemporary Art on the capital's Kirchberg Plateau have finally been given the go-ahead.

The project, designed by world-famous architect I. M. Pei Ieoh-ming, creator of the controversial Glas Pyramid at the Paris Louvre and Hong Kong's imposing Bank of China, is now scheduled for completion in 2000.

While the 78-year-old American-Chinese architect is no stranger to controversy, even he could not have imagined that the project would take five years to get off the drawing board.

What divided Luxembourg public opinion was the cost to taxpayers - originally slated at $1.2 billion, twice the eventual price - and the integration of a treasured historic monument into the conflicting, modern plans.

The suggestion of what locals contemptuously nicknamed the 'Pei Museum' embracing the medieval three-towered fortification, Fort Thuengen, inspired a protest organisation called Friends of the Fort.

After much debate, however, the futuristic architect won approval for a design which he calls his '95 per cent version'. Only five per cent of Fort Thuengen will now be incorporated into the 3,300-square-metre museum complex.

Another compromise was reached over an underground tunnel system known as the Kasematten that opponents of the original plan believed would be under threat.

Mr Pei initially proposed that these tunnels would 'enrobe' the complex and link it to Luxembourg City. But this will now be left untouched.

In the meantime, Friends of the Fort have initiated plans to build a museum in Fort Thuengen and the Luxembourg National Museum has agreed to contribute valuable masterpieces.

It will be linked to the Pei Museum and the architect will be Frenchman Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who worked with Mr Pei on the Louvre's Glas Pyramid.

In the wake of Luxembourg's term as European Cultural Capital last year, the city has even more cultural plans in the pipeline.

Only days before Mr Pei presented his final museum plans, a Spanish architect arrived in the Grand Duchy to introduce a third major project.

Ricardo Bofill has been invited to re-design the Europe Palace, a square annexing the Contemporary Art Centre complex.

'It is Mr Bofill's privilege to create a town area of its own around the Kirchberg Building,' a spokesman for the city planners said.

Though 'harmonising' with the adjoining, modern-looking Contemporary Art Centre, the architect said it would 'recreate the conceptual spirit of renaissance townships'.

'A hotel, restaurants, shops and private residences will flank the square and project an animated feeling,' he said.

Also incorporated into Mr Bofill's plans will be a new concert hall, to house the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra.

Although Mr Bofill has drawn tentative plans, another architect will be used and a competition will select the winning project.

Mr Bofill said the selection would call for great sensitivity.