21 May 2020

The Luma Arles Tower

The gargantuan, iconic 56-metre tall tower designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry, set to dominate the Arles cityscape, will soon be finished. The site of the Arts Resource Centre, already known as Luma Tower, was a run-down area, home to a few railway hangars used to produce and repair steam trains. These have only been pressed into service during the summer months since 1971, to host the famous photography festival Les Rencontres de la Photographie.

Maja Hoffmann, the art collector, patron of the arts and heir to the La Roche pharmaceutical giant, was behind the idea to build the tower. She was keen to geographically expand the Luma Foundation, which she founded in Switzerland in 2004, and which supports the activities of artists and promotes projects with an environmental and humanitarian bias. On acquiring the site, Ms Hoffmann’s thoughts immediately turned to the architect whose name is linked, perhaps more than any other, with the rehabilitation of badly degraded urban areas – such as the Guggenheim Bilbao, completed in 1997. She entrusted Frank Gehry – Pritzker Prize 1989 and Leone d’Oro Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 Venice Biennale – perhaps out of personal fondness, with the building design, while other prestigious names in the architectural world were assigned the conversion of five of the six industrial hangars (some of them already open to the public) and creating a public park with a lake and local flora, in which the cultural centre would be immersed (opening in two phases, Spring 2020 and 2021). These were assigned to Annabelle Selldorf’s New York practice and to the Belgian landscape designer Bas Smets, respectively. The upshot will be something of a cultural citadel: Luma Arles – Parc des Ateliers will be an interdisciplinary platform composed of different buildings and spaces in terms of scale and typology, a place conceived to bring people and ideas together, creating projects that will contribute to current cultural, environmental and social global development. A place geared to a generation looking to the future.

The tower is a gigantic phantasmagorical sculpture; an example of the architectural deconstructivism of which Gehry is one of the major exponents. A huge vertical puzzle made up of eleven thousand metal plates, each of them unique and numbered which, when laid next to each other according to a seemingly illogical criterion that privileges oblique lines and asymmetry, create the outer skin of the building, curved in parts and angular in others. It makes for an irregular formation, made up of reflective fragments which the eye can scan but without ever fixing on a focal point. This is what happens with the nearby Alpilles geological formations, a small mountain chain with its characteristic jagged peaks immortalised by Van Gogh – who made Arles and the surrounding area his second home for almost two years for health reasons and in search of the Mediterranean light – which inspired the Canadian architect who tried to capture its movement and colours. The tower explicitly references the Roman remains in Arles, and the Amphitheatre in particular – the city was the provincial capital of Ancient Rome, and the ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site – with a glass atrium on three levels with a view out over the surrounding industrial buildings, which will function as a transitional space between indoors and outdoors. The 15,000 square metre Arts Resource Centre will house research facilities, artists’ studios, workshops and presentation spaces as well as a cafeteria and archive facilities. It will be a versatile space and an ideal location for exhibitions, festivals and teaching and art programmes of all sorts. Fans of art and culture owe a great deal to Maja Hoffmann, patron of a great dream laid open to all.

Luma Arles
Parc des Ateliers
45 Chemin des Minimes
13200 Arles


#Frank Gehry, #architecture, #Luma Tower, #Arles, #Arts Resource Center