Luma Arles campus breaks ground
The Swiss collector Maja Hoffmann’s Luma Foundation has given €100m to establish an ambitious cultural project in the city
By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 08 April 2014
The foundation stones were laid last weekend in Arles for an Arts Resource Centre designed by the Canadian-born, Californian-based architect Frank Gehry, which will be the centrepiece of the 20-acre Luma Arles campus. This hugely ambitious cultural project is driven by the Swiss pharmaceutical heiress and contemporary art collector Maja Hoffmann. At the groundbreaking ceremony, the mayor of Arles, Hervé Schiavetti, not only toasted the French Republic but also declared: “Vive Maja Hoffmann! Vive Frank Gehry!”
“We are delighted, it will create many jobs, as long as the industrial heritage is preserved,” said a local married couple in the 1,000-strong crowd who had worked on the site during the 1970s when it was a manufacture and repair yard for the French national railway system. A number of imposing industrial buildings remain dotted around the campus, five of which are being refurbished by the New York-based Selldorf Architects.
These vast venues will be used for installations and artists’ residencies. The first, the Atelier des Forges, is due to open in July as a venue for the annual photography festival, the Rencontres d'Arles. The campus will be nestled within a public park designed by the Belgian architect Bas Smets.
“Recognised ever since Roman times as an exceptional place, Arles has been listed as a World Heritage Site for over 30 years,” said Hoffmann in a statement. “This town and its region has always had its own unique identity, and I cherish above all the natural liberty that it embodies.”
The French National Commission for Historical Sites and Monuments ruled in 2011 that Gehry’s initial design for the arts complex, which included two towers clad in aluminium foam, would obscure the view of the bell tower of the medieval church of Saint Honoratus in the Alyscamps, a Roman burial ground.
After a change to the design, which included losing the towers and moving the building further away from the church, Gehry’s 9,000 sq. m stainless steel centre has now been granted planning permission. It will house workshops and seminar rooms, artists’ studios and exhibition spaces.
Gehry’s arts complex, which is scheduled for completion in 2018, will also be structured around a circular glass drum, the shape of which relates to the Roman Arena in Arles. Hoffmann’s Luma Foundation will provide around €100m in funding for the project; a spokeswoman for Arles’ local council declined to say if the city had contributed.
“Maja taught me about the region,” Gehry said at the press conference. “We talked about trying to evoke Van Gogh’s Starry Night.” The outline of the new building is inspired by the limestone peaks of Les Alpilles, the mountain range that rises from the Rhone Valley northeast of Arles and is an important feature of Van Gogh’s work set in Arles.
Models of some of Gehry's most famous commissions, including the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Abu Dhabi, are on display in the Atelier de la Mécanique on the Luma Arles campus ("Solaris Chronicles", until 26 October). Hoffmann and Gehry selected the maquettes, which move around the space as part of a piece choreographed by the artist Tino Sehgal.
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