In the light of the south

With "The Tower", Frank Gehry has created the heart of the new LUMA Arles cultural centre in the south of France and at the same time built the city a landmark that attracts international attention.
by Anna Moldenhauer | 6/28/2021

It has become a proverbial showpiece: "The Tower", consisting of four interconnected columns, stacks up 56 metres above Arles. Frank Gehry's latest project thus draws attention to the small town in the south of France where, with the completion of construction after seven years, the LUMA Arles complex is now complete and already offers one of the largest cultural centres in the world. The new work of the 92-year-old architect is not only visible from afar because of its size – the façade of the twisted structure made of concrete and steel has been fitted with stainless steel bricks and glass boxes in small sections, reflecting the light in every direction. 11,000 bricks were deformed according to their position for this extraordinary effect, each of them a numbered unique specimen. In combination, the cladding of the building creates a different perspective depending on the position of the sun and the weather. With this play of light and shadow, Gehry creates a reference to art via the architecture, to the work of Vincent van Gogh, who was fascinated by the dynamics of the sky and the soft, warm light of Provence. "The Tower" is set above a rotunda as a base, the "Drum". "We wanted to evoke the local, from Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' to the towering cliffs found in the region. The central 'Drum' is modelled on the floor plan of the Roman amphitheatre," says Gehry.

The initiator of the project, which began in 2010 with the acquisition of a 20-hectare railway wasteland, is Maja Hoffmann, co-heiress of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche, art collector and patron of the arts. "There is one driving-metaphor for LUMA Arles: that of a living organism. As such the balance between form and function will determine its viability. The trick is to compose a polyphonic score where everything is ordered, but where everything is possible," she says. With the LUMA Arles Campus and the Arts Resource Centre in the "Tower" designed by Gehry, a cultural complex has thus been created that is intended to promote interdisciplinary collaboration and offers flexibly usable spaces for exhibition, archive, research, production and mediation. The property also includes a park newly created by landscape architect Bas Smets with a good 300 trees, which guests can overlook from the panorama terrace of the Tower. Like the newly created green space, the building itself is designed to contribute to environmental protection and is thus equipped with a sustainable combined heat and power system that runs on renewable fuels.

Tip: In the summer of 2021, visits to the exhibitions at LUMA Arles and admission to the Tower will be free of charge for visitors; TimeSlots can be booked via the homepage.

La tour Luma imaginée par Frank Gehry