Frank Gehry at LUMA Arles: “I kept thinking about what light looked like to Van Gogh”

Frank Gehry at LUMA Arles: “I kept thinking about what light looked like to Van Gogh”

Read more about the opening of LUMA Arles here as well as other must-see artistic and cultural venues in the city

Art Newspaper: The tower at LUMA Arles alludes to the built and natural environments around Arles. Can you explain this combination in the building?

Frank Gehry: I responded sculpturally to the city. There are two important Roman buildings close to LUMA Arles. It made sense to enhance that aesthetic to create an entrance and foyer for the building like a drum. It was intuitive, sculpturally responding to what I saw in Arles, and then relating to it in some way.

Arles is surrounded by the Alpilles (mountain range) creating a powerful image. When we spoke with Maja Hoffmann (Founder and President of the LUMA Foundation) about capturing light, it led to a natural construction of the façade. It required something more connected to the environment and the city of Arles.

Van Gogh famously said: “Those who do not believe that the sun is here are truly infidels.” Not just light; Specifically, the sun was a talisman for him.

Frank Gehry and Maja Hoffman in Los Angeles in 2019 © Annie Leibovitz

Was this a factor in your designs?

I think my artistic history and my sense of Van Gogh’s presence in Arles was always on my mind. I always kept thinking about what light looked like to him when he was painting there. Thanks to the more natural interface, we were able to make something that wasn’t a single photo, but something that took multiple photos at different times of the day. I was excited about it, and I think we were successful. It changes throughout the day and catches the light, showing these different states very proudly.

You also said Van Gogh Starry night It had another effect. In what way?

Starry night (1889) was painted in Arles and is a wonderful painting that we all love. I was curious about what light looked like when he was painting and I think it still is today. In the evening the building comes close to capturing the colors of that painting.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night was part of Frank Gehry’s inspiration for his LUMA Arles Tower

Given the reference to Van Gogh, and the evocation of his independent brush marks on the tiles, could the building be described as pictorial?

I think I’ve always been interested in how light reaches buildings and in capturing a very painterly ‘brushstroke’ in my buildings. Light is free, and it is part of the world that is always around us. To seize it is to take advantage of an asset and take advantage of something that is always changing.

Can you describe your approach to building materials? Obviously the most eye-catching is the stainless steel, but more importantly it is accompanied by a stone cube shape and then a cylindrical base of glass and stone. It seems necessary that there be an interaction between transparency and opacity, and between tangible and intangible effects.

It was necessary that the stone parts of the building be solid, such as the archive, warehouse, elevators, mechanical areas, etc. I wanted to surround all parts of the building that did not need lighting with large-scale blocks. This was difficult to achieve, so we used concrete that was of a different scale than metal and glass. The solid facades relate to the church and the scale of the ancient stone buildings.

“It seems necessary that there be an interplay between transparency and opacity, tangible and intangible effects,” Frank Gehry says of his materials for LUMA Arles. Photo: Adrian Dewerdt/Loma Arles

The building has multiple uses. Can you explain how you met their range of activities?

The project was designed with maximum flexibility in mind, albeit within the context of the tower. Early during the programming stages, LUMA’s core group of consultants informed us that contemporary concepts for exhibition spaces should be expanded beyond the white cube spaces that typically define art spaces. The artists and curators wanted to challenge traditional ideas about how art and architecture interact with each other. We established early on that there would be spaces that could meet the demands of traditional exhibitions, but the majority would invite and force artists to be involved.

The building’s initial program defined it as a space for artistic research, production, exhibition, education and archiving in conjunction with other disciplines. Therefore, the spaces are designed to function with multiple uses in mind. Classrooms can also be galleries, libraries can be exhibition spaces, and exhibition spaces can be used for events.

An aerial view of the LUMA Arles site in September 2020 © Hervé Haute

This programmatic flexibility is enabled in many spaces by flexible lighting systems that can fit the exacting standards of gallery lighting while providing comfortable illumination for everyday situations; Climate control systems that can adapt to different occupancy scenarios and climate preservation requirements in the museum; Daylight control to achieve efficient blackout conditions when needed, taking advantage of Arles sunlight when natural light is desired; And acoustic treatments on ceilings and walls to meet the different conditions that may arise.

Around the tower are former industrial buildings dating back to the 19th century, revived by Annabelle Selldorf. She spoke of her work as “stabilizing the site” alongside the tower. What kind of correspondence did you have with Selldorf and the landscape architect Bas Smits?

We had meetings with Annabelle, she was very collaborative, we understood her mission and respected her solutions. They are very powerful and persuasive. I think it was quite collaborative, but all the collaborative work was managed intelligently by Maja – as well as working with Bas, who is also talented.

At 56 metres, the tower is one meter lower than the bell tower of the tallest historic building in Arles, the Abbey of the Cordeliers, now St Charles High School. Is this a coincidence? Was this a condition on the part of the planning authorities or a form of respect for historic Arles?

The elevation was never referenced to an existing structure. The height of 56 meters was calculated based on width studies carried out from Les Alyscamps, a UNESCO World Heritage Site adjacent to the site of the former building. The ideas guiding the permissible height were specified by the ABF (Les Architectes des bâtiments de France, the body that oversees France’s historical heritage) to minimize the view from the Romanesque church. Due to the archaeological sensitivity of the buried Roman cemetery, our original proposal to build on the former site was rejected; However, the maximum height allowed for this location has been moved to the current location.

Read more about the opening of LUMA Arles here as well as other must-see artistic and cultural venues in the city

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *