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LUMA Arles - Frank Gehry

Project Specifications:


Arles, France


Gehry Partners LLP


Frank Gehry

Built in:



11,700 m²


Cultural Centre


Iwan Baan


The Luma Arles creative campus in southern France features a twisted tower that serves as its centerpiece. Clad in 11,000 reflective stainless steel panels, the tower's form is inspired by the swirling brush strokes of Van Gogh's Starry Night and the local landscape. The crumpled structure, punctuated by protruding boxy windows, rises from a cylindrical base in a nod to the Arles Amphitheatre, one of many Roman monuments that earned the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

“We wanted to evoke the local, from Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ to the soaring rock clusters you find in the region. Its central drum echoes the plan of the Roman amphitheatre,” says Gehry of the design.

Frank Gehry's towering masterpiece, measuring a sprawling 15,000 square meters, serves as a hub for the creative minds at the Luma Foundation. The space includes various exhibition areas, research and seminar facilities, an auditorium, and a cafe for foundation members to convene and collaborate. Established in 2004 by Swiss art collector Maja Hoffmann, the Luma Foundation brings together artists, curators, scientists, and innovators to generate innovative and experimental projects. In addition to the tower, four out of seven former railway factories on the campus have been transformed into exhibition and performance spaces by Selldorf Architects, while the surrounding grounds have been beautifully landscaped by Bas Smets.


Design Philosophy :

The exterior of the new building is inspired by the stunning limestone peaks of Les Alpilles, a mountain range that towers over the Rhone Valley near Arles. These geological wonders, with their rugged and textured cliffs, stand out prominently against the flat valley below and served as the inspiration for the building's striking form and design. The building's design aims to capture the dramatic beauty and unique context of the region, drawing on the natural features of the Les Alpilles as a source of inspiration and influence.

The Les Alpilles mountains have long been a source of cultural significance in the region and beyond. They were famously depicted by Vincent van Gogh during his time in Arles, in which he captured the mountains' distinctive texture and dynamism with visible, segmented brushstrokes. This artistic interpretation of the Les Alpilles inspired the design of the building's exterior cladding, which seeks to capture the movement of individual elements across the surface of the tower. The mountains have played a significant role in shaping the cultural memory and identity of the region, and the building's design pays tribute to their enduring influence.

The exterior of the new building is inspired by the limestone peaks of Les Alpilles, with a design that breaks down the surface into visible modules. This creates a "painterly" effect, with the building appearing to change in appearance as one moves around it due to the way each panel reflects light differently. Over the course of the day, the building will take on the colors and hues of the surrounding environment and sky, adding an impression of movement to the façades.

This concept is further reinforced by the local architecture of Arles, which is characterized by its masonry construction, as seen in the limestone panels of the Amphitheatre, the Thermal Baths of Constantine, and the stone roof panels of the cloister of the Church Saint-Trophime.


Material & Façade :

The new building is a striking addition to the cityscape, with its undulating, rippling geometry and shiny stainless steel panels that catch the eye. Standing tall at 180 feet, it's the jagged, metallic upper half of the tower that has garnered the most attention and sparked some controversy online. However, there's more to the building than just its distinctive top half – it sits atop a metal-framed, glass-covered drum with a diameter of 177 feet, which pays homage to the nearby Arles Amphitheatre. The building's bold, modern design sets it apart from the surrounding architecture, making it a standout addition to the city.

The tower is encircled at its base by a glass rotunda, also known as the drum. The construction of this structure required careful planning and modeling to ensure that the large, heavy glazed panels fit together seamlessly and could withstand high temperatures. The drum is also designed with a sloped roof to allow for easy access. These considerations were essential in creating a functional and aesthetically pleasing addition to the tower.


The construction :

The building is divided into three main sections: a base featuring a glass rotunda that leads out to a plaza, a central tower with a concrete core that branches out into four separate towers adorned with metallic petals. The intricate geometry of the structure meant that every single surface is unique, requiring extraordinary technical skill and precision to bring it to life. The building was fully modeled in 3D, down to the last bolt, in order to ensure the structural integrity and visual impact of the design. The result is a structure that is both visually striking and technically impressive, a testament to the architects' mastery of form and function.

The Luma Arles arts center is housed in a towering structure that stands 56 meters tall and includes exhibition galleries, archives, a library, offices, seminar rooms, and a cafe. The building is clad in 11,000 irregularly arranged stainless steel panels, giving it a distinctive, eye-catching appearance that serves as a landmark for the arts center. The facade of the building required four ATEX (technical experimentation assessment) evaluations to ensure the innovative design was structurally sound and visually appealing. The center was founded by Swiss collector Maja Hoffmann in 2013 and has become a hub for artistic experimentation and collaboration.

"The skyline of Arles is populated with towers built from the ancient times to the Middle Ages up to the present," said Gehry. "The new building will help establish Luma Arles as a significant site among the other landmarks of the city."

The faceted metallic towers of the building are adorned with a "bloc facade" (BFC) that is one of the standout features of the project. This shimmering finish was achieved using techniques from the naval industry to create large steel hulls, which were then mounted on a metal skeleton and covered with around 12,000 stainless steel blocks, all made from the same source to ensure consistent color. This innovative approach to construction allowed the architects to create a visually striking and technically impressive building that stands out in the surrounding landscape.

The building's exterior and interior are clad in tinted concrete panels, which required extensive research and development work to create. One of the challenges was installing 1700 panels of various shapes, sizes, and angles (some of which measured up to 20 square meters and weighed 10 tons) in an earthquake zone. The final product needed to be both raw and mineral in appearance, while also meeting high technical standards in terms of detailing, with joints measuring just 20 millimeters and a finish that replicated the stone of the Alpilles. This was achieved using a four-fold matrix made from a silicone imprint of the quarries in Beaux de Provence. The result is a building that seamlessly blends form and function, with a visually striking and technically impressive design.

In order to find innovative technical solutions for the building, the architects turned to advanced technologies, including the 3D DIGITAL PROJECT software created by GEHRY Technologies and Dassault Systèmes. The practice, STUDIOS, adapted this tool for use in France, developing a method and protocol for communicating between digital models to ensure that the design intent of GEHRY Partners was carried through to the project management model and the models of the various companies involved. This allowed the team to work seamlessly and efficiently, leveraging the latest technologies to bring the building to life.


Drawings :


Sustainable Practices :

The LUMA Arles, a contemporary art museum designed by Frank Gehry, is located in Arles, France. The building, which was completed in 2014, is known for its innovative design and sustainable features.

One of the sustainable features of the LUMA Arles is its use of solar panels to generate electricity. The building's roof is covered with photovoltaic panels, which are capable of generating over 100,000 kWh of electricity per year. This renewable energy is used to power the museum's lighting, heating, and air conditioning systems.

In addition to using solar panels, the LUMA Arles also incorporates other sustainable design elements. The building is designed to maximize natural light, which helps to reduce the need for artificial lighting and reduces energy consumption. The building also has a green roof, which helps to regulate the temperature inside the building and reduces the amount of rainwater runoff.

Overall, the LUMA Arles is a great example of how contemporary architecture can be both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly. Its sustainable design elements not only help to reduce the building's energy consumption, but also contribute to the overall health and well-being of the community.

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