No one can be immune to the spell cast by the tower and new architectural lighthouse in France that, for better or worse, looks stunning in Arles.
The French city of Arles is popular for its devotion to art as the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh lost his ear there. However, the city’s relationship with art had to be generously reinforced with some outstanding performance. This is the case of its latest tower, the Luma Foundation project called Luma Arlés.
A new tower dedicated to the art of Arles
The foundation launched the Luma Arles project and sought an emblematic space within its city. This turned out to be an old industrial area called Parc des Ateliers, which was intended for the construction and repair of steam locomotives and weapons manufacturing during World War II. However, it was now in disuse and practically abandoned.
El proyecto de Luma Arlés contaba con 11.000 hectáreas de superficie industrial, por lo que los promotores buscaron un estudio de arquitectura capaz de proponer soluciones compatibles con las ideas de la fundación. En primer lugar contaron con la ayuda del estudio Selldorf Architects de Nueva York, quienes han completado tres actuaciones de reforma y rehabilitación de los antiguos edificios industriales, convirtiéndolos en exposiciones, cafetería, museos al aire libre y escuela de danza.
The Luma Arlés project had 11,000 hectares of industrial surface, so the promoters looked for an architecture studio capable of proposing solutions compatible with the foundation’s ideas. In the first place, they had the help of the Selldorf Architects studio in New York, who have completed three reform and rehabilitation actions on the old industrial buildings, turning them into exhibitions, a cafeteria, open-air museums and a dance school.
Frank Gehry has been commissioned to design the new tower of Arles
Along with them, the foundation decided to enlist the help of the famous architect Frank Gehry who, in addition to being a Pritzker Prize winner in Architecture, has designed some of the most impressive buildings in the world, including the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The result of this collaboration is the tower you see before your eyes and, yes, it is so striking that it dazzles.
The tower began its construction in 2016 and ended in 2020, but its inauguration was this June. The pandemic situation delayed the inauguration for a few months, but from June 26 anyone who wants to get closer to the tower will be able to enter and enjoy its many charms.
The Tower has a height of 56 meters
The building has 12 floors, of which only ten are used, which represents some 15,000 square meters of surface area for exhibition halls, with special reference to the Main Gallery. It is a large exhibition hall of 1,000 square meters completely free, a terrace on the ninth floor, restaurants, an auditorium with 150 seats, workshops, library, archives and offices, as well as spaces for events and seminars, in short, everything very well used.
The Tower, the name given to the construction, reaches 56 meters in height, which in Arles is a true construction milestone, as well as a visual one. But, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s the visual that makes the most impact. And it is that the tower has an amorphous envelope covered with 11,000 metal panels, stainless steel if we echo the website of the architects and the foundation itself, but aluminum if we read other articles in the specialized press.
An envelope with more than 670 tons of glass
According to Gehry: “We wanted to evoke local roots from Van Gogh’s Starry Night to the appearance of the Alpilles rocks. As for the rotunda, it echoes the Roman arenas.” They have succeeded as well. In any case, the structure of the building is based on a combination of reinforced concrete and metal structures, to allow maximum durability and adaptation to the original design.
The tower is housed in a no less impressive glass «drum», a construction that mimics the shape of the «Roman arena», with a diameter of 54 meters and a height between 16 and 18 meters. But the most impressive thing is the use of 670 tons of glass to cover its envelope, an exercise in transparency that some governments could well do.
The Tower has cost 150 million euros
Whether made of stainless steel or aluminium, the envelope of this building captures and returns the different shades that reach it from the Arles sky, its effects being especially dramatic at sunrise or sunset. The «glazed faults» are also another element that we cannot ignore. And it is that they define the margins of facades and imitate the slopes of a mountain.
Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss pharmaceutical heiress to the Hoffmann-La Roche fortune, is behind the foundation, and contributed some 150 million euros to the project. In addition, other companies have been necessary collaborators in this project, such as the architecture studio that Studios Architecture, who endorses on its website that the panels are made of stainless steel, and that they developed the curved plaster elements inside the building, work to which they devoted much of their effort.
A tower that will go down in the history of Arles
Outside, the landscape bears the Belgian signature of the Bureau Bas Smets studio, who has provided this area with more than 80,000 trees of different species, as well as an artificial lake. MYAMO Asesores should also be highlighted, in charge of advising the property from the design to the completion of the works.
Of course, the contrast between Gehry’s tower and the built environment has generated controversy among the French, but, above all, among professionals in the sector, who believe this unique building is out of place. In the end, time will tell who was right and who was wrong, but to show a button. Many criticized the Guggenheim and now it is an international benchmark.