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Frank Gehry Takes Inspiration From Van Gogh for Tower in France

Not only does Frank Gehry show no signs of slowing down at age 92, but he seems to have no problem finding new sources of inspiration.

The famed Los Angeles architect recently unveiled his latest eye-catching project in the southern French city of Arles, which over the years has served as a hub for artists, including Vincent van Gogh.

In fact, Gehry said in an email, he designed the vibrant, jagged 184-foot tower on the Luma Foundation’s 27-acre campus with van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting in mind. The masterpiece was painted in Arles in 1889.

In characteristic Gehry fashion, the façade twists and turns. It also features 11,000 angled, reflective stainless steel panels.

He said natural light was a “key element” in the design.

“Arles has a history with artists who were chasing the light. We started exploring materials that could capture this very special light of Arles. The stainless (steel panels) we developed has a softness to it that reflects the ever-changing skies of Arles,” Gehry said in an email.

“We developed the shape into the blocks and to set them at different angles in order to capture the light and to mix light with different angles. That became the idea for the exterior skin. With this, you do get the light of van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ in a visual representation like I had never seen before,” he added.

The Luma Foundation was established by Swiss collector and pharmaceutical heiress Maja Hoffmann in 2004. Hoffmann gave a 150 million euro donation to fund the Luma Arles. It will hold her existing collection as well as other art.

In addition to the tower, New York-based Selldorf Architects is converting industrial buildings on the site into exhibition spaces.

Gehry said he was attracted to the project by Hoffmann.

“I was drawn to the project because of Maja — her love for the community and her interest in making a difference. Her vision and leadership has been very meaningful to me,” he said in an email.

The Luma Arles tower is home to seminar rooms, exhibition spaces, workshops, a library, a 150-seat auditorium and a cafe. It is opening with 12 exhibits. Admission, according to Bloomberg, will be free through December. After that, it is expected to be  subscription-based.

The tower is surrounded by a 10-acre public park, dubbed the Parc des Ateliers, that was designed by Bas Smets.

World-renowned artists who have lived and worked in the city include Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Jacques Réattu and Peter Brown.

Van Gogh produced more than 300 pieces of art while living in the city.
Gehry said the artists informed the design of the building.

“The Roman and Romanesque architecture, the light, and all of the artists over the years who have represented the beautiful light of all,” influenced the design, Gehry said in an email.

Gehry is one of the world’s most influential architects. His projects include the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The Disney Concert Hall, at 111 S. Grand Ave., opened in 2003 and seats more than 2,000 people. It’s home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The iconic stainless steel building cost an estimated $274 million.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao houses modern and contemporary art. It opened in 1997.

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans covers real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. A USC grad, Madans has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.
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