The Inside Story Of Frank Gehry’s

Spiralling Luma Arles Tower In France

The shiny tower that was inspired by a legendary Van Gogh painting and the region’s connections with the Roman Empire is now open

Rising 56 metres above the Provençale French of Arles, Frank Gehry‘s monolith is the crowning moment of Luma Arles, a multidisciplinary art and culture complex at the Parc des Atéliers which was designed by Belgian landscape architect Bureau Bas Smets. Sprawling over 27 acres, the creative campus shares its site with a series of industrial buildings – former railway workshops – transformed by Selldorf Architects to house exhibition galleries and project spaces.

The brainchild of collector, art impresario and founder of Luma Foundation, Maja Hoffmann, the grounds of Gehry’s new building have historic links to the greats of art and architecture: The location was once the seat of the of the Roman empire in France and later on, Vincent van Gogh stayed at an asylum in nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he painted The Starry Night.

That connection explains the Gehry’s seemingly outlandish monument. The glittering stepped tower emerges from a circular steel and glass atrium that takes after the city’s famous Roman amphitheatre. The terraced tower, featuring nearly 11,000 stainless steel panels, is the Pritzker Prize–winning architect’s homage to van Gogh’s magical painting, its edifice shimmering under the sun. The ridged profile of Gehry’s new building is inspired by the limestone cliffs around Arles.

“I love the light in Arles and the wind,” said Gehry at opening. “I liked the idea of capturing and reflecting the light in this region and this city. It is not a cold building … the metal has a softness about it, even inside.”

With Hoffmann’s ambition and connections, Luma Arles’ destiny as a beacon for global arts is all but sealed. Its opening exhibition features artists such as Diane Arbus, Etel Adnan, Annie Leibovitz and Olafur Eliasson, amongst others, with the 12-floors tower dedicating an area for Hoffmann’s private collection.

“This tower represents a notion of hope, an archipelago where everything is possible. It is a place where the past, present and future come to mix” said Hoffmann.

When the project was first announced, it was met with opposition from the locals; with time, the town has warmed up to the Hoffman’s vision. This is not the first time the art patron has built her own architectural marvel from scratch. For her Caribbean dream house in Mustique, she eschewed properties favoured by royalty and Hollywood stars, commissioning the Venetian-born New York architect ­Raffaella Bortoluzzi to craft a home of wonders.