Frank Gehry Finally Towering over Arles

It’s taken five frustrating years says writer Bradley Kuett of Provence Ventoux Blog, but finally Arles’ authorities have given the green light to a planned new 100-million-euro Frank Ghery-designed cultural centre.

Frank Ghery at the presentation of his Arles project (Screen capture Daily Motion)

Frank Ghery at the presentation of his Arles project (Screen capture Daily Motion)

Arles: The Maddeningly Strenuous Five Year Saga for Frank Gehry’s Modish Tower

by BB KUETT on FEBRUARY 8, 2014


Final design by Frank Gehry for the Luma Foundation has a single soaring 170-foot tower of twisted aluminum foam with a stone backbone, perched on a plinth, enveloped by a 54-foot glass rotunda and a landscaped courtyard.

Impatience is a particular hazard for world class architects who strive to design art institutions. The competition is strenuous. Then upon being selected, getting the structure built is an even more strenuous bovine affair.

Feted in the late 1980’s at the now-shuttered Le Cygne in New York for his appointment (there was no competition) to design the Museum of Modern Art for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, I.M. Pei had to wait 17 more years before the museum opened. Four years were consumed when Mr. Pei went to court, against his own client mind you, to assure the use of French marble stones prescribed in his design. By dollar per square foot, is there a more costly museum ever constructed?

In Arles, Frank Gerhy has seen five years pass by since he and Maja Hoffmann, president of the Luma Foundationpresented in July 2008 Mr. Gehry’s design of a luminous tower of twisted aluminum foam for the Parc des Ateliers.

Watch the video presentation of the project here:

FRANK O. GEHRY par Pavillon-Arsenal

Almost any perfervid admirer of architecture has endured extreme aggravation bordering on bewilderment over the interminable delays due to the tower being too close to a Roman cemetery or that it obstructed views of a medieval church. The whole thing has been tremendously complex and confusing – and a precise calculus of how things finally got to this point is hard to arrive at except to give into a sensation of pure relief – a denouement arriving last July with the issuance of a construction permit to begin demolition in late September of the building (see below) on the site of the future tower.

In its on-site project office, the Luma Foundation, which is financing the construction of the ‘Parc des Ateliers’ to the tune of about 100 million Euros ($132M), has on a MAC a data base of the countless revisions and revampings of the tower since its original design – a tedious pace on a sinuous path leading to the ultimate layout of the tower and the adjoining buildings and park voici:


The ateliers in photo below are to the right of the tower in photo above

Most all of the stuff you have read about the Gehry tower in Arles project is dependent upon image technology – those reproductions of the latest designs of the park and the shiny tower.

There is another perspective that you come to realize only when inspecting the geography of the place: the Parc des Ateliers was once clusters of ateliers for railroad maintenance and repair, and it is animated every summer by exhibits of Rencontres Arles when photography consumes the ancient city.

This is a good time to say that there is no town – and Arles has more the feel of a town than a city – in France where every public surface wears a patina of antiquity more than Arles – a melange of lurid biscuit colored edifices and decaying gray stones all of which dismantles modern memory into sepia tones.

Within the Parc today, the grid of washed-out buildings and burned-out workshops stretch across a flat parched dirt surface sprinkled with scruffy haphazard plant life and weedy stubble; a vista so drab and dreary that it must have driven Madame Hoffmann outright batty to encounter such truculent resistance as if she was pitching an argument with Caesar lui-meme.


Building Set for Demolition on the Site of the Future Tower Designed by Frank Gehry

The ancient ateliers for railroad repair to be renovated

Entrance to the Parc des Ateliers from Ave Victor Hugo

Beyond the conundrum of celebrity architecture, there is an undeniable unifying “truc populaire”: the creation within the Parc des Ateliers of the largest public park in Arles, with more than 400 trees, being designed by landscape architect Bas Smets in Brussels, a serene space which will appeal to an unprecedented number of people: residents, visitors, and, yes, tourists.

And then there is the renovation of seven existing buildings with the collaboration of Selldorf Architectsin New York, founded by Annabelle Selldorf, an emerging celeb designer for high tone condos and galleries.  When completed, the Luma Foundation project will develop 13 of the 24 acres within the Parc des Ateliers.

Still strangely early to speak of a completion date, there is a communal psychic energy dispersing whatever resentment lingers as attention turns toward the future and to the special calculus of growth and prosperity that the project prefigures.

One can add on three or four years of granular work accompanied by unanticipated delays and slower-than expected progress; a stretch of eight or nine years in waiting for Frank Gehry – a mere blink of an eye compared to the 17 years of Mr. Pei’s toiling for Luxembourg.

Mr. Gehry has to be immensely pleased of one thing: to have a client as persevering and tenacious as Madame Hoffmann.

Bonnes Adresses in Arles:


Le Reflectoire: Pop-up Café adjoining the Project Office of the Luma Foundation, Chemin des Minimes, Parc des Ateliers, Open from 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. (photo r.)

Musée Réattu: “Nuages” – in a 15th Century Grand Prieuré (Priory) that sits at the great bend of the Rhone looking upon the remnants of the Roman bridge, this themed exhibit of clouds and other inspirations of suspended objects with works by Warhol, Man Ray , Jean Arp, Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, Javier Pérez, Meret Oppenheim and many others. 10 rue Grand Prieuré, Arles. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-7pm, Admission 8€. Runs until October 31. Website


La Table d’L: French cuisine with Asian accents; 1 rue bis rue Réattu, around the corner from the Musée Réattu. Tel 04 90 96 32 53, Email:; Current Exhibit of British photographer Tony Othen, “This Was Britain”; Email:, Website

Chez Ariane: Wine Bar near Musée Réattu, 2, rue Docteur Fanton, Arles, Tel: 04 90 52 00 65, Closed Monday and Tuesday. (photo l.)

La Chassagnette: Upscale Restaurant of regional cuisine “Bio” where ingredients come from a garden on the property, Domaine de L’Armelliére, Route du Sambuc, Arles, Tel: 04 90 97 26 26, Email:, 9 miles south of Arles on Route D36,  Website

Story: Bradley Kuett

Author: Bradley Kuett is a writer / consultant based in the Vaucluse. This piece, written and published on his Provence Ventoux Blogis reprinted here by kind permission of the author who retains all rights to text and images.

Provence Ventoux Le Blog (PVB) offers annals of life in the Vaucluse, the soi-disant French California, experienced by people living there. The blog is structured in four columns: food, wine, culture and reportage.  PVB is an exercise in entourage reportage: observations, impressions and points of view (POV) offered by a cadre of individuals who are at times at the same table or event. PBV does not aspire to the role of critic for food, wine or culture. An appropriate label would read bystander, observer or raconteur. PVB is published in English and edited by Bradley Kuett, who has frequented Aix-en-Provence since 1996.

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3 Responses to Frank Gehry Finally Towering over Arles

  1. Pingback: Frank Gehry Finally Towering over Arles | Frenc...

  2. Anne Ager February 20, 2014 at 10:48 am

    What an absolutely astounding building. I cannot wait to see for it real, once completed. Frank Gehry obviously has huge foresight …. as well as being an extremely talented architect. Félicitations!

  3. jean c guedj February 20, 2014 at 11:10 am


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