It's now due to open in 2020, but the new cultural centre in Arles is already rising above the SNCF rail yard site
Its opening has been pushed back to 2020, but the LUMA Arles complex is taking shape in the French town celebrated for its prestigious Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival.
Set on the site of the former SNCF rail yard long used for exhibitions by Les Rencontres, LUMA Arles will be an interdisciplinary arts centre aimed at supporting and producing exhibitions, research, education and archives. It is backed by Swiss collector Maja Hoffmann, whose LUMA Foundation has been involved with Les Rencontres d’Arles since 2013. LUMA Arles will occupy a 20-acre site when it’s complete, and the arts centre will be the centre-piece.
The tower is designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, who is probably best-known for helping revive the fortunes of Bilbao, Spain with his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which opened in 1997. Due to be 56m high when complete, the centre in Arles will feature a vast circular atrium said to recall the UNESCO-listed town’s Roman amphitheatre.
Hoffmann has contributed €150 million to the project, according to ArtNet, which will also feature a public garden called the Parc des Ateliers, designed by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets. New York-based Selldorf Architects has already converted several industrial buildings on the site into gallery spaces.
Hoffmann, whose wealth is inherited from the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical company, grew up in Arles and is continuing a family tradition of investing in the town, but her plans have met with some criticism. François Hebel, the highly successful director of Arles from 2001-2014, resigned when it was announced that the LUMA Foundation would take over the ateliers site.
“Seven years ago, I suggested to Maja Hoffmann that she buy these ateliers to refurbish them for Les Rencontres d’Arles,” he told BJP at the time. “But in 2009 she changed her mind and came up with the project of a contemporary art centre. She wanted, little by little, to expel Les Rencontres.”
One of the programmes set up in Arles so far is the Atelier Luma project, which launched in 2016. Described as “a think tank, a production workshop and a learning network”, it is focusing on “new and sustainable ways of using the natural and cultural resources of the bioregion”, including inviting Dutch designers Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros on board to set develop their 3D bioplastics printing AlgaeLab.