Frank Gehry’s Luma project takes shape in Arles

Patron Maja Hoffmann is building a €100m cultural campus on vast site previously used to manufacture trains in southern France


Luma Arles, the 20-acre cultural campus springing up in the southern French town of Arles, is taking shape with its centrepiece structure—a 58-metre high, arts resource centre designed by Frank Gehry—under construction.

The ambitious cultural project is driven by the Swiss pharmaceutical heiress and contemporary art collector Maja Hoffmann, whose Luma Foundation is providing around €100m in funding for the campus project.

Gehry’s 9,000 sq. m stainless steel building, which is scheduled for completion in 2018, has the working title of the Centre for Human Dignity and Ecological Justice, writes Hoffmann in the recent Luma Arles information journal.

“[W]e are creating a place where artists, thinkers, scientists—as well as doers and actors of the economic world—can gather and work together on new scripts for the world,” she says. Gehry’s building will house workshops and seminar rooms, artists’ studios, archives and exhibition spaces.

Five imposing industrial buildings on the Luma Arles site, previously a manufacture and repair yard for the French national railway system, have been refurbished by the New York-based Selldorf Architects. These vast spaces are used for installations and artists’ residencies, and include the Atelier des Forges, which doubles up as a venue for the renowned annual photography festival, the Rencontres d'Arles.

This year, the festival exhibition Sincerely Queer: Sebastien Lifshitz Collection (until 25 September), which presents a history of cross-dressing images dating from 1880 to 1980, is on display at the Atelier. A project spokesman says that Luma will “continue to provide exhibition spaces for Les Rencontres”.  

Another disused building renovated by Selldorf Architects, called La Mécanique Générale, is the main exhibition space. This venue currently hosts the exhibition Systematically Open? (until 25 September), featuring works by the South African artist Zanele Muholi and the US photographer Collier Schorr.

Later this year, the US artist Jordan Wolfson will fill the entire Mécanique Générale gallery with his Colored Sculpture (2006), a grotesque puppet suspended from heavy chains which is hoisted and thrown to the floor.

The Luma Arles campus will be nestled within a public park designed by the Belgian architect Bas Smets.