On October 20, 2014 something unusual appeared in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris at the edge of the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Louis Vuitton’s chairman Bernard Arnault wanted to offer Paris a new, exceptional space for contemporary art. So he asked Frank Gehry to design an emblematic building-vessel “symbolizing the cultural calling of France” and that’s the result.
The so called Fondation Louis Vuitton is an impressive building with asymmetric forms partially hidden by large glass and steel sails that will make you dream. Take a quick glance and you’ll mistake it for a futuristic boat, gracefully floating atop a lake, but let’s discover it.
The architecture is a bold dialogue between tradition and modernity, expressing “the artistic vision of the Foundation”, notes Bernard Arnault. Devoted to contemporary art, the Fondation Louis Vuitton will enable a broad public to enjoy a multitude of artistic creations, deepening LVMH’s ongoing commitment to promoting culture. The reported $143 million Fondation set itself as a private contemporary-art museum and cultural center.
There are relatively few private museums in France, and in building this one Arnault was obviously hoping to reinforce a connection between his company and advanced art and design. But it has the potential to develop a brand even more powerful than that of LVMH: that of France itself, and of Paris, where more creative energy surrounded modern art, architecture, and design in the first half of the 20th century than anywhere else.
As I was saying before, this extraordinary space for art and culture was conceived by architect Frank Gehry as a vessel whose sails soar amidst the trees of the Bois de Boulogne. The building’s construction represents unprecedented technological challenges. In fact, the project has been a catalyst internationally for innovation in digital design and construction, setting a new standard for the use of advanced digital and fabrication technologies. More than 400 people contributed design models, engineering rules and assembly constraints to a common web-hosted 3D digital model, which intelligently adapted itself to design requirements. More than 3,600 glass panels and 19,000 concrete panels that form the façade were simulated using mathematical techniques and molded using advanced industrial robots, all automated from the shared 3D model.
Gehry, who is now 85, continues to push himself forward, as Picasso and Wright did late in their careers, relentlessly determined that, however important his past work may be, it must serve for him as the foundation for something more than a mere dénouement.
Paradoxically, the designing of the building pushed himself too much forward because there was no clear starting point other than the foundation’s desire for lots of gallery space, an auditorium, and the usual public amenities such as a café, a bookstore, and a large central lobby. Gehry designed the building from the inside, starting not with the final shape but with three piles of boxes containing art galleries, and three circulation towers, containing stairs and elevators. The gallery sections—which will house a corporate collection featuring works by Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, and others—are covered in a white fiber-reinforced concrete called Ductal, which led Gehry to name them “the icebergs.” He then began to arrange an array of curving glass pieces over the icebergs and towers, precisely composed to serve as both façade and roof, as well as to enclose the lobby and to cover the roof terraces.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is without a doubt the most beautiful modern building in Paris and as such deserves a visit – as I hopefully did some months ago – even if the current exhibits and events do not particularly interest you. The visit will transport you to another world because, after all, “creation is a journey” and which brand better than Louis Vuitton can show this?