October 22, 2014

Frank Gehry’s Epic Louis Vuitton Foundation Opens Next Week

An intergalactic ship with glass sails, clouds wafting over icebergs—descriptions wax poetic when it comes to architect Frank Gehry’s monumental new Paris museum for the Louis Vuitton Foundation, and with good reason. It’s a wondrous vision, set above pools of water fed by a staircase cascade, set in the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a beloved 19th-century pleasure garden and children’s amusement park bordering the Bois de Boulogne on the city’s western edge.

Opening on October 27, the private museum is intended to house the Foundation’s contemporary art collection and works from the personal collection of Bernard Arnault, owner and CEO of Vuitton’s parent company LVMH.

It’s also a technical tour de force. More than four years of research by some 200 engineers engendered 30 new patents as Gehry’s California team worked with Studios Architecture and several other French engineering firms, using Dassault’s Catia 3D software, to turn Gehry’s freehand “scribble” drawings of complex shapes and volumes into a solid reality that, says Gehry, “would have been impossible 30 years ago.” The 12 glass sails that form the outer shell were produced using newly created constuction tools and a purpose-built furnace to roll 3,600 laminated glass panels into curved shapes, no two exactly alike; each panel is covered with small white dots, invisible from afar, giving the sails a misty, reflective translucence that changes with the changing Parisian light. Steel and laminated larch beams were carefully calibrated to work together in supporting the sails. The inner “iceberg” structure is built of unique, individually molded white blocks of Ductal fiber-reinforced concrete.

Eleven large white-walled galleries for the permanent collections and temporary exhibits are all different, some skylighted. A 350-seat, partly glass-walled modular auditorium has hidden seating that rotates up from discrete floor panels; Ellsworth Kelly’s 21-foot tall Spectrum VIII rainbow painting, serving as a stage curtain, and five of his smaller monochrome fabric works, are all part of the acoustic balance. Gehry’s 1980s articulated fish lamps are suspended in the glass-walled ground-floor restaurant Le Frank, and up among the sails, broad terraces provide stunning views of Paris. It’s lighter, more open, delicate and elegant than some previous Gehry buildings, a translucent crystal palace to the Guggenheim Bilbao’s titanium fortress castle.

A confirmed francophile since he lived in Paris in the 1960s, Gehry has a strong emotional connection with the historic garden site, founded by Napoléon III in 1860 and filled with the memories of Proustian Paris. Because of that, “I wanted to do something I had never done before,” he says. “It had to have gravitas, resonance with nature, and beauty.”

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