Project Gehry Partners
Photos Iwan Baan, Marc Domage, Todd Eberle
(courtesy by Louis Vuitton), Matteo Vercelloni
Text Matteo Vercelloni

“A dream come true,” says Bernard Arnault, President of Fondation Louis Vuitton and the man behind this new center for the arts entrusted to the gestural architectural approach of Frank Gehry, who retraces the themes of his career of design research, from the lofty perch of the age of 86, still driven by a passion for totally free invention.

Fondation Louis Vuitton has been described as a sailboat set down amidst the foliage of the tall trees of this historic park, but perhaps we should look to the tradition of architectonic folies and their theatrical impact to better grasp the surprising effect and the insertion in the context of this entire construction. Starting with the neighboring Jardin d’Acclimatation created in 1860 by Napoleon III and the Empress Eugènie, the first public garden d’agrément et de loisirs in France, with parts set aside for the display of fauna and flora, and then the formation of a true ménagerie, to which the new Fondation LV makes reference in its image as a large aviary – but in this case open to the sky – and its way of evoking, in the Le Frank restaurant on the ground floor, a sort of aquarium en plein air, with big flying fish designed for the occasion by Frank Gehry. The Fondation is isolated in the park and emerges decisively from the vegetation, rising over the treetops like a promenade suspended on terraces at different levels organized above the volumes of the ‘iceberg,’ sculptural features that convey, in the volumetric landscape, the dynamism of the roofs of the eleven galleries below. Composed of as many as 19,000 panels of Ductal (highperformance fiber cement), the ‘iceberg’ and the large sails made of over 3500 glass panels with microperforated metal screen, form the two layers of the overall architecture. Here we can observe the Dada procedure of the collage, which goes beyond any mere functional references; we can see the ‘spherical view’ of the building, where all the surfaces are shared, because what counts is not so much having a front and a back, as the relations and interactions between the elements, and what is transmitted and inserted between them. We could also glimpse the idea of a building-city, an itinerary of discovery, organizing a narrative in exhibition spaces, welcoming site-specific works like “Inside the horizon” by Olafur Eliasson, which in the basement is joined on one side by a pool on which the entire building is virtually set, reflecting itself and its surroundings in the rhythmical sequence of aligned pillars. The colors of the canvases of Ellsworth Kelly add character to the auditorium facing the waterfall, another tribute to the tradition of the 19th-century garden, as designed by Alphand and Barillet- Deschamps. Described by Frank Gehry in terms of the desire to “design a magnificent vessel for Paris capable of symbolizing the profound French cultural tradition,” the Fondation LV – ready for successful artistic contaminations, in the intentions of its creator, and based on the idea of designing buildings not as static creations, but as dynamic, never finished works – has an overall area of 11,000 m2, of which 7000 are open to the public. Inside, in the epiphany of the eleven gallery spaces, the facility contains a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, joined by temporary exhibitions and open to concerts and performances, thanks to the auditorium. Particular attention has also gone into questions of sustainability, obtaining HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale) certification, recycling rainwater to wash the glass roofing and to irrigate the green areas on the terraces from which to observe the profile of the city. Built in this specific zone of the Bois de Boulogne, where Louis Vuitton has held the concession of the Jardin d’Acclimatation since the 1950s, when Marcel Boussac took over the rights thanks to a public-private pact, the Fondation located on public land will return, after 55 years, to full municipal control, thus donating a new museum to the city, and offering a new icon for 21st-century Paris.