“There is one driving-metaphor for Luma Arles: that of a living organism. As such the balance between form and function will determine its viability. The trick is to compose a polyphonic score where everything is ordered, but where everything is possible”. 

This quote from Maja Hoffman, the founder of the Luma Foundation, describes The Luma Arles Campus before construction even began. This project broke ground in 2014 and is finally coming to a close, seven years later. 

Frank Gehry's twisted Luma Arles tower set to Open in France on 26 June 2021 - Sheet3
LUMA 2021_©Luma Foundation

The idea of a creative hub, influenced almost entirely by the people working in the space is not a new concept, but at this scale, The Luma Arles Campus has the ability to become the most anticipated collective in the last decade.

Frank Gehry's twisted Luma Arles tower set to Open in France on 26 June 2021 - Sheet1
Le Monde 2021©Luma Foundation

What is Luma?

The Luma Arles Campus is a project of the Luma Foundation developed by Maja Hoffman. Her quote above was originally published in 2010. Since then, the campus has certainly taken on a life of its own. Costing an estimated 100 million euros, or 120 million dollars, the campus, located in Arles, France, is in its final stages of production. It features Frank Gehry’s Shimmering Tower, set to open later this summer, barring COVID restrictions. 

Annabelle Seldorf worked on five of the six historic industrial buildings, formerly rail structures, on the campus, making them suited for various art events, including presentations and installations. Bas Smets designed the gardens and park surrounding the campus, as well. The campus’s goal of bringing creatives together to work on projects that match the foundation’s mission is made clear by their collaboration with three talented western designers. 

The Luma Foundation “focuses on the direct relations between art, culture, human rights, environmental topics, education and research” by supporting artists doing that very work. The Luma Arles Campus becomes a living meeting place for like-minded people to create. It appears to be an expansion on the Atelier Luma located in Arles already. 

The atelier “conducts projects connected to six strategic themes: Waste Matters, Producing (in) the City, Healthy Mobility, Next Hospitality, Food Circle, Circular Education,” citing itself as a “thinktank”. The foundation has held previous projects with the work of Annie Lebovitz, Rachel Rose, Walead Beshty, and Mark Wigley. They even go so far as to host Construction, Design and Architecture workshops directed at high school students. The foundation’s Offprint project has the feeling of a giant zine, tapping into the work of over 200 publishers, when they were able to meet pre-COVID.

The foundation appears to emphasize the convergence of art and science, proven by Gehry’s Luma Tower, set to house studios as well as research facilities. Gehry’s design takes inspiration from the landscape of Arles, France as well as the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Roman amphitheater. His use of stone, glass, and aluminum, is intended to invoke imagery of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, according to a press release. 

The design clearly takes root in the history of Arles. The building, like many of Gehry’s works, is impossible to miss and sticks out like a metallic thumb against the low skyline of Arles. The mixed materials concept is as subversive as it is designed to be. Hopefully, the building encourages as much creativity as it brings to the city.

Frank Gehry's twisted Luma Arles tower set to Open in France on 26 June 2021 - Sheet4
LUMA 2021©Luma Foundation

Creating New Community Inside of an Existing One

 The Luma Foundation recognizes the discomfort surrounding change by addressing community concerns in the frequently asked questions section of their page. Some of the questions are snarky (“Why ask for public money if you are so rich?”, “Isn’t the steel cladding of the tower likely to blind motorists?”, “Some think the Parc de Ateliers is elitist…”), others address mere rumors (“Rumor has it, Maja Hoffman buys everything in Arles. Is that true?”, “One often reads that Arlesians are hostile of this project, what do you say to them?”). 

But many of the nearly 40 FAQs address community issues, such as “How many jobs have you created locally?”, How will you engage the people of Arles, even those who live far away?”, and “How will you engage children and youth?”. 

While the answers may not be what citizens want to hear, they are helpful to read during this period of transition. The foundation’s willingness to communicate with Arlesians (even if that means ignoring their specific wants) is at least mildly commendable. They do aim to provide good through their work, while the path may be misguided. 

The campus will host a series of museums, schools, nurseries, shops, acting as a one-stop for any creative in the area. If visiting during the summer, guests can attend the International Festival of Photography or the World Music Festival. The Luma Arles Campus appears to be the breeding ground for the next generation of iconic and intuitive design. But one must wonder if they will be more akin to the Paris Salon or similar to the Society of Independent Artists. Only time will tell.

Frank Gehry's twisted Luma Arles tower set to Open in France on 26 June 2021 - Sheet2
Dronimages 2021©Luma Foundation



Nia Smith is an architecture student at Howard University. She uses her background in fashion to design spaces that are useful and beautiful. As an environmental advocate, Nia focuses on low-income housing made sustainably with circular design theories.