“A lot of people don’t get it, but I design from the inside out so that the finished product looks inevitable somehow. I think it’s important to create spaces that people like to be in, that are humanistic” – Frank Gehry.
The quote goes very well with the design of the Louis Vuitton Foundation building in Paris, a cultural center for the artists to display their artworks, which was built in 2014 by Frank Gehry. During his visits to the site in the Jardin D’acclimatation in Bois de Boulogne, Gehry thought it, as a very powerful and emotional site, because of its location in nature’s setting, and because the children come to play and the adults and the elderly come for a stroll.
This itself was Frank Gehry’s inspiration to do something special to create a play and interaction between his design and the users. The site, too, is a 19th-century park that was proposed by Napoleon III and is a sanctuary for various animals, birds, and plants. The architect wanted all that to come into play.
Upon entering the site, we see a unique play of forms. A ship, a cloud floating above the trees, or whatever one decides to call it. Upon entering the mind of the architect, initially, these were just chaotic lines that transformed into a structure having a chaotic play of enclosure and semi-open spaces. There is a gentle play of order in the disorder that keeps the users constantly engaged.
And to see the play from a distance, the structure or the ‘ship’ had to rise above the standard height guideline of two floors. The ‘sails’, as the architect calls it, rise powerfully yet gently above the trees.
The sails open up at the junctions and create entrances, and allow natural light to enter inside the ‘icebergs’. Icebergs are the galleries to display artworks above which the sails hang joyfully to create pavilions, and are restricted to the height guideline of two floors. Yet, there are three levels, the third being the grotto level that goes underground.
The icebergs had to be something solid to hang the paintings and allow users to observe the artwork in contemplation. So the galleries are typically having white walls. The circulation is designed where the slits opened up, while the staircases resembled the flowing water cascade.
There are 11 galleries – the galleries on the upper floors have a pyramidal cut out in the ceiling that pours soft daylight, offices, cafe, library, studio, and a lot of terraces under the ‘sails’ or the glass ‘candles’. There is an auditorium on the grotto level (below ground floor) for various cultural events which can also be used as a multipurpose hall that can accommodate 350 to 1000 people. It has views of the water cascade outside. One can move from gallery to gallery experiencing a play of natural light through the slits between the sails, and with the views of gardens.
The total built area is 11000 sq.m out of which 3850 sq.m. is dedicated to the galleries. The inclusion of mezzanine floors allows for glass sails to rise at different heights making the highest tip of the structure stand at 45 meters.
Users experience moments of being away from the city and at the same time, a sense of being in the city as they pass through the chaotic circulation and stairways and the terraces that offer views of the Paris city far away, through the simple yet thoughtfully designed landscape surrounding the ‘ship’.
The landscape design comes as complementary to Gehry’s structure. There is a water cascade and a pool on the eastern side to cast a reflection of the structure. One can enjoy the moments of standing near the ship and in front of the water itself. The landscape is designed such that there are wide winding avenues, open grounds, and too many trees, that also goes well with the Bois de Boulogne.
Materials and Construction
The sails, twelve in numbers, had to rise above the height restrictions of 2 floors according to Gehry’s design. So the glass was used that went along with the concept. The glass panels are at a distance from the main building, i.e., the iceberg so that the structure appears dynamic and transparent and is held by steel girders. The sails are also placed at various angles for the play of light inside the structure. The glass panels are supported by curved wooden beams that go up to 28 meters and steel mullions. Each curved glass panel is unique, and there are 3600 panels in the entire structure. The unique bend and dimensions of each glass panel were achieved with the help of various softwares, and the design of the entire sail system was worked out in software.
The white icebergs are clad in white fiber-reinforced concrete panels fixed on aluminum panels and are structurally supported by concrete and steel framework.
The design of the glass roof is such that it allows rainwater to flow and get collected to be reused for watering the plants, for fountains and the pool, and cleaning purposes. Besides, the form of the sails and their angles also improves the geothermal power of the structure. The materials used, too, are durable, especially the use of stainless steel for corrosion-free design.
Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation building is constantly keeping the users engaged in the space. It speaks the words of the architect. This masterpiece is itself a display of artwork in Bois de Boulogne in the City of Light and is a symbol of the constantly evolving world.