The opening of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris marks the start of another cultural chapter for the French capital, punctuated by Pritzker Prize winner Frank Gehry’s spectacular architecture.

Paris’ expansive green heart that is the Bois de Boulogne has long drawn a steady stream of admirers who come for the soothing surroundings and beautifully landscaped gardens. Established in the 1850s, during the reign of the Emperor Louis Napoleon, the Bois de Boulogne has transformed itself from being the preferred hunting grounds of French kings to the vibrant new heart for contemporary art and culture in Paris.


The last quarter of 2014, however, drew bigger crowds than ever before to the Bois. The reason? The opening of the Louis Vuitton Foundation or Fondation Louis Vuitton – a private cultural centre and contemporary art museum – housed in one of star-chitect Frank Gehry’s most spectacular designs to date.

Fans of the Pritzker Prize winner and talent behind some of the world’s best-known buildings, from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to Prague’s Dancing House, have been making their way to the western edge of the city’s elegant 16th arrondissement where the foundation is located. The area is home to chic neighbourhoods as well as several cultural places of interest such as the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée Marmottan Monet.

Stretching out over 11,000 sq m, the gargantuan building draws gasps at first sight. Located on the frontier between the Bois and the Jardin d’Acclimatation, the foundation, fashioned out of 12 giant soaring glass sails, evokes images of romantic sailing vessels like a phinisi (a traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship). With each sail designed to provide stylish shelter for the foundation’s various galleries, it is a beautiful juxtaposition of nature and the man-made, as glass sails meet the tree-tops of centuries-old oak and beech trees. The space also houses a 350-seat auditorium, inaugurated with a performance by renowned Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, followed by a series of eight retrospective concerts by pioneering electronic group, Kraftwerk.

“I have always admired Frank Gehry, and I chose him after seeing his project in Bilbao,” Fondation Louis Vuitton President Bernard Arnault was once quoted as saying. “He is one of the greatest architects of our times, and I knew he would meet the challenge of designing an amazing monument of 21st century architecture,” said Arnault, who is also LVMH’s Chairman/CEO.

Certainly, the foundation’s first artistic statement proved to be impactful. The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, called it “a gift for Paris”. Currently, fans of Gehry will be able to view Europe’s first major retrospective on the architecture of Frank Gehry, on until 16 March 2015, as well as a special solo exhibition by Olafur Eliasson titled Contact, which is designed to address that which lies at the edge of one’s senses and knowledge, until 16 February 2015. A sizeable permanent collection, belonging to the foundation or the Arnault Collection, will also be open for public viewing before finishing up on one of the terraces that look out onto exceptional views of Paris and its surrounds.

On the foundation, which took six years to be completed, Arnault had also said: “I want people who visit it to walk away knowing that Louis Vuitton is close to the arts and to illustrate the close relationship the brand has always had with the arts since the 19th century. I am also reminded of something Picasso once said that might well have served as our inspiration throughout this project: ‘Art wipes the soul clean of the dust of everyday life. A cleansed soul restores enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is what we – and future generations – need most’.”


The Peak talks to the legend and talent behind the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Your latest project, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, has been described with many superlatives, including “fantastic”, “a glass masterpiece”, “a 21st century Grand Palais”. What would your own words be and why?
Because the site is in a garden, we needed to have a translucent building, something in the spirit of 19th-century garden pavilions. I wanted the building to reflect the changing sky and the trees in the jardin (garden). From the outside, its surroundings are reflected in the sails and, when you’re inside, you can look out and feel connected to the jardin. The entrance is meant to feel like a gateway to both the museum’s galleries and the jardin. I am a sailor and I thought of this building as a glass regatta moving through the park.

What were your first thoughts when Bernard Arnault approached you to do the project?
I always begin a project by understanding the goals of my client. Arnault had wanted a building that would encourage creativity and make contemporary art accessible. He had a programme and goals for how the building should function. That was our starting point. We explored different options for the building. Once we had the functional diagram, we began to explore the architectural expression of the building. We worked on all aspects of the design with Arnault.

Bernard Arnault also mentioned you were particularly inspired after visiting the Paris site together. Could you elaborate?
I became familiar with the Bois de Boulogne when I lived in Paris in the 1960s, and was overwhelmed with emotion when I visited it again with Arnault. I felt as though I was walking through the gardens in the footsteps of Marcel Proust. I felt the long history of the park and I knew I had a responsibility to create a design appropriate to this very special site. Also, the city’s 19th-century glass garden buildings were a reference.

You’ve had an amazing career but what have been the main highlights for you? 
I have a problem in that I don’t like to look backwards. I like to keep pushing forward.

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