LUMA Arles - Sliding for the art

Who wants to take the stairs when you can slide down to the first floor? In the LUMA building in Arles, the giant slide is part of the inventory and there is more, which makes it a pretty cool place not only for artists!

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LUMA is a unique cultural complex located in the heart of the French town of Arles in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. The small town is best known for Vincent van Gogh and for its ancient site. But now comes a completely new type of project and already the history of its area has a very old historical background.

The original terrain

At the end of the 1st century BC, a Roman necropolis was built in Arles, which expanded further and further to the southeast until the current site of the church "Saint-Honorat", where the martyr Genès is buried. Numerous stone sarcophagi testify to the history of this pagan and then Christian cemetery, which was used until the 15th century.

In the middle of the 19th century, when the city of Arles became an important hub for the transport of goods between Marseille and Lyon, the company PLM began the construction of the "Parc des Ateliers". Located where part of the necropolis of Alyscamps, work began in 1844 with the leveling of the land by dynamite blasting.

The entire area of the site was then covered with a concrete slab to facilitate the construction of the buildings and the passage of locomotives. A new station depot and a workshop were built for the maintenance and repair of trains. At its peak, 1,200 workers were employed there.

Over the years, the site underwent a series of changes and expansions until it was finally abandoned in the 1980s. However, the buildings were preserved and later acquired by the Luma Foundation, which planned to transform them into an innovative center for art and science.

the former SNCF workshops

The LUMA Foundation

The LUMA Foundation was established in 2004 by the Swiss patron and art collector Maja Hoffmann and financed entirely from her personal funds. These come from her share of the family fortune of the Swiss pharmaceutical laboratory "Hoffmann-La Roche" founded by her great-grandfather.

In this way, the billionaire has made it her goal to promote contemporary art, photography and film production. Hoffmann had been active in the art scene since the 1990s and had already supported various art projects in the past.

The LUMA Arles project was officially announced in 2013 and was intended to create a new kind of collaboration where art, research, education and social engagement could interact. The main building was designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry, who is also known for his work on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Hoffmann's children Lukas and Marina are indirectly the godfathers of the name, because LUMA is an artificial word made up of the first letters of their first names.

Apart from the former station depot and workshop, which have been transformed into modern exhibition spaces and a research center, there is now also a cinema and concert hall, a café, a restaurant, a bookstore, an archive and even a hotel for overnight guests.

The particular architecture

The architecture of LUMA Arles is remarkable. The mix of old industry and modern buildings creates a unique atmosphere that combines the past and the present.

The 56m-high tower - as a symbol visible from afar - is intended to reflect the landscape and sky, and does so in the true sense of the word through its 11,500 mirrored stainless steel lozenges. Depending on the light and time of day, it glows in different shades of color.

The "Arts Resource Building" designed by the 92-year-old star architect cost an estimated 150 million euros. The glass circular building in the lower section is modeled on a Roman amphitheater, while the jagged shapes above are intended to recall the limestone cliffs of the nearby Alpilles.

Inside, artist Ólafur Elíasson designed a double-spiral staircase with a revolving ceiling mirror.

Another striking feature is the large metal slide that runs through the building. The slide was designed by Dutch artist Carsten Höller and offers visitors an exciting alternative to the elevator. It is an example of the unique and playful design of the complex, where art and culture can be experienced in an innovative way.

The LUMA Arles takes a holistic approach to implementing sustainability and environmental protection. A variety of technologies and materials designed for sustainability and energy efficiency have been used. These include, for example, solar panels on the roof that help generate electricity and a water-saving irrigation system in the "Parc des Ateliers.

The challenges for the park

A central component of LUMA Arles is its public park, which was created on the previously concreted-over ground of the station. The park covers 15 hectares and today offers a green oasis with over 300 newly planted trees and a pond in the middle of the city.

It was designed by the Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets. He was inspired by the natural environment of Arles. But for climatic reasons, it was a special challenge.

In order not to damage the many archaeological remains still present underground, fertile soil was spread on the completely barren concrete.

The growth of vegetation is made possible by a sustainable water circulation system that draws its source from the Craponne Canal nearby. The large pond serves both as a water reservoir for irrigation and for cooling on hot summer days. A microclimate has been created here that effectively transforms the concrete desert into a lush public park.

The research and its results

The tower and its surroundings not only look remarkable. They are also the first place for large-scale experiments with several innovative materials developed by Atelier LUMA itself.

The interdisciplinary cultural center is intended to be a think tank for culture and ecology. Architecture, art, research and environmental protection intertwine here. In a dedicated research laboratory, employees search for local resources to develop new, less environmentally harmful materials.

This research led, among other things, to the cladding of walls with salt crystals. The material was developed in collaboration with the salt workers of Salins du Midi and was based on the positive properties of salt and the potential benefits for the local economy.

In addition, the tile-shaped wallpapers in the tower are made of biopolymers enriched with algae, which have been tested in the LUMA studio since 2016. This material is one of the results of a worldwide research on different types of algae and their properties.

Thanks to research on merino wool, invasive plants and pigments from algae, unique decorative fabrics were also developed. The artist Rirkrit Tiravanija used the know-how in the field of textiles and the recycling of agricultural waste to produce, among other things, acoustic panels from sunflower seeds and a monumental tapestry.

The social commitment

Beyond research, LUMA is also about engaging in social projects and supporting the local community. The LUMA Foundation works closely with local institutions and organizations to meet the needs of the community. This includes educational and cultural programs.

One example is the "Territoires en Récit" project, launched by LUMA Arles and aimed at young people in the region. It aims to strengthen young people's cultural identity and historical awareness and encourage them to take an active part in shaping their surroundings. The program includes workshops, excursions and artistic actions led by professional artists and educators.

There are numerous attractions and activities for visitors. Among them are guided tours of the exhibitions curated by renowned contemporary artists such as Annie Leibovitz, Liam Gillick and Philippe Parreno. Workshops, concerts, film screenings and much more. The complex is also a popular venue for international events such as the "Rencontres d'Arles Photo Festival" and the "Les Suds à Arles World Music Festival".

A cultural success story

Since its official opening in 2021, LUMA Arles has become a major cultural center in Europe and already attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year. Overall, it is an outstanding example of the renaissance of a formerly industrial city. This simultaneously promotes awareness and understanding of contemporary art and improves the quality of life for people in the region.

One can argue about the appearance of the mirrored tower, just like about any good art. The Süddeutsche called it a "crushed can" and a French newspaper compared it to Arnold Schwarzenegger's face as the Terminator. But who has anything against the pleasures of a giant slide? And the entrance is free!

Here's a collection of more cool slides:




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