This ‘stainless-steel tornado’ is nearing completion in France

The 56-metre, aluminium tower was inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting, ‘Starry Night’, and is part of a new art campus. Picture: Hervé Hôte/Luma Arles

Frank Gehry’s glittering, aluminium-clad tower is taking shape in the south of France.

The 56-metre Luma Arles sits on a six-and-a-half-hectare former SCNCF rail yard in Arles, and is the centrepiece of a new $241m art campus funded by Swiss art collector and heiress to the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical fortune Maja Hoffmann, who spent her formative years in the post-industrial French town.

The tower, which is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2020, comprises a concrete core with a steel frame, and boasts a facade of 10,000 stainless steel panels, which are stacked on top of a glass atrium. Reflecting light and colour from thousands of angles, the building looks a bit like a castle, albeit with a futuristic, pixellated, video game-aesthetic.

parc des ateliers

Gehry’s tower is the jewel in the crown of the Parc des Ateliers art campus. Picture: Hervé Hôte/Luma Arles

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“We wanted to evoke the local, from Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ to the soaring rock clusters you find in the region. Its central drum echoes the plan of the Roman amphitheatre,” Gehry told the Financial Times in 2014, in reference to Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting.

But while Gehry believes the tower will “resonate in the sun and light”, locals have said the facade looks like a crumpled drinks can. American architecture writer Martin Filler, however, was slightly more positive, describing it as “a stainless-steel tornado”.

Luma Arles Selldorf Architects

The art campus’s café was designed by New York-based architect Annabelle Selldorf. Picture: Hervé Hôte/Luma Arles

Once complete, the tower will become the jewel in the crown of the Parc des Ateliers art campus, which also includes five 19th-century train sheds that New York-based architect Annabelle Selldorf is currently converting into two exhibition facilities, a hotel, a visitor center and café, and a dance studio and artists’ residence.

According to its website, the project “envisions an interdisciplinary center dedicated to the production of exhibitions and ideas, research, education, and archives and is supported by a growing number of public and private partnerships”.

Dance Studio Selldorf Architects

The campus’s dance studio is housed in a 19th-century train shed. Picture: Hervé Hôte/Luma Arles