Fondation Louis Vuitton – a magnificent new cultural venue for Paris
I dream of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation.
With these words, the famous architect, Frank Gehry, creator of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum (1997), gave his blessing to the opening in October 2014 of his masterpiece, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris.
We were lucky enough to be in Paris that week and joined perhaps 10,000 others for its first open weekend.
The idea for a new cultural centre in Paris had been in the mind of Louis Vuitton’s owner, LVMH and its visionary Director, Bernard Arnault, for some 20 years, although the collaboration with Frank Gehry had commenced only in 2001.
The Fondation is located within the historic Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, close to the eastern edge of central Paris.
It is thus grounded in the popular image of a garden inaugurated in the 1860s, that evokes the magic of childhood and the mysteries of the great natural world, where exotic plants and animals (including kangaroos!!) brought back to France during the age of discovery, were acclimatised to the European climate.
Gehry was inspired by the massive cast iron dome of the Grand Palais to develop his flying and floating curved glass shells that give the building its distinctive identity.
He has created in glass for Paris a building of such dynamism that it matches and surpasses what he created in titanium for Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton essentially comprises two architectural ideas. Gehry likens the inner core of working spaces, public circulation and a series of galleries, to an “iceberg”, sheeted in the most wonderful array of curving white panels.
The eternal soaring glass panels reflect the dramatic composition of billowing sails so distinctive in those images of early 20th century racing yachts.
As with the Walt Disney Concert Hall, there is a maze of upper level terraces and platforms for the public to explore and look out over the forested park, the Jardin and the not so distant Parisian skyline.
In 2016 the whole building became a work of art, covered in coloured panels, for a temporary installation by Daniel Burren.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton can be reached via a pleasant 10-15 minute stroll through the parkland from metro Sablons (Line 1).
Alternatively, there is a shuttle bus service to and from the Etoile, in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, near the corner of Ave. de Friedland. It runs every 15 minutes and gives visitors a rare glimpse of the exclusive eastern district of the city that is not on the usual tourist circuit. The journey costs 1 euro and is proving to be a very popular way to access this new cultural icon for Paris.
The Fondation has become one of the really great cultural venues for Paris. We’ve returned several times and enjoyed some fantastic exhibitions. It’s always on our Paris exhibitions check-list before leaving home.
There is no doubt that Frank Gehry has realised his great dream for Paris, endowing the city with superb addition to its vibrant cultural life.