The architect Frank Gehry first grabbed the public’s attention in 1978, when he radically remodeled his own home in Santa Monica. The formerly humble suburban bungalow looked like a cartoon explosion in a lumberyard. It had a joyfully blowsy spontaneity, like a Rauschenberg “combine” you could live in. “That’s the edge I’m after,” Gehry has said of his designs. “For people to see what I want them to see, but for them to not be quite sure if it was designed or if it just happened.” As in The Wizard of Oz, there’s a man up to something behind the curtain.
Gehry’s newest project opens to the public today. It’s a gravity-defying, pixelated swirl of stainless-steel blocks for the Luma Foundation, located in a town that Vincent van Gogh once called home—Arles, France. The nine-story tower is the centerpiece of Luma’s Parc des Ateliers, an interdisciplinary-arts park re-purposed from a 19th-century railway yard just outside the old city’s walls. The site’s weighty limestone industrial sheds have already been converted to galleries and performance spaces. Gehry’s work joins them as an arts study center.