The new Fondation Louis Vuitton reflects its Parisian surrounds as well as 19th-century glass and garden architecture.
It's been described as an iceberg, a fish and, most often, a glass ship.
Like all great architecture, the new Fondation Louis Vuitton has evoked a flurry of labels and strong emotions, though its architect, Frank Gehry, aimed to inspire creative contemplation. "I wanted to create a feeling that was warm and engaging, usually absent from modern, minimalist architecture," he says.
One of a few private museums in France, the building was commissioned and funded by Bernard Arnault, one of France's wealthiest men, a long-time patron of the arts and the chairman of luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Arnault's cultural initiative, which French reports put at a cost of about $135 million, aims to support artists and enrich the nation's legacy of contemporary art, alongside LVMH's existing artistic sponsorships.
Eleven exhibition galleries house a permanent collection, including works from Arnault's personal collection, and temporary exhibits with direct participation from artists. The inaugural exhibition, open until 16 March, traces Gehry's vision and the building's six-year construction.
A modular auditorium, which doubles as an exhibition space, will host events from chamber music to fashion shows.
The building's 12 sails can be glimpsed above the treetops of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris's 16th arrondissement, within the 18-hectare Jardin d'Acclimatation, the children's park opened by Napoleon III in 1860. For Gehry, the tranquil site conjured images of Marcel Proust and the life of Parisian flâneurs. "I was acutely aware of the gravitas of the location so there was added pressure to create something I've never done before," he said at the building's opening in late October.
It's his first project in Paris since the Cinématèque Française, completed in 1994.
It's easy to liken the monument to a glass iteration of the Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, but that overlooks the singular aesthetic and technological marvels of the 85-year-old architect's chef d'oeuvre. Gehry designed the monument as an assembly of blocks: white panels of high-performance concrete wrapped in 12 sails comprising 3,600 translucent panels, moulded and fired in a custom-built kiln in Italy. "You're never completely inside and never completely outside," says Gehry of the building's transparent nature. A mirroring effect reveals the structure's bones from the exterior and the natural surroundings from the interior. This is most apparent on four asymmetrical terraces with sweeping panoramic city views - with La Défense business district at one end, the Bois de Boulogne gardens at the other - and in Le Frank, the museum's restaurant suffused with natural light.
Guided by the lightness of 19th-century glass and garden architecture, and equipped with 21st-century technology, Gehry conceived of the project as a vessel anchored in a cascading water basin, which he hoped would express the perpetual movement of the modern world.
Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8 Ave du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116, open Mon, Wed, Thu noon-7pm, Fri noon-11pm, Sat and Sun 11am-8pm, closed Tue. Tickets are 14 euros and allow access to the Fondation and the Jardin d'Acclimatation. Visit the Frank Gehry retrospective at the Centre Pompidou as a primer, until 26 January, 2015.