Natural Materials Used in Gehry-Designed Tower


The interior of Frank Gehry's tower for Luma Foundation in Arles in Arles, France, was recently reported to have utilized natural materials to reduce the structure’s carbon footprint.

The natural materials were produced from local salt, sunflowers and algae.

Luma Arles Tower

Featuring a unique Gehry-designed twisting facade, the structure aims to be the centerpiece of the Luma Arles, a new 16-acre arts center established by Swiss collector Maja Hoffmann; the site was once a rail depot that has been vacant since 1986.

Construction on the tower began in 2014 and connects two former rail structures that were converted into exhibition spaces, which were designed by New York City firm Selldorf Architects. Six industrial buildings are to be renovated in total.

Standing at 180 feet, the tower includes more than 53,000 square feet of facade, composed of 300 Rimex Linen metal panels welded together with 11,000 blocks of stainless steel. The tower’s base consists of a large class atrium.

Gehry's building opened along with the rest of the 27-acre Luma Arles complex in June and is expected to host programs such as archives, exhibitions, presentations and seminars as well as house a café.

Natural Materials

According to reports, the interior of the Luma Foundation has been outfitted in nature-made materials produced from local salt, sunflowers and algae.

Cladded in thousands of salt panels produced in the ancient salt flats in the nearby Camargue nature reserve now cover the lift lobbies while algae from the Camargue, which is the delta of the river Rhône, was used to produce interior finishes for the building's toilets. Sunflower stems were also turned into acoustic panels for the bar.

All the environmental elements are reported to play a part in Gehry's studio responsibility to feature interior finishes from a local team: Atelier Luma, a “circular design lab” based at the vast Luma Arles campus in the south of France.

In addition to reducing the structure’s carbon footprint—having been built mostly of concrete and steel and clad in stainless steel panels—the nature-made materials were incorporated to enhance the building’s connection with the region.

“Many materials were developed and applied in the building,” said Jan Boelen, Artistic Director of Atelier Luma, who established the design lab when the Gehry building was already under construction.

For the salt panels, designers Henna Burney and Karlijn Sibbel at Atelier Luma developed a way of growing salt crystals on metal mesh placed underwater in the extensive salins.

“We came up with a solution for a material that really grows itself by crystallisation over two weeks,” explained Boelen. “No energy is added. It's only sun and wind that is creating these panels.”

As for the sunflower acoustic panels, Boelen reported that sunflower waste—made up of a mixture of foamy pith from inside the sunflower stem, fiber from the outside of the stem and proteins from the flowers—was utilized to produce a cork-like material with good insulating properties, while the sunflower seeds were pressed to make a biofuel that helps to power the building.

The algae, which was also harvested from the salt flats, were used to produced 30,000 injection-molded algae tiles in 20 colors. The designers reported that waterborne algae come in a variety of colors including pink, which gives the Camargue marshes and the flamingoes that feed off the plant their distinctive rosy hue.

Boelen adds that his team’s nature-made materials are ready for the market and can be produced and distributed for other purposes.

Other sustainable features at the Luma Arles tower include natural ventilation of the building's circular glazed podium and renewable power from an on-site biodiesel plant and solar panels.


Tagged categories: Carbon footprint; Cladding; Color + Design; Color + Design; Decorative Finishes; Design; Design - Commercial; Designers; EU; Europe; Frank Gehry; Sustainability

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