Project FAQ

Find all the questions related to the LUMA Arles project and the Parc des Ateliers.

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When did the Tower open?

The Tower designed by the architect Frank Gehry for LUMA Arles is open to the public since June 26th. The year 2021 marked the complete opening of the Parc des Ateliers, since the old buildings occupied by the railway company have all been renovated in previous years. Architect Annabelle Selldorf carried out the rehabilitation of Les Forges (2014), La Mécanique Générale (2016), La Formation (2018), and Le Médico-Social (2020). La Grande Halle had been renovated by the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and inaugurated in 2007, before the site was purchased for the LUMA Foundation project.


How high is The Tower, and why?

The Tower designed by architect Frank Gehry rises 56 metres above the Avenue Victor-Hugo. At this height, the view looks out over the entire old centre of Arles and the Rhone, but also over the landscapes of the Alpilles, the Crau and the Camargue. Seen from outside the town, the building is comparable in height to the buildings in the old centre, the highest of which is the bell tower of the Cordeliers Convent, now Saint-Charles High School (57 metres). The building designed by Frank Gehry is the first high-rise building (HRB) to be erected in Arles since the Joseph-Imbert Hospital was completed in 1974, and included in the list of 20th-century architectural heritage.


How many stories and square metres is The Tower?

The Tower designed by Frank Gehry, is nine stories high and covers an area of 25,000 square metres. The building, which will house workrooms, conference rooms, as well as residence and reception areas, sits on a base consisting of archive areas and vast exhibition spaces that conform to international standards.


Who picked architect Frank Gehry? And why?

Maja Hoffmann, president of the LUMA Foundation, met the architect in 2005 during the filming of the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry by American filmmaker Sydney Pollack. Maja Hoffmann was then associate producer of the film. Charmed by Gehry’s multidisciplinary approach, mixing contemporary art and architecture, by the freedom of his line and thought, by his understanding of creation as a path, by his skills as an urban planner, his ability to think about the city and its existing fabric, she called upon the architect, in 2007, to reflect on the future of the industrial wasteland of the Parc des Ateliers within the frame of a protocol signed with the town of Arles.


Where does LUMA Foundation’s money come from?

The LUMA Foundation is financed entirely by the personal funds of its founder and president Maja Hoffmann from her share of the family fortune that comes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche founded by her great-grandfather. Through the creation of the LUMA Arles Endowment Fund, the LUMA Foundation has been investing and paying taxes in France.


Isn’t the steel cladding of The Tower likely to blind motorists?

The 11,500 blocks that form The Tower’s façade are made of specially treated stainless steel to avoid glare. The stainless steel is hammered and textured, with a linen effect, so that it can capture and cast back light without reflecting it. This material was chosen after extensive testing both in laboratory and under real conditions, on site, for several years. The result is a façade whose colour varies with the light, but which presents no risk of glare.


Who owns, and pays for, what in the park?

The garden occupies a little over three and a half hectares (36,000 square metres, to be precise) of land belonging either to the Ateliers d’Arles Immobilier real estate company, of which Maja Hoffmann is the main shareholder, or to the town of Arles. The two owners decided that the park would be public, therefore free and open to all. The design work for the garden by landscape architect Bas Smets was taken over by LUMA Arles in the form of a donation. The development work (10.3 million euros) is being carried out by the AREA agency, which represents the town of Arles, to the tune of 4 million euros, for the public parts, and by LUMA, to the tune of 6.3 million euros, for the private parts. Investment in materials and equipment (1.5 million euros) for the maintenance of the park will be borne equally by the town and LUMA. The maintenance of the garden will also be carried out jointly by the town of Arles and LUMA, thus setting up an association of owners for the management of these common areas.


Why ask for public money when you are so rich?

The LUMA Arles project does not benefit from public money. Its French legal form as an endowment fund prevents it from getting subsidies. The building of the tower, the renovation of the old workshops, as well as the artistic programming and direct employment are fully financed by the private funds of LUMA Arles. State and local authority funding is devoted solely to public facilities, that is, roads, networks, the public part of the park, as well as the relocation of the SNCF’s substation. This work concerns the 11.3 hectares of the Ateliers’ urban development zone (UDZ). LUMA Arles occupies seven hectares of the UDZ, created in 2006 by the town of Arles, which also includes the site of the National school of photography (ENSP), funded mainly by the Ministry of Culture. The town, the region, the ACCM conurbation community, the department, and the state contribute 25 million euros to the UDZ budget over 13 years. Public works are carried out by AREA, the regional agency. All in all, the Parc des Ateliers is a project of general interest financed by private money. However, there is nothing preventing the state or local authorities from participating financially in programmes of collective interest, as a form of recognition and encouragement for what we do.


Did you build a Foundation to avoid paying taxes?

The LUMA Foundation has nothing to exempt from tax in France, since it is an association under Swiss law that had no activity in France before the Parc des Ateliers project. On the contrary, the Foundation has invested, and paid taxes, in France since the creation of LUMA Arles, which runs the Parc des Ateliers. LUMA Arles is an endowment fund, that is, a non-profit structure under French law. Such set-up is totally different from that of foundations under French law created by private French companies which, thanks to tax exemption, can finance their cultural and humanitarian activities.


Is the Foundation French or Swiss?

The LUMA Foundation is an association under Swiss law launched, in 2004, by Maja Hoffmann. In 2013, the LUMA Foundation created and financed the LUMA Arles Endowment Fund to direct the Parc des Ateliers project in Arles. An endowment fund is a non-profit structure under French law that fulfils a mission of general interest. LUMA Arles is the main project of the LUMA Foundation, which is also engaged in long-term partnerships with international institutions such as the Kunsthalle, in Zurich, the Tate Modern and the Serpentine Galleries, in London, as well as the New Museum and Bard College, in New York. In Arles, the LUMA Foundation is the parent company of both LUMA Arles and the structures that run the various Arlesian activities taking place within what Maja Hoffmann describes as an “archipelago.”


Who owns the Parc des Ateliers?

The Parc des Ateliers occupies seven hectares within the Ateliers’ urban development zone (UDZ). In 2013, the Provence-Côte d’Azur region, via AREA, its agency, sold most of these seven hectares to the Ateliers d’Arles Immobilier real estate company, of which Maja Hoffmann is the main shareholder. The Arlesian publishing house Actes Sud had also acquired a lot, which it sold, in 2019, to Ateliers d’Arles Immobilier real estate company. Today, this company owns the Parc des Ateliers, renovated old buildings, new buildings, as well as the land, except for the public parts of the garden, which belong to the town of Arles. 


Rumor has it, Maja Hoffmann buys everything in Arles. Is this true?

Maja Hoffmann’s aim is not to accumulate assets. The Maisons d’Arles company, which she created, consists of three hotels: the Cloître, the Arlatan, l'Hôtel du Parc and the Nord-Pinus, namely 91 rooms out of 1,500 hotel rooms in Arles. This represents 6% of the hotel offer in Arles, a figure that rebuts the idea that Maja Hoffmann buys everything in Arles. Her involvement in the Arles hotel industry is part of LUMA Arles’ approach, and of a desire to integrate art into living spaces. It was in this spirit that she asked artist Jorge Pardo to design the renovation of the Arlatan, which its former owner was unable to sell to a classic hotel group. Today, it is a place that combines the enhancement of historical heritage with the vitality of contemporary art–and participates in the economy of the old town centre.


Why does Town Hall sell its “gems”?

During the sale of the annexe of the Cloître, in September 2019, a controversy arose on social networks. However, this property is the only communal building sold by the town of Arles to a company close to LUMA Arles. The sale was eventually approved by a vote of the town council, in September 2019, at a price corresponding exactly to the estimate of the Domains. The annexe of the Cloître had been disused since 2017, and the town services occupying it had moved to another site, acquired by the municipality for this very purpose. The LUMA Foundation’s project for this building includes both artists’ residencies and an extension to the Hôtel du Cloître. The courtyard, which offers a beautiful view of the summer garden, will be open to the public for free.


Who buys and runs the hotels and the restaurants? The LUMA Foundation or Maja Hoffmann?

Around Luma Arles and the Parc des Ateliers, activities have developed in the hotel business. Two companies have been created, each with its own specific purpose: 2H5 owns the property, and therefore makes acquisitions, while Les Maisons d'Arles is in charge of operating the establishments, in the spirit encouraged by Maja Hoffmann. The complex is designed as an archipelago, in line with the artistic projects of the Parc des Ateliers.


Why is a cultural foundation buying hotels and restaurants?

The first dinery opened by Maja Hoffmann was La Chassagnette, a former sheepfold which, in 2002, became a restaurant, and an organic garden, conceived as a showcase for the art of living in the Camargue. This desire to invent new places grew before the creation of the LUMA Foundation, in 2004, and the launch of the Parc des Ateliers project. The key idea is to call upon artists to create different establishments. LUMA Arles also helps LUMA Arles host artists in residence and international guests. Today, three hotels are part of this ecosystem, each with its own character. The total represents 80 rooms, that is, a modest share of the hotel offer in Arles (5%). The objective is not the short-term profitability desired by traditional hotel groups. For instance, no buyer had come forward for the Arlatan hotel because of the amount of the investment. The development of the establishments is being carried out in harmony with the Arlesian hoteliers.


How will you water the garden-park considering Arles’s dry climate?

The watering of the landscape garden has been designed to avoid any harm to the environment. In agreement with the Crau water union, water from the Craponne canal (which runs along the southern part of the Parc des Ateliers) will be pumped. It will be stored in two cisterns of about 1,000 cubic metres buried on the site, and filtered through a natural process. The water will then be poured back into the pond in the park, from where it will be used to water the garden. In addition, rainwater will be harvested from the roofs of the buildings, through a system of gutters, to supply the sanitary networks.


Is the Parc des Ateliers environment-friendly?

Right from the start of the project, we wanted the Parc des Ateliers to be exemplary in terms of respect for the environment. We have gone further in this area than the regulations in force. The Park balances its energy consumption. The energy required by the site will be produced using natural and renewable resources. A generator will produce electricity, heat and cold at the same time. This energy is produced from sunflower oil from Camargue agriculture, as well as from used vegetable oil. That oil is collected in restaurants and canteens in the Pays d’Arles thanks to a local network. In addition, 2,000 square metres of solar panels installed on the roof of the Grande Halle produce electricity, as do the shades of the future Minimes car park, located to the south-east of the site, at the edge of the Crau road.


Why did Maja Hoffmann choose Arles?

Maja Hoffmann spent her childhood and adolescence in Arles, where she arrived at the age of 15 days. Her parents had decided to live in the Camargue because of her father Luc Hoffmann’s passion for the countryside of the Rhone delta, where he founded the Tour du Valat biological station. Maja Hoffmann chose to carry out her project in Arles because of this close, personal bond, but also because she is convinced that the future is written in human-sized cities, and not in megalopolises. A patron of both the Rencontres de la Photo and the Suds Festival for twenty years, she was already participating in the local cultural life before launching the LUMA Arles project.


Did Town Hall have a say in the project?

At all key stages, LUMA Arles worked closely with the town council of Arles. In fact, a project of this importance is only possible with the participation of the communities. LUMA Arles was launched in 2007, after discussions with Hervé Schiavetti, the mayor of Arles, Michel Vauzelle, then president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region, and the town’s main cultural players, namely the Rencontres d’Arles, Actes Sud publishing house, and the National school of photography. Since then, the town council has approved every major decision. It is the town council that has granted the building permits. Several town services worked on the project: the town’s planning and heritage services, as well as its technical services. Public meetings at the Arles theatre allowed the evolution of the project to be presented to the inhabitants. Since the beginning, regular meetings between the mayor of Arles and Maja Hoffmann and her teams have been creating lasting bonds.


How will this project change the face of the town?

The Parc des Ateliers is part of the dynamic of Arles, which it completes with many assets. The building and operation of the site create jobs, which is one of the reasons for the drop in unemployment in Arles in recent years. The renovated workshops, and soon The Tower, offer new cultural facilities of a size and quality that places Arles at the level of world cultural capitals. Thanks to these spaces, the programming of exhibitions and events throughout the year will boost the town’s cultural offer outside the summer season. Other Arlesian players such as the Rencontres d’Arles benefit from these facilities for their exhibitions. Arlesians will also benefit from a new green space, namely the public and free garden-park designed by landscape architect Bas Smets on 36,000 square metres. The building designed by Frank Gehry, considered one of the world’s greatest architects, adds a 21st-century work to the Roman and Romanesque heritage of previous centuries. Last but not least, LUMA Arles’s activities contribute to the emergence, in Arles, of independent projects and creative companies in the fields of art, design, and environment.


Why was the LUMA Foundation allowed to build such a modern building in such an ancient town?

Endowed with an exceptional Roman and Romanesque heritage, the town of Arles has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for more than thirty years. The Parc des Ateliers is located near the Alyscamps necropolis, one of the main listed sites. Several measures have been put in place to ensure that the construction and revitalisation of the Parc des Ateliers does not distort this historical heritage. Following the recommendations of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the new building will be invisible from the Alyscamps site. In 2013, the project had a favourable opinion from the Architects of the Building of France (ABF), which guarantees the respect and protection of the heritage. The project has received the support of the Amis du Vieil Arles (the Friends of the Old Arles), an association for the defence of heritage founded in 1903 that believes that the building will be the town’s heritage of the 21st century. The building permit issued by the town of Arles, in October 2013, was granted in light of all these guarantees. Through the revitalisation of the former SNCF industrial wasteland, the project is also part of a more contemporary history of the city. The dialogue between the modern and the old has been at the heart of architect Frank Gehry’s thinking, who has drawn inspiration from the ancient and natural sites of Arles to propose a resolutely contemporary building that looks to the future.


What stood on the site of the Parc des Ateliers?

Close to the Via Aurelia, one of the main communication roads of the Roman Empire, the site was once a huge ancient, then medieval, cemetery, as evidenced by the sarcophagi present everywhere in the Alyscamps. In the middle of the 19th century, during the industrial revolution, the first workshops of the Paris–Lyon–Marseille railway company (PLM) were built on the very site of the necropolis, unfortunately causing the destruction of part of the remains. The economic heart of Arles, the site employed up to 1,800 workers during the heyday of the Ateliers around 1920. In 1956, during the centenary of the workshops, 700 people were still working on the site. When the SNCF decided to close the workshops permanently in 1984, there were only 60 employees left.


One often reads that some Arlesians are hostile to this project. What do you say to them?

Everywhere, in France or elsewhere, projects of this magnitude trigger opposition that subsides over time. This is the case in Arles: concerns have receded as the inhabitants have come to see the project, to find out about it, and to discuss it with us. Today, some criticisms related to the evolution of Arles towards an art industry appear more on social networks than in the Arlesian reality. One should also bear in mind that several thousands of Arlesians attended the project launch party organised, on 5 April 2014, on Avenue Victor Hugo. In the same way, the many public meetings held by the town hall brought together a large and attentive audience, whose contributions were largely positive. At the very beginning of the project, the public enquiry, carried out, in 2013, as part of the building permit investigation, had not registered any opposition to the project. Once granted, the permits were not subject to any appeal. At the local political level, we achieved consensus on the project’s scope. The elected representatives of the town council have often voted unanimously on decisions regarding the Parc des Ateliers. Partners such as the Arles-Crau-Camargue-Montagnette (ACCM) conurbation community or the Chamber of commerce of the Pays d’Arles (CCIPA) have supported the project very actively. Many cultural players and associations in Arles have also forged close links with LUMA Arles.


How many jobs have you created locally?

The Parc des Ateliers construction sites have created around one hundred jobs, thanks to the integration clause signed with the ACCM conurbation community. Regarding direct jobs, about 230 permanent full-time equivalent employees work for LUMA Arles or, for the hotel business, with the Maisons d’Arles. To this must be added no less than 20 jobs for security and cleaning service providers. LUMA Arles requires subcontracting companies to settle in Arles. This is the case, for instance, of Vinci Facilities, in charge of the technical maintenance of the site. These jobs have played a role in the drop in unemployment in Arles in recent years.


Why is everything in English? This is France…

LUMA Arles claims its local roots in Arles and the Camargue, but also its international reach. These two sides are part of the identity of the Parc des Ateliers project as Maja Hoffmann imagined it. Therefore, LUMA Arles is proud its bilingualism. All documents and publications are written in both French and English. We are convinced that this will help Arles’ influence on the world.


Some think the Parc des Ateliers is elitist…

The Parc des Ateliers is open to all. Whatever your age, your level of education, your cultural habits or your leisure activities, you can find something at the Parc des Ateliers that interests you. It all boils down to curiosity, and the desire to discover. LUMA Arles’s programming offers a wide range: from dance to design, from performance to video, from philosophy to photography. The whole programming is free for the people of Arles. Not to mention guided tours, and educational workshops.


How do you engage the people of Arles, even those who live far from the city center?

Visiting the site allows the people of Arles and the Camargue to experience, from the inside, the progress of a major project in their hometown. In order to facilitate access for all the inhabitants, including those who live far from the centre, LUMA Arles has organised, in partnership with the elected representatives of Arles, several tours with the village and neighbourhood committees, as well as associations of shopkeepers, railway workers, and so on. Many inhabitants of the villages of the Camargue have taken part in these visits, which have been organised since the end of 2016, and have aroused real enthusiasm.


How do you engage children and youth?

Arles schoolchildren are a priority audience for LUMA Arles, which has developed programs designed for them. Each school year, classes from kindergarten to high school participate in an educational project with their teachers, along with our reception and mediation teams, through workshops on the history of the site, architecture, and landscape. At the end of spring, their work is presented to the parents. Presentations of the project are also given in secondary schools, neighbourhood associations, and social centres in collaboration with Arles community services.


Since the real estate prices have increased, many Arlesians have difficulty finding housing…

Real estate prices have increased significantly in recent years in most cities. In Arles, the Parc des Ateliers is attracting a new crowd. This is an asset that can also have negative aspects, particularly in terms of housing. In fact, labour incomes all over the world are rising less quickly than property prices, especially when job offers are on the rise. Other factors play a role, such as the increase in seasonal rentals. LUMA Arles laments this situation, but only the public authorities, and the town hall in particular, have the tools to strengthen rent regulation, and take measures to provide housing for Arlesians.


What is LUMA Foundation’s stand on bullfighting?

rench law allows bullfighting in several cities in the south of France, including Arles. Attending a bullfight is a matter of individual liberty. Our role is not to oppose the law, nor to dictate the behaviour of any one. In the Camargue, bullfighting also includes the Camargue race (without killing), and allows the conservation of natural spaces essential to the balance of nature in a fragile area. Bullfighting has inspired creators from Goya to Picasso, from Georges Bataille to Christian Lacroix, from Michel Leiris to Ernest Pignon-Ernest. However, the rejection of bullfighting is legitimate in a context of progress toward a world free of animal suffering.


When did the SNCF’s workshops close?

The SNCF decided to close its workshops in 1984. Only 60 employees were still working then. Left derelict for several years, the buildings on the site have deteriorated considerably. It was not until the early 2000s that the site was put back in use: first with the rehabilitation of the Yvan-Audouard estate, followed by that of La Grande Halle by the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region; then through the use of the workshops, in summer, by the Rencontres d’Arles; and finally with the launch of the LUMA Arles project.


Will there be a place dedicated to the memory of railway workers on the site?

Former railway workers have been associated with the project since its inception. The Luma Foundation is committed to remembering the industrial history of the site and preserving the workers’ memory of the Workshops. Together with the SNCF’s Archives department, we are working on a tour, which could be virtual, that would have visitors discover the railway workshops as they were at the beginning of the 20th century.


What is the relationship between the Rencontres d’Arles and the LUMA Foundation?

The relationship between the LUMA Foundation and the Rencontres de la photographie is strong and long-standing. Maja Hoffmann, the founder and president of the LUMA Foundation, has been a member of the board of directors of the festival, which she has supported since 2002. Les Rencontres and its then director François Hebel have been associated with the Parc des Ateliers project since its launch in 2007. Concerns and misunderstandings led to a period of divergence, which received a lot of media attention, before the sale of the land in 2012. Things then calmed down. Since 2014, the construction work has been planned in such a way that the Parc des Ateliers remains open every summer and that the festival can have an exhibition area on the site each year. The renovation of the former workshops has enabled the Rencontres to benefit from exhibition spaces in a manner worthy of the great museums. In 2019, LUMA Arles offered the festival one of the renovated spaces in the Parc des Ateliers all year round, thus ensuring its stability and durability.


How many trees will be planted on the site?

The garden designed by landscape architect Bas Smets has a total of 500 new trees, including silver lime trees, Montpellier maples, cork oaks, and Atlas cedars. The first tree–a 12-metre-high umbrella pine, weighing 5 tonnes and almost 60 years old–was planted on 19 November 2019, joined by other pines and holm oaks.


Who decides on events, artists, and programming?

Since the beginning of the project, Maja Hoffmann has brought together a group of internationally recognized artists and experts whom she has known for a long time. This circle, called the Core Group, has worked with her to define a new type of cultural platform. The group decides collectively on programming according to four axes, namely production, research, exhibition, and archive. The members are Tom Eccles (director of Bard College’s Centre for Curatorial studies, New York), Liam Gillick (English artist and author), Hans Ulrich Obrist (director of the Serpentine Galleries in London), Philippe Parreno (French artist), and Beatrix Ruf (chief curator of the Kunsthalle Zurich). The Core Group has been programming exhibitions every year since 2010. In 2020, the Core Group takes on a new dimension to become the Artistic College, welcoming three new members: Ian Cheng, Sophia Al-Maria, and Paul B. Preciado.


What has become of the lot Actes Sud had acquired in the Parc des Ateliers?

In 2019, the Arlesian publishing house Actes Sud sold to the Ateliers d’Arles Immobilier real estate company the lot it had acquired during the sale of the site, in 2013. This was the land comprising the building known as the electrical shop located to the south of the site, at the edge of the Chemin des Minimes.


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