Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fondation Louis Vuitton - Luxury Branding in Paris

Fondation Louis Vuitton
Paris 2014
Gehry & Partners

Is there more to Gehry & Partners' new gallery for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris than a fusion of luxury branding?

Frank Gehry has come a long way since his pioneering 70's junk constructivism in Santa Monica. There isn't a scrap of corrugated steel sheet or chain-link in sight at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, where he has built a no-expense-spared cultural monument to the designer handbag magnate; but a lifetime's experience have found new expression in what is, quite possibly, his masterpiece. Instead huge billowing sails of curved glass, some delicately fritted, float amongst the tree canopy of the Bois de Boulogne. Located next to mature woodland and on the edge of the Jardin de Acclimatation, where amusement pavilions have entertained generations of young Parisians, the Fondation offers aerial promenades with views out to the woodland and beyond to the city.

At the core of the building, galleries are simple hangars with framed views through the frenetic outer wrapping to the park. Unlike those other notably flamboyant free-form Galleries, the Guggenheim in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright, and in Bilbao, by Gehry himself, at the Fondation there is a disjunction between display spaces and the elaborate gymnastics of the building envelope. The great spatial and experiential richness that this generates epitomise the best of Frank Gehry's work.

Although benefitting from improvements to the environs funded by Louis Vuitton, the frivolous equilibrium of the Jardin de Acclimatation is nonetheless disrupted by the sheer bulk of its new neighbour. However, the monumental scale of the Fondation engages more positively with the extensive Bois de Boulogne and the Grands Projets that punctuate the city; perhaps appropriately for our uncertain times, a flurry of commas and brackets answering the emphatic exclamation mark of the Eiffel Tower!

Does the Fondation Louis Vuitton represent the triumph of style over form? Like the luxury accessories that Vuitton has marketed so successfully, Gehry's distinctive architectural approach delivers cultural cachet; the building also locates architecture within the broader spectrum of the design industry and is a seductive advert for both the Vuitton and Gehry brands.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton from the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower from the Fondation Louis Vuitton