The curved glass roof of the new Fondation Louis Vuitton building has demonstrated intricate architecture at its finest.
Commissioned by LVNH chariman and CEO Bernard Arnault and designed by Frank Gehry, the design museum has been built on the site of the Jardin d’acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne public park in Paris.
In a statement, the Fondation Louis Vuitton will be “principally associated with artistic creation in all its forms” and its structure is no exception.
The building, which opens to the public October 27, will be home to the permanent collection of works belonging to the Fondation and Arnault, twice yearly temporary exhibitions and musical events in the auditorium.
Gehry describes the building as “a veritable ship amongst trees,” represented by the generously curved architecture, which pushes the boundaries of its structural materials.
In a video on the Fondation’s website, Gehry notes that from the beginning, the design would feature a solid piece inside that was called the ‘icebergs’ and then an exterior.
“…we did study the program as almost like a floating ship… it was like a box and then the rooftop would be a garden and then a glass cover for the garden,” he said. "The project is a dream, so the first idea was to create a dream. I wanted to create a dream for Bernard, who has been dreaming about this."
The concept was brought to life through the use of 3,600 glass panels that form the shape of 12 “sails.” Each panel is unique and was molded in a special furnace in Padua, Italy. The sails layer fluidly over each other, forming a 13,500 square metre glass canopy.
A total of 200 wooden larch beams curve graciously to support the lightweight glass, while a stainless steel lattice ensures the glass holds “immaculate longevity.”
The complex geometry of the glass came to life using Digital Project – a software program developed by Gehry Technologies.
The glass is also intertwined between 19,000 sheets of Ductal - an ultra-high performance fibre-reinforced concrete which makes up the facing.
Like Gehry, architects across the globe are exploring the aesthetic possibilities of curved glass.
Late last year, Peter Stattler, architectural sales consultant for design firm Schott North America told New Glass Magazine that “the future of glass is curved.”
He described curved glass as a material that “introduces movement and dimension to traditional structures that have previously been flat, linear or static."
Stattler also discussed new technology which allowed fabricators to produce glass more economically. Moulding or casting (as used in the Fondation Louis Vuitton project) is quite expensive, and a technique called cold bending where “flat glass was pushed into a frame to give it a just a slight bend” is more economical.
Stattler also cited Gehry's IAC Building as an impressive project that features curved glass. This was Gehry's first New York project, and he used cold bending to shape the 1,437 panels that made up the sail-inspired building. A similar technique was used on Gehry's famous Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the stainless steel panels were cold-warped into shape.
Glass can also serve as a vital connection between the built environment and nature – an essential component to Fondation Louis Vuitton's design.
“In order to get it approved by the city, it had to relate to the garden, to the trees and the garden structure,” Gehry said.
He also described his design needing to have the impact of a “Grand Palais” or garden structure. The building is entirely transparent, drenching it with natural light and conferring in it the ability to mirror its green surroundings.
Fondation Louis Vuitton sits amongst the 850 hectares of the Bois de Boulogne park and a further 300 trees were planted to give the garden back its original 19th century appearance.
Projects such as the Fondation Louis Vuitton building demonstrate that the geometrical limitations of glass are not what they used to be; rather than serving as a facade for boxy buildings, the material can make for some extremely memorable architecture.