gehry in paris: a photo essay

"Behind" the Louis Vuitton Foundation.


Frank Gehry is one of architecture's great titans, standing with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Philip Johnson. I also have a personal affinity for Gehry. Not only did he attend my alma mater, the University of Southern California, he was one of the main reasons I first took interest in architecture and the design world in general (many of my architecture models from class were inspired by his deconstructivist style). I've had the chance to experience many of his notable works, like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and most recently, the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, a behemoth of a museum (modern art and contemporary) located in the northern bit of the Bois de Boulogne.


Walking up to the Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne.


Most Gehrys are eccentric, and the Foundation is no exception. The first thing you'll notice as you walk towards the museum is its sheer size. It’s enormous. Certainly a provocative piece of work and a stark contrast from the cool green fauna of the park.


Up close.


The museum resembles a moving vessel, with "sails" appearing from all sides to depict movement and motion, a nod to Paris's every changing art scene. Gehry in his own words:

To reflect our constantly changing world, we wanted to create a building that would evolve according to the time and the light in order to give the impression of something ephemeral and continually changing.

As you examine the museum closer, you'll begin to realize both the structural and design marvel that's holding everything together in one piece. The primary materials Gehry uses are concrete, wood, glass, and steel.

Behind a sail.


No such thing as a "right" orientation.


For example, in the exterior, each sail is covered in a long sheet of curved glass while the interior is held up by cross-cutting steel and wooden beams (though the wood is only cosmetic and the interior is still steel).

The inside is just as complex as the outside. While most buildings have a central focal or "meeting" point, either in the form of some atrium or lobby, the inside of the LV Foundation lacks such a space, and is rather like a labyrinth.


Up-down perspective.


The basement of the museum contains a large fountain that cascades water from the park. The fountain is soothing and calm, and this is even more the case when you experience it from the basement floor. 


Down-up perspective.


Notice how the concrete obstructs most of the traffic and distracting parts of the park and salvages only the green. This is a great example of Gehry artificially creating a sort of inner sanctuary (many architects do this when designing homes to block out their neighbors). It’s also a contrast between the natural and built world, concrete in the bottom, nature up top. It is one of my favorite parts of the museum.


Felix the Cat hiding in the left.


Following the yellow-lit beams led me to an inflated sculpture of Felix the Cat. I don't recall what the message of the art piece was, but I distinctly remember thinking of the neon Felix sign on Figueroa street (all the way in Los Angeles).


The hall from the other side. Humbling. I was so sure this was going to be a great shot, but it came out blurry. First time using a film camera.


The bulk of the exhibits are displayed throughout the span of three floors. I thought many of the art pieces were good (I could keep up, unlike most contemporary art exhibits). One of the main exhibits focused on the work of Takashi Murakami, a Japanese street artist most notable for his collaborations with Kanye West and Virgil Abloh. His approach is uniquely Japanese, combining a fun, "light" anime style that is modern with more traditional techniques, like calligraphy and ukiyo-e. Vibrant and exciting (many of his pieces were murals and spanned across the entire room).


One of the entrances to the rooftop.


Stairway to heaven.


Once you get to the top, you'll begin to notice there are stairs everywhere.


No one ever complained about stairs looking down.


In the rooftop, Gehry presents you with a sort of urban "jungle", a terrace with a stunning view of Paris and more exaggerated sails in every direction (I particularly like how the sun casts a shadow of the beams through the sails). It's a "jungle" in the sense that there are actually trees and plants, albeit small (similar to the garden atop of the Walt Disney Concert Hall). While the fountain below feels like a complement to the surrounding park, the flora in the rooftop feels like a direct juxtaposition of the angular, aggressive nature of the encompassing steel. I can't wait to re-visit the museum in a few years and see how much the plants have grown. 😊



More views from the rooftop.


All in all, how do I feel about the Foundation? A bit confused if I'm honest. On one hand, it's an absolute engineering marvel, and this is apparent however far or closely you examine the museum. But do I like it? I'm not so sure. To me, the Foundation lacks the consistency and the cohesiveness that the Guggenheim, the Concert Hall, and so many of Gehry’s other buildings possess. The museum in this case feels too random and without purpose. Maybe that was the point? A worthy visit nonetheless.


As always, thanks for reading.

Posted from London at 11:46 PM BST, 08/27/2018

Andrew Lee