Interview with Marie Billa, architect of Studios Architecture agency.
An extraordinary architectural bet for Luma Arles
After the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain) and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, the architect Frank Gehry signs the Resource building of the Luma Foundation in Arles. Raised in the heart of the Parc des Ateliers, the 56-meter-high tower covered with stainless steel panels is surrounded by a glass rotunda at its base, the circular shape of which recalls the city’s amphitheater. With 24,000 m² of total area, the Resource building is an architectural challenge. Each of the 10 levels has a different shape and the elements of the structure take different directions.
The Parc des Ateliers, where the project led by Luma Arles is being carried out, houses an exhibition and artistic production center created at the initiative of the Swiss patron and producer Maja Hoffmann. The Resource building will host exhibition areas, residencies, archives, a library, offices, seminar rooms and a café-restaurant. The project management was entrusted to the Parisian agency Studios Architecture, represented here by Marie Billa, with whom we spoke for this article.
Architect of Studios Architecture agency
Welcoming everyone without betraying the architectural gesture
An exceptional building needs an exceptional approach! The accessibility regulations concerning establishments open to the public require that reception areas can be detected and located by all users. However, aesthetics, space arrangement and the flexible reception desired by Luma Arles were incompatible with the installation of tactile indicators which would have frozen the paths.
“The Resource building of the Luma Foundation reflects a very strong architectural will,” Marie Billa explained. “The rotunda which surrounds the tower at its base is a largely open glazed space, where everyone is free to come and go, to stop, to start walking again… Creating a breadcrumb trail to guide visitors was not necessary. From where? To go where ? However, we wanted to find a solution to offer people with disabilities the same flexibility of route, the same experience as all the other visitors. How do you make blind or visually impaired visitors feel comfortable, find the space pleasant with their sensory perceptions?”
An indoor GPS for wayfinding and cultural mediation
To meet the challenge of guiding all visitors, regardless of their mobility constraints and with no apparent infrastructure, the Studios Architecture team set out to find a solution that won the support of all stakeholders. In addition to guiding, there was a desire to provide visitors with mediating content on the Luma Foundation building and its exhibitions.
“The indoor GPS solution came in pretty quickly,” the architect said. “This solution made it possible to offer disabled people the same flexibility of route as all other visitors while having very little impact on the architecture of the building. Nadia Sahmi, who has been working with us for two years on the accessibility of the project, directed us to Okeenea and their solution Evelity. The possibility of developing a dual system making it possible to manage both navigation and mediation appealed to us because the application then becomes a support for everyone, while providing enhanced service for the people who need it most.”
A pre-deployment pilot
In view of the scale of the challenge, we started by offering the Luma Arles project management team a study to verify the reliability of our Evelity solution in such an open environment. We therefore carried out a first partial deployment on the ground floor and the first level. Moreover, even though the Bluetooth beacons that allow Evelity to operate are very discreet, it was a challenge to position them in line with the aesthetics of the building.
“We have challenged you a lot with extremely demanding technical and aesthetic constraints,” Marie Billa admitted. “Your teams have done a very good job to refine the triangulation and make it possible to guide in an open space. We have pushed the limits of the proposed system even further by asking you to treat the application as a mediation medium in addition to wayfinding. At each stage, you were the driving force behind, proposing solutions that responded to our challenges, allowing us to integrate all of the issues step by step to achieve our triple objective: architectural quality, quality of use and quality of the visitor experience.”
In addition to the Resource building by Frank Gehry, Luma Arles comprises the entire Parc des Ateliers. Buildings and outdoor paths will also be equipped and adapted to offer all types of visitors the best possible experience. The next step will therefore be to guide visitors from the tower to the other buildings. The continuity of the navigation and mediation system remains the objective to be achieved. Thus, the Okeenea Digital team is already working on developing an outdoor navigation system to guide visitors throughout the park.