When it comes to LUMA Arles, a creative campus started by Maja Hoffmann, I am reminded of the glittering aluminum facades desired by stararchitect Frank Gehry. Yet this building, which takes its strange shape from that of the limestone peaks of the Alpilles, hides many other architectural curiosities. Starting with the walls of the elevator shaft covered with salt pebbles, designed by Atelier LUMA.
Telling the story of this material is like telling the story of Atelier LUMA. Caroline Bianco, deputy director, traces the origin of this design and research laboratory to the discussions on the internal layout of the site: ” It all started with the obvious: we will have to develop this tower, why not use some trades or resources of the territory? Maja first contacted Jan Boelen, (now director of Atelier LUMA), who was then responsible for social design at the Design Academy Eindhoven, to bring some students and work on a mapping of local resources and crafts. “
A project that combines social design and ecology
Of these weeks of work amount of research was born but also an unfortunate observation: ” Whenever it comes to working with the territory, local craftsmanship intervenes through a few products designed for galleries or in semi-industrial series. In the end it does not bring much, neither to the territory nor to the craftsman and it is rather the designer who benefits from it. That’s something I didn’t agree with at all. I believe that in a collaboration there must be an advantage on both sides. The question was the following: how to bring to these different local interlocutors a slightly different vision of their know-how and the raw material that surrounds them? So we suggested to Maja to go further and start a series of residences with external designers. We went from this desire for furniture to the desire to create a small research laboratory. “
New territorial mapping work, in terms of resources, but also of social emergency are therefore initiated. ” We started working with various agricultural waste, then with salt », An almost unused material, indeed a declining industry. ” In the Camargue and mainly in Salin de Giraud, orders have decreased while the quantities available have been colossal. The staff went from one hundred to thirty people. A socially very complicated situation. Our questions were the following: what is salt really and how can we revitalize this material and the territory that surrounds it? ?Caroline Bianco asks.
The social project also has what it takes to transform itself into an industrial project, in particular thanks to the production capacities of the salt pans. ” Salt seemed interesting to us compared to the other resources we had dealt with because we could approach it as something that could change scale. (…) Some materials are available in large quantities, others in less and you have to be sure that the application you intend to give them is in line with its quantity. underlines the deputy director of Atelier LUMA.
An interesting material that nevertheless required almost four years of research” especially to understand its crystallization. Salt is a complex material, because it is extremely difficult, corrosive, not very sweet and leaves no room for foreign elements. “. Once tamed, the precious crystals nevertheless reveal a thousand and one virtues: natural flame retardant and powerful antibacterial. Atelier LUMA is currently working on a salt door handle project.
A special request from Frank Gehry
Let’s go back to our salt pebbles requested by Frank Gehry. To design them, the research groups immersed corrosion-resistant metal structures in the saline solution. After a week, the crystals grew there and took on a rough, shiny appearance. In case of breakage or deterioration, the trays can be cleaned in a water bath and then put back into culture. An infinitely reusable system that Atelier LUMA wishes to distribute via a modeling tool for designers and manufacturers to allow them to control the crystallization of the salt.
The material can, among other things, be colored thanks to the algae in pink, orange, green, blue or even purple. Caroline Bianco insists on this aesthetic aspect: ” We won’t be able to really change things if the materials and applications we create don’t inspire us. Today, creating materials with natural resources does not mean returning to something reminiscent of the furniture of our great grandparents. You have to project yourself into the future, into nature, try to understand it and extract certain aspects from it. Because it offers a series of extraordinary techniques and beauties. “