Atelier LUMA’s Magasin Électrique, realised with waste, opens in Arles

Salt, sunflowers and knotweed are just some of the waste products that have created a magical place, the result of great inventions to take concrete action against climate change.

The founder of LUMA Arles, Maja Hoffmann (daughter of Luc Hoffmann, the famous pharmaceutical magnate and naturalist founder of the WWF) involved a multidisciplinary team of 30 researchers to renew – in collaboration with the London collective Assemble and the Belgian studio BC architects & studies, both experts in the reuse of building waste – the “Magasin Électrique”, the building on Lot 8 of the Parc des Ateliers, a former railway industrial site of Arles redeveloped in 2013 by the philanthropist.

It is a pilot project of research and development of materials closely related to the Arles bioregion, composed of Camargue, Crau, and Alpilles, the small Provençal mountain chain. But the aim is also to create a network of shared knowledge, protocols, and production systems, so as to replicate them in other contexts and territories.

The design process began with mapping the region’s resources, industries, and waste products, identifying material flows and various local know-how. After exploring every possibility, following extensive tests and certifications, the various experimental materials were then used to intervene on the real building, which will never really be finished, because it is and wants to be an in-process experiment.

The marrow of sunflower plants was crushed and the fibers redistributed as sound insulation; with salt collected from the salt marshes of the region antibacterial door handles were obtained; thermal insulation was done with bales of rice straw grown in the area; and the tiles of the baths were obtained from the waste clay of a nearby quarry. “Where others might see waste, we see opportunities,” said Jan Boelen, artistic director of Atelier Luma.

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