Wall of Salt
Salt transformed into a material of architectural scale.
At the heart of the LUMA Gehry Tower in Arles, shines a wall cladding made of salt. Counting thousands of panels covering 560m2, the ‘Wall of Salt’ showcases the use of salt as a natural, fire-resistant and abundant material for architectural scale. The salt panels were grown locally, utilising the Mediterranean climate and sea, at the crystallisation plant in the ancient salt fields of the Camargue.
The ‘Wall of Salt’ was the result of a four-year collaboration between designer Karlijn Sibbel and Henna Burney of Atelier LUMA, a research and design lab that creates innovative ways to use the natural and cultural resources of a territory. For the project, Karlijn Sibbel and Henna Burney developed a farm-like system to grow panels of salt employing the natural crystallisation that occurs in the salt fields of the Salins de Giraud during the summer.
This new craft to grow salt panels descends from the historic technique of harvesting salt from seawater and was therefore developed in close collaboration with the salt workers of the ‘Salins’. The wind, rain, temperature, humidity, and water flow were all variables that impacted the salt crystallisation process. Depending on the cycle in which each panel was grown, these natural conditions manifest themselves in the appearance of the final material resulting in a variety of colours and textures.
The wall is built-up of individual panels that can be removed and replaced. This structural design allows damaged panels to be repaired when necessary. As the material is made of pure salt and created through a natural growing process, it can be recrystallised and restored again by placing it back into the water of the Crystallisation Plant during the salt season.
The project followed from a competition organised by the Atelier LUMA in 2017, in which Maja Hoffmann and Frank Gehry choose the material sample of Karlijn Sibbel that through extensive research and collaboration later became the ‘Wall of Salt’. The scale and complexity of the project required the joint expertise of designers, salt workers, material scientists, architects, engineers, corrosion experts and many more.
This new local material explores the social, economic, and ecological role of salt in the Camargue territory and beyond. As the material was grown rather than manufactured, the project introduces the possibility of utilising natural materials by employing a natural additive manufacturing farming process at scale.
The material was created through a natural crystallisation process that occurs at the salt fields of the Salin de Giraud. Salt crystals were grown on a metal mesh using Mediterranean seawater and the warm and dry climate of the South of France.
Text submitted by the maker
Salt (NaCl), Metal
LUMA foundation, Atelier Luma, Groupe Salins (Salins de Giraud), Labo Design Studio, Carrillo Carrelage, TESS, Citynox, Roux Frères , A-Corros, ENSIACET, Gehry Partners LLP
Photo credit Adrian de Weerdt, Joana Luz & Karlijn Sibbe, Video by Alexandre Humbert