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Frank Gehry's Latest Design

Bilbao, Los Angeles, and Düsseldorf can all claim distinctive Frank Gehry––designed landmarks, but for almost a decade, Paris has had the rarest Gehry creation of all: a white elephant. This month, the building—vacant since 1996—reopens as La Cinémathèque Française, a museum of international cinema (51 Rue de Bercy; 33-1/71-19-33-33; www.cinematheque.fr). Originally commissioned as the new home for the American Center, a hub for experimental music, dance, and theater in Paris since 1932, the building opened in 1994 with great fanfare: Hillary Clinton cut the ribbon and Gehry, in interviews, likened his structure, with its curves and tilting volumes, to "a dancer lifting her tutu." The following year the center announced it was having financial difficulties, and soon closed. Two years later, the French government acquired the building and decided to relocate the Cinémathèque from its historic home at the Palais de Chaillot to the site, with four screening rooms (including a 415-seat auditorium) and permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, requiring a major reworking of the interior. "There was enormous pressure," says Dominique Brard, the French architect chosen by a jury for the $41 million rehab. Brard says his strategy all along was to respect the "Gehry fundamentals," including the sculptural aspect of the design, the use of stone, and the play of natural light. Though the building is complex, Brard says it was possible to reconfigure the interior without altering the stone exterior, and from the start Gehry gave his blessing for change. "Gehry told the jury not to revere the building," he says. "That was very liberating for us." —Sarah Raper Larenaudie

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