Does Paris need new skyscrapers?

A proposed skyscraper design for Paris One of the designs is for a skyscraper called the Tour Triangle
A proposed skyscraper design for Paris This design is for the Judiciary Tower in the north of the city
A proposed skyscraper design for Paris There are plans to build a Tour Duo
A proposed skyscraper design for Paris The Tour Duo would be erected on the Left Bank of the River Seine

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Paris is set to follow London's race into the skies with 12 new skyscrapers.

A hundred and twenty years ago, the English designer William Morris was asked why, in the French capital, he spent so much time at the Eiffel Tower.

"It is," he explained, "the only place I can't see it from."

Today he would probably choose the Tour Montparnasse that rises like a 59-storey black gravestone where once was a neighbourhood of political dreamers, artists and poets.

After they built this office block in 1973, the outcry was so loud, they banned new buildings over seven storeys high. But the mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, overturned that ban outside the city centre at least.

Paris city hall believes that skyscrapers - albeit of a certain sort, in certain places - are just what Paris needs.

New city

Jerome Coumet, the young mayor of the city's 13th district, is excited by the fact that some of the new skyscrapers - including one by French architecture star Jean Nouvel - will be going up in his part of town.

Start Quote

A city is something that constantly renews itself”

End Quote Jerome Coumet Mayor of 13th district of Paris

"A city is something that constantly renews itself," says Mr Coumet in the office of his fine 19th-Century town hall.

"Paris attracts more tourists than any other city in the world," he says. He does not think it a bad thing that much of Paris is, as he puts it, is "a museum city".

But, says Mr Coumet, "I'm convinced that just as people go to visit the new parts of London, people will come to see extraordinary new architecture in Paris."

"French architects work all over the world," he says. "They should also be able to express themselves in Paris."

Up in the north of Paris, a huge site of railway wasteland has been cleared.

Here it is the Italian architect Renzo Piano who is about to express himself, with a 160m-high (524ft) tower of four steel and glass boxes placed on top of each other. It will house law courts. So the transparency is a metaphor, Piano says.

'Not Dubai'

He was one of the architects who designed the Pompidou art centre (the one with the escalator and the pipes on the outside). And the Shard, the building that now dwarfs London's Tower Bridge.

Olivier de Monicault is president of the anti-skyscraper pressure group SOS Paris. He has a name for this sort of building - "rupture architecture" - and he hates it.

Modern architects, he says, make no attempt to fit in with the architecture of the cities they build in. "Usually the architect makes a project, then he tries to sell it in any place in the world," he says.

Start Quote

You don't embellish a city by building isolated tower blocks that disfigure it”

End Quote Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet Conservative politician

And, in any case, says Mr de Monicault, the last thing they want is to fit in. They want their building to stand out. Literally and as much as possible.

"[The architect] wants to become famous with his building and so he thinks he makes something very strange, very different [from] the place where he's building it," he argues.

However, Paris city hall stresses that the city is not about to become Dubai.

The new height limit of 180m is quite a lot lower than the Eiffel Tower.

"Paris is competing hard with other cities like London as an international capital," says Paris district mayor Jerome Coumet.

"Paris too must be able to offer modern office space."

But, ask city hall's opponents, what will be the demand for office blocks even 10 years from now?

Back to ground?

"Office work is destined to disappear," says philosopher Thierry Paquot, who recently published a book called La Folie des Hauteurs (Height Madness).

The Tour Montparnasse in Paris, photographed in 2007 The building of the Tour Montparnasse caused an outcry in the 1970s

"We're already contracting out a lot of paperwork - accounting for example - to workers in countries like India and Morocco and every manager has his smartphone and does his own correspondence."

The world of work is undergoing a huge transformation, Paquot says, adding: "I think we're moving towards a world where people will work at home or in cafes and, when they have to meet, they'll do so not in a skyscraper but somewhere really nice."

Neither, say their critics, do skyscrapers make good economic sense.

"They cost a lot to build, to manage and to demolish properly [in accordance with] the new regulations," according to Bertrand Sauzay, former real estate director of telecom equipment maker Alcatel.

Mr Sauzay studied moving his company's headquarters into three skyscrapers in the La Defense business district west of Paris. The experience turned him into an anti-skyscraper campaigner.

In the end his company chose to renovate its old headquarters in the city centre.

Architecture politics

There is every sign that city hall's decision to build high in Paris will be one of the issues that will decide municipal elections in March of next year.

Anne Hidalgo, the candidate the Socialist Party has selected to succeed Mr Delanoe, was not available for an interview but has often argued in favour of building much higher apartment blocks.

"We mustn't let ourselves be imprisoned by a 'heritage vision' of the city," Ms Hidalgo told the news magazine L'Express.

"We are working towards a "genero-city" which is to say a city that is open, convivial and in vibration."

Her probable conservative opponent in next year's election, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said a few days ago: "You don't embellish a city by building isolated tower blocks that disfigure it."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The centre, as in the tourist part, of Paris is beautiful. Go out a mile and it's some of the worst slums I've seen in any European city. A real contrast.

    I'm not sure why the city planners would want to jeopardise the former while continuing to neglect the latter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I do hate the argument about buildings having to 'fit in'. If we always made this argument we'd still be in mud huts. We should embrace the best from each period not race to produce generic stereotypes from an ill-perceived golden age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I often take the train to London Bridge to eat my sandwiches at lunchtime and watch the window cleaners at work. Will do the same in Paris once they are up. I am sick to death with all the low buildings in Sidcup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Paris is not the most visited city in the world. It's not even the second most visited. It's 3rd, behind London, who this year was narrowly pipped to the top spot by Bangkok.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Oh dear! The ego of architects knows no bounds. They must leave their mark like a dog against a lamp post except that will wash away. More like the worst type of graffiti/tagging which is an offence to the eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Who is going to use them in the new skint Socialist Republic of France?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Of 20 highest in Paris, all except Montparnasse (210) are below 137, 9 at 104 and 4 at 102 (metres). The 180m is a massive leap upwards, to mark this era. In another 40 years, the step up will be to 260m, at this rate. Towers are for looking down on other people when there are so few. I am surprised that Hollande will permit this egotism of the elite, it certainly is not for his diminishing voters

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    If there is money to be made from building skyscrapers...anywhere...they will be built, and sod the opinions of the citizens or the effect on the visual environment.

    Even the German occupation forces in WW2 took steps to ensure Paris was not damaged or disfigured in any way...

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    To be honest, people should be allowed to build whatever they want on their land so long as it is safe.

    Why do people feel like they have the right to tell their neighbors what they can and can't do?

    Some people are far too over opinionated and need to just mind their own business.

    If everyone worried about their own building instead of everyone else's, their cities would be much nicer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    9. rideforever
    The reason why people go to Paris is because it doesn't have these phallic replacements all over the place.
    Which explains why the Eiffel tower is the #1 tourist attraction?

    I rather like the Shard. I don't know if its economically sensible but its pretty impressive watching them clean the windows on a clear day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    From reports I've gotten and what's been said here already you don't have to go underground anymore to visit the sewers of Paris.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    To be fair, the Eiffel Tower was meant to be a temporary structure, built for the 1889 World Fair. It was only the advent of radio that saved it from being demolished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The way to have a beautiful city is to have lots of street cleaners, to plant the green stuff as much as possible, to have big parks, to maintain nice buildings and to knock down slums. The skyscapers in Canary Wharf in London simply attracted the criminal bankers and other parasites from the finance sector. Paris does not need them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    How many more people are coming round to the once controversial view of Prince Charles years ago, when he denounced a proposed huge modern extension to the National Gallery as "A monstrous carbuncle growing on the face of an old and dear friend". Streets in eternal shade, not to mention unpredictable windstorms funnelled by the architecture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    These buildings are designed to be seen from far away, to dominate the landscape. They are boring to look at, from the viewpoint of a pedestrian, and decay quickly. In ten years, they will be run down, and in twenty, they will be scheduled for demolition.
    Also, they are hard to rent out. The Gherkin and the Shard in London are not desirable office locations, especially in this economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Some cities like New York City are cut out to be skyscraper cities. Some like London and Paris aren't. Paris is a Medieval city. Its attraction will be destroyed by trying to turn it into something it isn't. Some in the City of Lights aspire to turn it into New York. Not in a million years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The Shard is an ugly boring redundant piece of glass.

    It would be better to continue to turn London's skyline into garbage, than to damage Paris.

    The reason why people go to Paris is because it doesn't have these phallic replacements all over the place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I think skyscrapers bring a great deal to a city. However, I think they should be clustered together in one place, and not springing up on their own in separate places, which I think does spoil the look of a city. Such as London's City or New York's Midtown/Downtown.


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