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 67.

    A city doesn't become world-class by standing still. One decade's wrong is another decade's protected heritage. Prince Charles would have protested against St Paul's if he'd been around back then. Vive la Paris!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Paris architecture is fine.

    The problem is the people.

    The city of love? Things I have experienced:

    * Being totally ignored by waiters

    * When eventually able to order, trying to order in French and waiter sneering and replying in English

    * Dog mess everywhere

    * Seeing aggressive police picking on minorities

    Also they are rubbish at rugby and think they are good but that's off topic

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    If you want to see the negative effects of turning a nice city into Skyscraper hell, then look no further than Sao Paulo in Brazil. The original downtown that was thriving in the 60's is now tower after tower of dereliction. Which is a shame as the architecture is amazing. The new downtown (Ave. de Paulista) will go the same way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Whether this is right or wrong is up for debate, but you can't help thinking that capital cities are having something akin to comparing the sizes of each other's willies, and feeling the need to create large constructions to keep up with each other's egos.

    While all this is going on, the remaining parts of each country are being bled dry of resources and falling into decay, just like in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Looks like Paris is determined to commit architectural suicide. Skyscrapers are totally out of place in European cities like London, Paris, Rome and Prague. Leave skyscraper building to the megalomaniacal emirs of the pocket-sized Gulf states who are desperate to prove their manhood!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Why not just build a skyscraper around the structure of the Eiffel Tower? The structure is already there and it will get rid of the gigantic brown pylon that has managed to carve itself a status as a monumental tourist attraction. This will be much cheaper and it will bring Paris into the 21st century. The new skyscraper could be shaped like the Shard. It could be called the Shardeux... :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    So far as Haussmann's design for the new Paris - see some of the designs for the new London after the Great fire. You will think that you are seeing Paris. Fortunately, local businesses wanted to get back trading again and decided not to hang around for some grandiose plan to be implemented by Government. This is why London has retained some humanity whilst Paris bulldozed it and built over it

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    The push in cities since the early 20th century has been to go 'up' as well as out.

    In an age where environmental constraints rightly force planners to consider their options for city expansion, sky-scrapers are a logical option. That said, Paris is a wonderful and unique city, and run of the mill boring sky scrapers run the risk of destroying its unique identity.

    Pros and cons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Paris is the most beautiful city in the world for one simple reason: it is the most human-scaled city in the world. The relationship between the height of the buildings and the width of the street space, including the sidewalks, is the key factor, along with the large street trees. If this relationship is changed by adding skyscrapers, then the humane scale will be lost. Don't do it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    56"...and the insularity and aggression of its people."

    Then they wouldn't be Parisians. Their snooty attitude is part of what makes them what they are. IMO it's worth seeing...once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Paris is a beautiful city and the French had a good idea to keep skyscrapers out of the centre.

    But the French don't like to miss out and maybe they see other Cities getting new Skyscrapers and they don't want to miss out on the action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Face it, Paris is a museum. It is static and lacks the energy that you would expect of a modern European city. Maybe some serious architecture will help it along. However, nothing will really change until Paris deals with its dirt, rubbish and dog's mess, and the insularity and aggression of its people. Come and live in Paris and you will find out. Great for holidays - but that's it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I dislike Paris anyway, but it would look even worse with a bunch of massive skyscrapers in it. What would the city gain from the buildings? If they are not careful they will end up destroying historic buildings just to build bigger and higher! If the people of the city want it then fine but don't just build for the sake of it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I was brought up to learn that Paris could not support skyscrapers due to the hundreds of thousands of unmarked and unstable tunnels below the city making the ground to weak to support such buildings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    #51 Same as South London (water logged sand) The foundations of the Shard are really very impressive, cutting edge engineering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    From what I understand, the reason Paris has no skyscrapers is due to a vast network of mines beneath that city that has plagued them with problems for decades, including the collapsing of buildings that are too tall. Has no one brought this up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Is it actually possible ?

    My understanding of the geology of Paris is that it is too soft to support such buildings - clay & gravel mostly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Having lived in a rural area for the last 13 years I think cities in general are a bad idea for the 21st century and even suburbs are overcrowded. I saw the WTC many times. Since 9-11 I don't like being in buildings more than 2 or 3 stories high. IMO they and cities are potential death traps. I wouldn't live near water either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Question: Is it the architecture that makes the majority of Parisians so obnoxious and rude?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Jerome Coumet says "Paris attracts more tourists than any other city in the world" .... guess he didn't read


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