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 87.

    #26 Cholmes
    To 'fit in' does not mean generic stereotypes, but requires respect for the best elements of the surroundings and the atmosphere of that location. Too many architects lack that creative ability and planners the courage to say no. Hence we see unsuitable, unsympathetic creations that only serve to massage the designers ego and do nothing to enhance the environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Ground space costs money, so we build upwards in as small-a-space as we can. But Scrapers are to the detriment of such historic cities such as London. (and in this instance Paris) The Shard is dreadfully misplaced, but if it had been erected anywhere else it would have been useless. City attraction or eyesore that ruins the fabulous History it overlooks. Thanks to Canary Wharf for being far away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    London appears to be striking about the right balance at the moment - Docklands where the sky is the limit, and the City where it is more controlled, both on height and location.

    Paris is not the world's financial centre and so will not lose its crown to other cities without development, but nevertheless, to compete a city needs quality offices and with a full city, the only way is up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    "Some cities like New York City are cut out to be skyscraper cities. Some like London and Paris aren't."

    What next? Skyscrapers in Bath, Avignon, Perpignan and Venice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    It's wonderful to stand on the Eiffel tower and look down at Paris below you, with its low-rise buildings and uniform cream colour it looks much more organised and beautiful than higgledy-piggledy London. Only Montmartre and Notre Dame stand out from the scene. That's until you raise you gaze out to La Defense. Skyscrapers are a symbol of corrupt financial institutions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    It's ridiculous when people try to stop progress for the sake of being rebellious or afraid of change. I'm sure there were people in the old times too that argued against building grand ships to explore the seas (they cost a hefty penny), or against building the eiffel tower and big ben in the first place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    68.Praise Him

    Please, keep the fundie religious shlock at home would you? Ain't nobody got time for that, son.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    So Bill Walker, 12, sees Prince Charles as sopme kind of architectural expert; heavens save us. Have you seen that monstrosity 'Poundbury' he is so proud of? That is a carbuncle on the Dorset landscape; looking totally out of context from whichever direction you approach it

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Paris is a city of departments, and each has its own feel. La Defense already has some superb skyscrapers - why desecrate the old city when there is already a new district that embraces it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    73. manpiano
    Hi Benoit, Do you think we should have more skyscrapers in London?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I've lived in Paris for the last 5 years, and work in La Defense. Paris needs to join the 21st century, build a few skyscrapers and modern buildings. There are some very beautiful parts of this city that should never be touched, and other parts that should be completely replaced. They are doing some great stuff in the 13th arrondissement at Paris Rive Gauche for example, and need more like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    #74 Do you not think the civil engineers know this? South London is built on water saturated sand & won't support skyscrapers either. The solution is really deep concrete piles. Traditionally the foundations go a third as deep as the building is tall (so a 300M skyscraper is built on 100m deep piles) The shard uses hugely thick concrete discs to spread its weight (plus 60M piles. 100s of them)

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    There is nothing wrong with skyscrapers per se, but it's their locations. There are some locations that fit their many skyscrapers well (New York, Dubai, Shanghai, to name a few), there are some where a few is fine but they aren't too overbearing (London, Berlin, etc), and there are some places that don't fit them at all. Paris is in that final category.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The reason Paris doesn't have skyscrapers is because the whole city is built over a huge network of mines and tunnels, most of which are lost or undiscovered. This means that any time anyone tries to build anything really heavy (such as a skyscraper) it has a very real chance of going straight through the floor. (In 1774 an entire street fell into the ground.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    hello. and good afternoon. a lot of skyscrapers are planned in inner-paris but only in front of the paris "peripherique" the ring-road. thus far from the center.bye

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Am not sure the answer is to freeze a City at some point in it's History, otherwise we'd all be living in circular huts made of Wattle and Daub with thatched roofs.

    If it's just a case of building over an old car park or derelict building of no historical value I'd say crack on.

    That said it's up to the French.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    hello dear members from UK. london is fantastic,paris and nyc too. i don't understand this debate.inner paris has no skyscrapers except montparnasse tower and some residential towers in the east of paris....but every offices towers are at LA DEFENSE, planned in the 60s to preserve his historic center.for me towers inside or outside paris = no differences. best regards.benoit. strasbourg.france

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Akin to London's Canary Wharf, Paris already has "La Defense" area to build its modern towers, why not preserve the beauty of the city centre (intra-muros as the French call it). Once these jarring promontories have eaten into the skyline, there'll be no option to take them away!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    What Paris really needs is more public toilets!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    No doubt more churches will be in the shade of steel and glass horrible monstrosities!

    Yet more temples of capitalism in mankind's quest to glorify himself!


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