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 127.

    I agree with M. deMonicourt.
    Much as mountaineers may explain their achievements "because it's there", too many architects if asked why a certain design is as it is would say "because we can"; although sometimes the client has requested a landmark building, even to the extent of having a non-functioning mast added so that their building is a few metres taller than their neighbours'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    That picture of the Triangle Tower (Tour Triangle) reminds me of a building from the movie "Blade Runner".

    At any rate, Paris is a beautiful city. I hope that not all of the world's cities are becoming the same by trying to be "unique" in their architecture. Cities for the masses, mass cities, c'est dommage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Paris still has one of the most distinctive and beautiful cityscapes in the world. It doesn't need a plethora of tall buildings to mess it up. Tall buildings are too often about egos rather than aesthetics. I hope the good citizens of France, not just Paris, defeat any attempt to erect tall tributes to small minds in Paris. Office buildings are not cathedrals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Of course, the other reason that there are so few tall buildings in palace is because most of the land the city sits on was mined for anhydrite and gypsum for centuries (for use in "plaster of paris") and as such now resembles swiss cheese. I really hope the ground investigation done on the sites of the new skyscrapers was thorough!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Skyscrapers don't have to be 'carbuncles', but not every city needs or is cut out for height architecture. My family divides its time between New York and London, and even my New Yorker wife has grown to appreciate the ability to see sky in much of London without getting a stiff neck! Plus, Paquot is right: offices are going to become obsolescent very soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Aside from the aesthetic issue with skyscrapers in Paris would it not be prudent to consider the financial element? London has benefitted greatly during the past few recession hit years from foreign investment, notably from the middle east. Surely Paris could do with a wealthy Qatari to spend a few hundred million Euros employing local workers to build a skyscraper that will in turn house jobs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Non et non.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    "Paris is set to follow London's race"... get your brain checked, we are not interested in your stupid mind's meaning less comparision

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Comment 85 says London has the right balance but with the Shard that balance is gone indeed the comment I have heard several times that like the Eiffel Tower the Shard is best from the inside. Indeed there is also have tower at Elephant and Castle and that lloks completely out of place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Many allusions to the famous french rudeness. It is of course all true.

    People should take a look around though, London is running short on civility these days.

    The french should build these towers assuming they have the infrastructure to support them. They can only gain by the activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Awful and overrated city, paved with dog poo, crowded with tourists, filled with overpriced slum accommodation masquerading as hotels, rubbish pretentious food served by rude waiters.

    The best thing about it is visiting Stade de France to watch their rugby team get beaten.

    Cover the place in towers, at least it won't be any worse than it is now, with a slim chance of it being better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I think the French have the right idea, go for it! La Defense is brilliant as an example. In the UK we have a place like Bradford which is a dump, needs a new style to replace the demolished buildings and yet all Galloway can do is try and save a long past it cinema! Bradford should follow Paris and put something unique in place rather than looking like London after the blitz!

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Skyscrapers are actually eco-friendly solutions to the overgrowth of cities in the 21st century. Instead of moving out into the country side and eating up precious green spaces, you move up into modern and sustainable towers that can house many while also beautifying cities. For offices, towers relief the pressure off of the city centre and bring the rents down. For tourists, they amaze. All good!

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The highest thing in Paris is definitely the rank stench of the Front Nationale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Paris architectural harmony and coherence is something few cities in the world can boast and building skyscrapers in the middle of it would damage its uniqueness. Look what happens in London with the Shard: it destroyed one of the most quintessential London views that is Tower Bridge which now looks like a toy by this giant completely out of place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    As long as Paris ensures that critical sight-lines to the Eiffel Tower are preserved, as those to St Paul's are in London, they should be ok. It would be a great shame if you couldn't see the Tower lit up at night while negotiating the Peripherique.
    PS I like the Montparnasse Tower. I once ate ice cream at the top while watching lightning striking church steeples across the city.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    To me buildings have to be both aesthetically pleasing and have practical functionality. If a skyscraper improves upon both of these criterion with regard to the building(s) it replaces then I have no problem with constructing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    What has it got to do with us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Amazing to see the supposedly liberal-humanist BBC, for a change, not instead propagandistically promoting the most totalitarian vision possible of humanity's future -- as an 'ever-growing population' of computer-networked ants, packed onto a planet covered in massive, dehumanising skyscrapers.

    'Height Madness'??

    This article is surely not in the BBC 'Future' magazine section.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    My own experience is considering how Parisians drive just crossing the street and making it to the other side alive is a day's worth of excitement."

    Been to Paris lately? I have. The drivers are vastly more courteous now and crossing the road is a piece of cake. Can't say I like Paris all that much, though, but it has its unique character, and people are no ruder than anywhere else


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