Thursday, May 3, 2012

La Defense and the Future of Grand Urban Plazas

On Wednesday, May 2, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about the business center of Paris, yes there is one for those visitors who have not gone over the hill and down from the Arc de Triomphe (GO HERE). This business complex called La Defense, sits on the city’s western edge and includes a collection of glass enclosed uber-buildings that flank its grand plaza. As stated in Wikipedia, it is where “statements of corporate ambition can be made,” hyperbole intended. It might sound better in French.
Central Plaza
This complex is now faced with three new towers that will dramatically affect the view, as well as the perception, of Paris; even the proposers are worried about how their clients and customers will see their attempts at make a signature statement about who they are in this historic city. And the residents of Paris are taking to the battlements to ensure that they will be heard. It’s all so Parisian.

I was never a fan of this urban complex. It is over blown and has none of the charm of the rest of the city just over the hill. It is about 400 acres with 3.5 million SF of office space, more than 150,000 employees and 20,000 permanent residents. There is retail (of some kind), hotels, and smatterings of monuments and sculpture. What really takes the visitor’s breath away is the central plaza, all 3.3 million square feet of flagstone and sidewalks. These huge plates of stone laid in an undulating grid pattern, when I was there, rocked and tilted as you walked the plaza, quite unsettling I assure you.

La Grande Arche (finished in 1989 and a homage to the original Arc de Triomphe), is the central structure and in line with the Champs-Elysees. The arch has a grand stair under its arch that at most times, has hundreds of people sitting about, many, I’m sure, trying to understand the space. Under this massive structure are rail links and metro stations; just remember that the Louvre is just a few Metro stops away. It contains government offices.

I’ve used some images from Wikipedia and other sources, my photos are slides (shows you my tech at the time I was there, lost the images from the second visit – apologies). The contrasts are spectacularly unreal, walk through Tuileries, grab a seat on the Metro, and then rise into La Defense, you would think you not only changed centuries but planets as well.

The New Towers are on the 'Photoshopped' Right
Successful urban plazas are difficult at best, time may heal them or perspectives and scales change as buildings grow and tastes alter. The biggest challenge is economics and approvals. Either can kill the effort. These new buildings, the Phare Tower with 70 floors and the Hermitage Plaza Towers (2 and Russian backed) at 86 floors (and a tad shorter than the Eiffel Tower), will be some of the tallest buildings in Europe. The need to build taller is worldwide, so just get on the band wagon and go for it.

Stay Tuned . . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment