Monday, 5 August 2013

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

London Skyline

 Does Paris need new skyscrapers?
By John Laurenson

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.
A city is something that constantly renews itself”
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.
You don't embellish a city by building isolated tower blocks that disfigure it”
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 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."

One of the designs is for a skyscraper called the Tour Triangle

This design is for the Judiciary Tower in the north of the city

There are plans to build a Tour Duo

The Tour Duo would be erected on the Left Bank of the River Seine
Paris: A Tale of Two Possible Cities

It's the most popular city in the world -- 28 million visitors a year, bringing in 84 billion euros to the city's coffers.

Yet this, apparently, is not good enough for Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris. Nor for François Hollande, the Socialist president of France.

Both men are promoting a plan that would change this "City of Light" into a city of shadow -- a city ringed with possibly a dozen skyscrapers, each one more bizarre than the last.

Originally called Le Grand Paris, and enthusiastically endorsed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the idea was to construct huge buildings outside the city limits, as defined by the Periphèrique (the outer ring road). Thus, the city's 11-story limit on height would not be challenged. The plan also envisaged new rail lines that would bring people in from the suburbs to work in these buildings, which were conceived as strictly commercial, not residential.

This grandiose project, running headlong into the economic crisis, eventually got watered down. Today, the promoters are planning to build three skyscrapers that will be built within the city limits. And they plan to follow up these three with at least three more. SOS Paris, an organization founded in 1973 to fight French president Georges Pompidou's plan to build highways along the Seine, is the most outspoken opponent of the projects.

The plan, as they see it, is sheer folly -- urban hubris run amok. First of all, Paris does not need more office buildings. The cluster of office towers at La Défense, begun 40 years ago on the edge of the city, is falling into disuse as many businesses are leaving. What Paris needs is residential construction -- there is an appalling shortage of housing.

But that's not where the glamour lies. Many cities today, from St. Petersburg to Dubai, think that by erecting weird new skyscrapers they will enhance their global image. City planners and -- sadly to say -- architects, too, tend to denigrate the old and the traditional, and promote instead what is brazenly nonconformist. It's fine to be culturally avant-garde (buying art, composing music), but living in a city is serious business and should not be the subject of wild experimentation. Someone has even suggested a Hippocratic oath for urban planners: Thou shalt do no harm.

There is much harm to be done to Paris if these new building projects go through. One, in the 15th arrondisement, is a 50-story glass triangle designed by the reputable Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron. It is ludicrous to think that they may have simply magnified I. M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre.... but the suspicion lingers. They claim that their Tour Triangle would not cast a large shadow on the neighborhood, but it would definitely require the demolition of half of Paris' main convention and exhibition center at the Porte de Versailes.

The second project, planned for the 17th arrondissement, is a boxy, three-tiered, 48-story courthouse, designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano, who sees it as "a setting conducive to the exercise of Justice." (Opponents call it a Tower of Babel.) It would replace the venerable Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité. Understandably, the entire legal community is opposed to this project, so there is a good chance that it will be dropped.

The third project is already underway in the 13th arrondissement, in the neighborhood behind the Gare d'Austerlitz and the Bibliothèque Mitterrand. The site is euphemistically named Paris Rive Gauche. It is indeed on the left bank of the Seine, but there the resemblance ends. Developers are throwing up a haphazard assortment of residential and commercial buildings that range from bland to ugly. And although they boast that there is new office space for 50,000 people, there will be housing for only 15,000.

The rationale for these new projects, and the ones that may follow, is seriously flawed. When it comes to architecture, bigger is not better. It has been shown that skyscrapers are not more energy-efficient. Also, they are extremely difficult to evacuate in case of a fire or other emergency. And as they draw large numbers of people into a single high-rise building (where an estimated 20% of their time is spent in elevators!), the place of work becomes an artificial neighborhood, devoid of authentic urban activity.

Messrs. Hollande and Delanoë warn that Paris will become "a museum city" if these skyscrapers are not built, and that foreign visitors and foreign investment will dwindle. In fact, Paris will probably be less desirable if its traditional attractions are (literally) overshadowed by modern monstrosities.

The Cranky Urbanist: Paris Doesn’t Need the Triangle Tower

Responding to France Revisited’s call for an opinion article from various opponents to Paris City Hall’s push to approve the construction of a 180-meter (590-foot) high-rise known as the Triangle Tower, Patrice Maire, president of the association Monts 14, stepped up to the plate with the following text, translated here from the original French.
Will Paris Be Modernized or Disfigured?
by Patrice Maire
Ever since he was elected Mayor of Paris in 2001, Bertrand Delanoë has established his popularity though high profile communications with operations such as Vélib, the bike share system, Paris-Plages, the summertime “beach” along the Seine, and a call for the construction of skyscrapers—towers—along the edges of the city.
In 2004 he consulted Parisians on their view of the capital’s urban development: 120,000 people responded and 63% declared themselves to be opposed to the construction of towers. He dropped the idea, particularly since he couldn’t alienate his Green Party allies who were also opposed.

A modernity of thundering rupture with the past
In an opuscule published in 2009, Paris 21e siècle (21st Century Paris), the mayor bellowed that “Paris should know how to impose its modernity in order to maintain its rank.” Indeed, he’s given endless stabs at the Paris landscape. On multiple occasions he has pushed up the height limits in urban regulations: 15 meters (49 feet) higher for architectural signs, unlimited increase for wind turbines, etc. At the end of 2009, he chipped away at the regulated height zone protecting the view of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées and on Rue de Rivoli by accepting the raising of the Samaritaine [Editor’s note: Samaritaine is a former department store occupying choice real estate between Notre-Dame and the Louvre  and now owned by LVMH and under renovation/reconversion]. Worse still, he obliges developers with a modernity of thundering rupture, a 180° turn-around with respect to the principles of integration in the urban landscape that have always been written in the City Planning Code.
Delanoë and “old stones”
On November 21, 2011, at the Cévennes Gymnasium in the 15th arrondissement, he said that “the image of Paris is not simply to come to see old stones… we expect Paris to be a dynamic city of the 21st century, not of the 18th or the 19th… we ask it to be a city of heritage and in international competition, intellectually and creatively competitive… the city cannot live and breathe if we have this immobile, stiff, stuck vision…”

Hearing these unpleasant words about the physiognomy of Haussmann’s Paris is a reminder that some Parisians repudiate it and even see in a “bourgeois culture.” Needless to say, we appreciate a masterpiece more when we understand the context in which it appeared. That was my goal in publishing in May 2012 Special Issue No. 4 of the journal Monts 14 entitled Le langage architectural au temps d’Haussmann, (Architectural Language During Haussmann’s Time), a document that dares to make the comparison with the Renaissance in Florence, Italy in the 15th century.
The fight against the Triangle Tower
Following the municipal elections of 2008, Mayor Delanoë’s Socialist Party had an absolute majority in the city legislature. He immediately began to push on Parisians plans for skyscrapers at six locations in Paris. On September 25 that year, the Triangle Tower project was presented at City Hall to an audience of dazzled journalists.
The tower is supposed to make more attractive the Parc des expositions exhibition complex at Porte de Versailles on the southeastern edge of the city (15th arrondissement) by creating hotel rooms, conference halls, a business incubator, etc. In reality, only one large company, of international scope, is interested in occupying space there. Offended at having been left in the dark, Philippe Goujon, mayor (UMP, conservative party) of the 15th arrondissement, declared, “The project disintegrated in my eyes: no hotel rooms, no conference halls, offices for whom?”

That was before the financial crisis weighed down on the real estate market for office space in 2009. Nevertheless, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor Delanoë’s right hand [Editor’s note: and presumed candidate to replace him in 2014], launched a communications campaign on the theme “Change the image of Paris.”
Two years later, an exhibition about the projected changes took place at the district hall of the 15th arrondissement from June 28 to September 2, 2011. District Mayor Goujon was again in favor of the project. A public inquiry was conducted that fall to gather the comments regarding the proposed development.
During that period, Mont 14 and other associations opposed to the project—Jeunes Parisiens de Paris, ADAHPE, APXV and SOS Paris (the most international and Anglophone of these groups)—formed the Collective Against the Triangle Tower.
Towers - Collective against the Triangle Tower
Collective Against the Triangle Tower gains traction
These efforts began to bear fruit. Having gathered the observations 300 people as well as 1700 signatures on a petition by Monts 14, the commissioner of the inquiry noted in his official report of April 2012, along with remarks favorable to the tower, three reservations to the project: concerning traffic, the shadow caused by the tower and the partial amputation of the Parc des expositions. In particular, the report asked Mr. Delanoë to justify that the project would not weaken the role of the exhibition complex in terms of international competition.
Indeed, the tower as then planned would amputate from 6000 square meters (65000 square feet) of the exhibition complex’s Hall 1, a unique window to the world for the major French automobile manufacturers during the Automobile Show held here every two years in the fall. In support of the Automobile Show, the Collective Against the Triangle Tower demonstrated at the show’s opening on September 29, 2012. The demonstration made the front page of the newspaper Le Parisien. The newspaper Le Figaro followed suit. Another demonstration, on the occasion of the Boat Show, took place on December 8. This time the Collective was joined by representatives of the political parties MODEM, Jeunes democrats, EELV, Debout la république and Parti de Gauche.

A turning point in the fight
Their presence represents a turning point in the fight. Indeed, there are prejudices that are difficult to combat. Faced with the penury of reasonably priced housing, Parisians often see towers in a positive light. Mr. Delanoë finds it easy to toady to their anxiety by luring them with the promise of mixed-use towers with space for both business and lodging. We have repeatedly remarked that as far as lodging goes such high-rises are expensive to build per square meter and their maintenance costs are excessive (500€ per month for a 3-room apartment in the Olympiades complex on the southwest edge of Paris). Their primary purpose is apparently not to created affordable housing for inhabitants of the city.
Delanoë’s totem
The sole interest for constructing a building such as the Triangle Tower in Paris is its totemic value. A massive building overshadowing the city can have communications value for a large company or for the mayor of Paris. Mr. Delanoë would like to be identified with the totem of the Triangle Tower. However, there’s a far more emblematic vision to consider, that of the Great Boulevards, of stone buildings, of Haussmannian rooftops, of the Galeries Lafayette, of diversity and cultural richness.
It’s the attraction of that vision that explains why Paris is the most world’s most visited city. Such attractiveness is France’s good fortune, but it’s one that risks being wasted. Towers are now commonplace; worldwide, about 15000 towers rise over 100 meters (328 feet). Towers draw our attention like a lightning rod attracts lightning. Building towers would interfere with the Paris skyline and make it commonplace.
"This is the Paris we're being promised." Jan Wyers of SOS Paris imagines the view from the Eiffel Tower of a ring of skyscrapers on the edge of the city.
“This is the Paris we’re being promised.” Jan Wyers of SOS Paris imagines the view from the Eiffel Tower of a ring of skyscrapers on the edge of the city.
Mr. Delanoë has had to regroup following the reservations put forth last year by the commissioner of the inquiry. Still attached to the hotel rooms and convention halls that he had wanted housed in the tower, he’s now looking to build them elsewhere within the same sector. Mr. Delanoë has now launched another public inquiry in an attempt to “modernize” the Parc des Exposition with the creation of hotel rooms and meeting halls. That absolutely does not justify the construction of the Triangle Tower as an office tower!
Let’s refuse to let Paris be disfigured
The Triangle Tower will be voted on by the Council of Paris on the July 18, 2013. If approved, the association Monts 14 will bring the matter before the administrative tribunal on the grounds that this project is not in the public interest. We will then do our part in ensuring that the debate about the physiognomy of Paris is among the major issues of next year’s municipal elections.
Whether you live in France, in the United States or elsewhere around world, we invite all those who love Paris to support this fight by signing the petition found here, writing to the major or to your local representative in Paris, joining an association, attending our debates and demonstrations, and letting it be known that you refuse to let Paris be disfigured.
Patrice Maire
Patrice Maire is president of the association Monts 14 and editor of the journal produced by the association. For information about the association and its efforts to halt the construction of the Triangle Tower see
Mont 14 is one of the associations that grouped under the banner Collective Against the Triangle Tower. Another among them is SOS Paris, which has many foreign and English-speaking members.
Patrice Maire’s text in France was translated for France Revisited by Gary Lee Kraut, April 2013.
The opinion expressed above is presented to give a sense of the debate surrounding the Triangle Tower and does not necessarily reflect that of France Revisited.
For France Revisited’s introduction to the subject of the Triangle Tower and of other high-rises in Paris read: Paris on the Edge: Does the French Capital Need High-Rises and Towers to Stay Relevant.

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