THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


PARIS RISING: LOOSER REGULATIONS LET DEVELOPERS BUILD SKYSCRAPERS IN THE CITY CENTER; CONTROVERSY ENSUES

by by Hayoung Park

Paris has finally decided to get a facelift. In July, the Paris city council voted to lift regulations that restricted the height of inner-city buildings to 122 feet. The city's high-rise ban was enforced in 1977 following the construction of the 689-foot tall Montparnasse tower, the second tallest structure after the Eiffel Tower and the only skyscraper in central Paris. After three decades of keeping the skyline intact, Parisians now face the construction of not one, but six more skyscrapers. The first project to be approved is Herzog & de Meuron's "Le Projet Triangle," a 50-story glass pyramid at Porte de Versailles in the 15th arrondissement in Southern Paris. It is scheduled for completion in 2014.

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Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, whose most recent success is the highly publicized "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing, have earned international acclaim with their visually captivating designs and innovative façades. In September, the duo revealed their design for a privately financed pyramid-shaped tower in Paris that will contain offices, conference centers, restaurants and luxurious boutiques along with a 400-bedroom hotel. At a height of 590 fett, the new project will be the third tallest building in Paris, but thanks to the slim triangular design, it won't overshadow adjacent buildings. The structure is also ecologically sustainable, using renewable energy from solar and wind power generators. On top of its structural achievements, "the project will also play a significant role in the reorganization of flows and perception of urban space," according to Herzog & de Meuron's statement. Located on the Parc des Expositions site, the Triangle will visually and physically reconnect the 15th district of Paris and Issy-le-Moulineaux, the southwestern suburb of the city by restoring the historical axis of avenue Ernest Renan. The creation of a public square will facilitate the flow and link the two different parts of the Parc des Exposition. Furthermore, the project will include an elevated square that is accessible for everyone and provide a view of the entire city.

So are the Parisians glad to receive this all-in-one package? Not at all. A recent poll by World Architecture News revealed that 62 percent of the city's residents are opposed to high-rise buildings in the city center. The high-rises of Paris's urban area are mostly concentrated in La Défense, the business district located just outside of central Paris. The district, home to the largest number of skyscrapers in the European Union, mainly consists of office towers including 14 high-rises above 492 feet. The area was planned as such by Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s as an attempt to keep historic Paris untouched by commercial high-rises.

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Parisian mayor Bertrand Delanoë's recent decision to extend air rights in the city center stems from his concerns for the city's place on the global stage. As one of world's top tourist destinations, Paris is afraid of falling behind its international competitors, London and Berlin. Delanoë, the key figure behind the city council's decision, felt the need to free Paris from its height restrictions in order to strengthen its position as a metropolis. With the city's already established status as an art and cultural center, Delanoë and his team are aspiring to revive Paris's economic position on the global stage as well. "This ambition," according to the official website of Anne Hidalgo, the Deputy Mayor who showcased the Triangle project, "must now be translated in a concrete way by reinforcing [Paris'] economic attractiveness."

However, when the price of economic development is a city's old charm, serious rethinking is necessary. The present-day urban fabric of Paris has a history all its own, harkening back to the 1850s and 60s when Napoleon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann to modernize the medieval structures of the city. Haussmann's renovations incorporating grand boulevards and buildings with uniform and continuous façades have contributed to a widely celebrated image of the capital city even to this day. The 19th century Haussmannian aesthetics, layered with medieval neighborhoods and narrow streets, create a rich historic texture to the city that cannot be restored if lost.

Unlike London, where modern office towers and historic buildings are intertwined throughout the city, central Paris is for the most part untouched by new construction. However, Delanoë and the Paris city council, concerned by international competition, may have felt the need to create an equivalent of the Gherkin, a bullet-shaped glass tower in the heart of London. Officially called 30 St Mary Axe, the 590-foot high skyscraper designed by Norman Foster and completed in 2003 was the front-runner in London's high-rise construction boom. The building has been praised for not only its striking form, but also for its energy efficient structure that uses natural ventilation and reduces the need for central heating. Located on the old Baltic Exchange site, the Gherkin makes its distinct mark on the skyline, yet abides by the city's regulations to protect the view of the historic St. Paul's Cathedral. While London's skyscrapers are a part of the capital's streetscape, they exist in the city's financial district. Paris has its own area designated for high-rise structures, La Défense, and the Triangle would make the most sense there, rather than in Southern Paris.

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Walking down the streets of Paris is one of the most pleasant experiences the city has to offer. The beauty of Paris lies in its low skyline, in which the eye moves from one place to another without being interrupted by ultra-modern skyscrapers. This quintessential Parisian experience will only be tainted when a sharp triangular glass tower reaching just below two-thirds the height of the Eiffel Tower rises at the southern tip of the city, only to be followed by five more.

HAYOUNG PARK B'09 likes what makes Paris, Paree.