New central business district

symbolically connected to the heart of Paris by the Champs Elysées, Paris's historic boulevard spine, the Métro system, the regional express line (RER) and the A-14e motorway. It was designed to be and is a different world to Paris.

The conception of La Défense can be traced back to the 1920s but it was a long pregnancy. Regional plans and a 1931 competition for the Voie Triomphiale [Triumphal Way] from the Etoile to La Défense gave impetus to the idea for the location of a new business district for Paris on its periphery. A 1956 Regional Development and Organization Plan proposed that the population density of the inner city be reduced and that nodes be established on its periphery - something that has subsequently happened to cities in many countries as a result of market forces not regional planning policies (Garreau, 1991). There was a felt need to maintain the character of the historic core of Paris as it was and as it exists in people's imaginations. It is what the 25 million tourists who come to Paris each year desire to see and enjoy. The result was the moving of some services to the periphery of the city and the building of a series of new towns around it.

By 1956, a number of office towers had already been located in the vicinity of La Défense. In 1958, EPAD (Establissement Public pour l'Amenagement de la Region de la Défense) was formed and progress started on what we now know as La Défense. An EPA is a public body that works with private companies to acquire land and prepare it for development. It links the efforts of local and national governments with those of private sector developers. EPAD thus had the power to expropriate land, establish a development zone and expedite construction. EPAD bought the land, rehoused about 25,000 people, demolished 9000 dwellings and several hundred industrial and light-industrial factories, and set about developing an office estate. The development spans four decades of fits and starts with the major periods of inaction being prior to 1964, between 1974 and 1978, and again between 1992 and 1998.

An early proposal (1964) consisted of two rows of skyscrapers equal in height (100 metres) surrounded by housing and with an esplanade covering the roadways. Little came of it. A more serious proposal for the site was instigated in 1971 by President Georges Pompidou, and a third a few years later by President Giscard d'Estaing. The third proposal is essentially what we see today.

President d'Estaing and Prime Minister Raymond Barre had intervened in 1978 because, in spite of state funding, the economic future of La Défense was uncertain. New development was being carried out at a slow pace. EPAD was in a poor financial state as its resources came from the sale of construction rights. It had a deficit of 680 million francs. Under d'Estaing's leadership the central government put in additional resources drawn directly from publicly owned savings banks. Additional restrictions were also placed on building within Paris by a national government authority DATAR (Délégation à l'Aménagement du Territoire et à l'Action Régionale) and a differential tax rate was put in place to encourage development at La Défense.

The construction of the infrastructure was the major enabling step because it allowed buildings to be plugged into a vehicular, rail and pedestrian transportation network. This network is organized into a multi-layered structure segregating the different transport modes with a vehicle-free 40-hectare (100-acre) pedestrian deck, or esplanade, being the top layer. Vehicular traffic is kept on the periphery of the superblock (see Figure 8.10). The original conceptual design builds on Le Corbusier's idea of what a modern city should be. As the scheme evolved it has become denser to stimulate some sense of urbanity and liveliness. The Centre National de Industries et Techniques, with its triangular roof, was one of the first landmark buildings in the area. It acted as a catalyst spurring further development (see Figures 8.11-8.13).

The partial termination of the axis from the boulevard périphérique today is the La Défense Arche designed by Danish architect Johan Otto von Spreckelsen who died before construction was completed. The Arche was the winning entry in a design competition held under the auspices of

Source: B. Richards (2001); courtesy of the Taylor and Francis Group

Figure 8.11 Sections through the deck, La Défense. (a) Cross-section and (b) partial longitudinal section.

Figure 8.11 Sections through the deck, La Défense. (a) Cross-section and (b) partial longitudinal section.

President François Mitterand. It was part of his Grands Travaux (Great Works) programme that was primarily concerned with preserving Parisian monuments such as the Grand Louvre but it also helped finance major new works such as the Cité des Sciences in an old slaughterhouse at Parc de la Villette (see Chapter 5). A decked bridge west of the Arche continues the axis to St Germain-en-Laye.

The Arche was designed in 1983 and completed in 1989, a century after the Eiffel Tower. Various earlier schemes by I. M. Pei, Emile Aillaud and Jean Willerval had been rejected. The Arche is an office building, 35 stories (100 metres) high by 100 metres wide (the size of the Care le Cour, or Square Courtyard, at the Louvre and large enough to accommodate Notre Dame). It is slightly skewed to the axis and in the

Figure 8.12 The western end of La Défense.
Figure 8.13 La Défense with the Grande Arche in the background and the Centre National de Industries et Techniques on the right.

form of an arch. It is topped by an art gallery and viewing platform. The competition for the Arche site attracted 424 entries. An architectural jury selected four finalists. They were submitted anonymously to Mitterand who selected Spreckelsen's entry. Today the Arche is a major tourist attraction and gives La Défense a sense of place in Paris. It also allows for the further extension of the axis starting with the Champs Elysées and continuing through the Arche to the far distant Versailles. The landscape between the Seine and the Grand Arche - the D'alle Centrale - is to the design of Dan Kiley, the North American landscape architect. Working in 1978, Kiley sought a classical modernism of fountains and art works. Four long lines of pollard London Planes reinforce the visual axis.

In many ways La Défense might have been better included in the Chapter 10 as a plug-in design where buildings of various types and architecture, ranging from Modernist to post-modern with neo-classical overtones are plugged into a framework. It has turned out to be a poorly organized all-of-a-piece design. The conceptual diagram and how to achieve it were never carefully articulated. The building guidelines varied over time as the result of political pressures and economic necessity. The scheme was much affected by successive presidents of France, each attempting to leave his imprint on Paris.

The first set of design controls limited height and sought an architectural unity for the precinct. As the design evolved the specifications of what should be built were loosened in order to get some life into the scheme. A laissez-faire attitude ultimately prevailed. By the early 1970s companies were encouraged to build distinctive gratte-ciels

(skyscrapers). They have done so. Each corporation has tried to outdo the others with its building. Yet few buildings are touched by post-Modernist design patterns. The result has been a haphazard collection of buildings that are perceived to be out of context with the dignity and grandeur of the axe historique. EPAD appears not to care. It has created the premier business district in Europe and has the statistics to prove it. It is the landscape that ties the complex together (Figures 8.14 and 8.15).

Has La Défense been a success? Admirers regard it as a modern day Utopia; detractors think it is part of the Brave New World. It has been dismissed as a 'business slum' (Eriksen, 2001). Despite efforts to rectify the design it remains a series of Modernist parts. The open spaces are disconnected and poorly related to the buildings; there is little on the deck to attract pedestrians. Although it is relatively free of air pollution, the high winds on the deck level promoted by the tall buildings make the pedestrian environment particularly inhospitable in winter and even on some summer days. EPAD has made a valiant effort to make the esplanade more attractive by adding trees for aesthetic reasons and also to ameliorate the wind conditions. It has increased the amount of shopping, and promoted the development of art galleries, as well as including more sculptures to make an open-air museum. A carousel has become a permanent feature.

From a business point of view La Défense is a resounding success. Fourteen ofFrance's top 20 corporations are located there. In 2000, 130,000 people worked in the precinct for 3600 companies. Over half of the people employed have been described as 'executives'. Those two figures are indicators of one measure of success. They are what

Figure 8.14 La Défense: typical commercial buildings with a stabile by Alexander Calder in the background.
Figure 8.15 Office workers and tourists looking down the axis towards the Arc d'Triomph from the steps of the Grande Arche.

impressed visiting politicians such as the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and Shanghai's Mayor (later premier of the People's Republic of China), Zhu Rongji. Canary Wharf and Lujiazui are the children of La Défense and the scheme for Hanoi North a grandchild (see Marshall, 2002). If Haussmann's Paris was the model for earlier generations of political leaders, La Défense is for today's.

Major references de Graveline, Frederique (2002). La Défense, Les Villes et Leurs Projects: Projets Urbain en France. Paris: Editions du Moniteur. EPAD (c. 2002). La Défense. EPAD. Lowe, Garrard (1996). Urban lessons from Paris.

Urbanities 6 (1): 1-6. Torres, Felix (1987). Paris La Défense: Métropole Européenne des Affaires. Paris: Editions de Moniteur.

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

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