One of the spectacular things about Paris is its low-lying skyline. I can freely walk down the street, look up and see the sky and feel the air (only mildly polluted) on my face. I'm able to do this because there is an alignment law in place that regulates a building's height according to the width of the street it lines - or a limit of 121 feet.
But what about the Montparnasse Tower, the Eiffel Tower, and the high rises at La Défense, the business district on the periphery of the city, you ask? Well, those were some of the rare exceptions that were made since Haussman redesigned the city in the mid-19th century.
Let's not forget that the construction of the Eiffel Tower sparked fierce protests from citizens who felt that a structure that tall would not only obstruct the skyline but turn the city into ea eye sore. Similar opposition was felt with the conception of the Montparnasse Tower which, at 690 feet, is an eyesore.
Still, the city feels incredibly open, unlike New York City which makes me feel like I'm being overpowered by its massive sky scrapers, and towers; trapped and hard to breathe. Like Paris, Washington DC is a very low, open city which is why I think I appreciated it so much more than its Northern counterpart.
Imagine my dread, then, when I read in the IHT last week that Sarkozy relaunched a project called "Le Grand Paris" which would include the construction of more tall buildings and rescinding the laws against towers. I say relaunch because Sarkozy initially announced his plan for a new "comprehensive development project for a Greater Paris" in 2007 before 10 architectural teams went to work developing mock-ups of Sarkozy's vision.
Supporting the President's ambitions is the Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë who expects the tall buildings to attract more corporate money. All of this sounds suspiciously familiar. Oh right, Sarkozy's idol, Napoleon III, has Paris torn down and reconstructed with large boulevards.
While Sarkozy's plan does put an emphasis on creating residential spaces to combat the housing crisis and the often-neglected city outskirts, with the proposition of an improved public transportation system for the suburbs, the plan would involve radically changing the city's aesthetic from that of a museum to a European Dubai. I've heard many people complain that being in Paris is like being in a museum (an exaggeration, sure) but I have yet to find the inherent problem with this. On the worst of days, its post-card beauty still astonishes me.
Among the proposed changes, one in particular has already received the green light and should be completed by 2014. Le Projet Triangle is:
"a 600-foot-tall ultra-modern pyramid structure in southwest Paris (about five miles from the Louvre) that is so thin from the side it hardly casts a shadow. The building will hold offices, a conference center, and a 400-room hotel".
Sounds like a repeat of the Montparnasse Tower mistake. Just look at the juxtaposition of modern and classic architectural styles. Le Projet Triangle looks like a Toblerone chocolate bar made out of legos!
I agree with critics who argue that dramatic new architecture would damage the city's world-renowned charm and don't agree that such changes are necessary to compete with other leading global cities, like London, Tokyo, and New York. Each of these cities has their own appeal and their own stories. As much as Manhattan is bustling, fun and lively, I would not go so far as to call it beautiful. People from all over the world dream of living their own Parisian fantasy and some actually make it a reality. But would the allure still be as noteworthy if the vistas were marred by ultra-modern towers?
I get it, though. It's not all about the view. It's economics. A question of limited space for a growing population. Rent will inevitably go up if something isn't done. But I'm not convinced that the city's and people's best interests are actually motivating these plans. Sounds like the coupling of architectural ego and Sarkozy's Napoleonic-urge to leave a visible and lasting mark on the city before the end of his term.
In the very least, the historic city-center should be preserved and left untouched. I'm all for finding a solution to the plaguing housing crisis and malignant suburban transportation, but is Dubai-ifying the most of Paris really necessary and inevitable? Man, where are the French protesters when you need them?
Photo 1: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo 2 & 3: Courtesy of Deezen