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A Nouvel Skyscraper For Paris

Jun 5, 2008
The French capital is to get just what it needs to set it apart from the rest of the globe's major cities - a new 300-metre skyscraper set to challenge the world-famous Eiffel tower's domination of the city's skyline.

France's very own Jean Nouvel fought off competition from four other world class architects to be awarded the commission to construct the new Signal tower.

Strictly speaking it'll actually be built in the largely business district of La Defense on the outskirts of Paris as there are height restrictions on new buildings within the city limits.

Completion of the concrete glass and steel tower is due by the end of 2013.

It won't quite match the height of the Eiffel Tower - which stands at 324 metres - and is unlikely to become a major tourist attraction, but it's early evidence that the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to leave his architectural mark on the capital in much the same way as his predecessors.

In fact the thinking behind the tower's construction is to spearhead an ambitious plan to breathe new life into the whole of La Defense - now more than 50 years old.

At 71 storeys the tower will almost be a town within a town with shops and restaurants on the ground floor, and above those the inevitable offices and a 300-room hotel, all topped off with a layer of luxury apartments.

Unlike many of the rest of the ageing skyscrapers in the district, it'll combine those all-important energy saving features that simply weren't around decades ago, including solar panels and wind turbines on the roof.

But when all is said and done it'll still be a hulking 300 metres of concrete, glass and steel, probably with lights left on unnecessarily overnight (as is common practice in many office complexes).

And as critics have been quick to point out, without a corresponding update of La Defense's infrastructure the new tower could signal added congestion for commuters in the future as more businesses and therefore more employees are tempted into the district.

It's already used by 400,000 people daily and is home to 2,500 company headquarters as well as 20,000 residents.

The new tower won't be the only mighty construction on the horizon when it's completed.

There are already two other 300-metre projects under construction, both of which are due to be finished by 2012. And Nouvel's building is just part of a larger renovation plan for the district under which 17 existing but ageing buildings are scheduled for demolition - and replacement.

Of course the choice of Nouvel has brought an awful lot of patriotic backslapping and congratulations here and there's no doubting his credentials or international track record.

Earlier this year he won the profession's top honour, the Pritzker prize, plus to gain the new commission he beat off competition from the likes of Britain's Norman Foster and US architect Daniel Libeskind.

But there has to be a slight doubt lingering as to whether this latest venture will not simply turn into something of an eyesore - albeit it a very tall one.

Nouvel's last project to be completed here in Paris, the Quai Branly museum of tribal arts, already looked pretty tatty from the outside when it opened in 2006 and looks set to age quickly.
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specializing in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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