Monday, December 4, 2006

In today's IHT,...

While reading today's International Herlad Tribune online today, I saw this picture in an article about upcoming architectural additions to Europe's skylines:

I love Paris (having lived there 1998-99), and I love skyscrapers, so I just had to save the photo from the article and include it here. Called "Phare" (lighthouse), the tower is scheduled to be completed by 2012 in the "La Défense" district in western Paris.

...below is an excerpt from the article:

Designed by Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles-based firm Morphosis, the Phare Tower will rise amid the office towers of La Défense, the western business district conceived in the late 1950s as a way of expanding the city while protecting its historic core from overdevelopment. Embedded in this maze of generic towers and blank plazas, the tower will overlook the hollow cube of the 1989 Grande Arche and the elegantly arched concrete roof of the 1958 C.N.I.T. conference center.
Mr. Mayne dug deep into the site's convoluted history to create a building of hypnotic power. Viewed from central Paris, the building's gauzy skin, draped tautly over the tower's undulating form, will have the look of luxurious fabric. But as you draw closer, the forms will appear more muscular, with massive crisscrossing steel beams supporting a perforated metal surface.
The aura of the veil has a titillating vibe, but there is nothing superficial about this design. By drawing on what energy the site has - a tangle of roadways and underground trains - the tower transcends La Défense's deadening urban reputation. Supported by a series of gargantuan steel legs evoking a tripod, the tower straddles the site, allowing pedestrian and train traffic to flow directly underneath. The skin lifts up to envelop a nearby plaza, linking it to an underground train station. Beneath this perforated metal skirt, gigantic escalators shoot up more than 100 feet to a lobby packed with restaurants and cafes.
The approach recalls the machine-age fascination with physical and social mobility that yielded masterpieces like the Gare de Lyon in Paris and Grand Central Terminal in New York. Pushing the idea further, Mr. Mayne rips the top off an existing plaza to reveal the trains and traffic passing underneath. As you ride up escalators link
ing the plaza to the lobby, seams open up in the building's skin to create vertiginous views of both an underground world of shadowy figures and the monuments of the beloved city past the Arc de Triomphe to the east.
The notion of building as machine is tempered by the structure's earnest environmental agenda. Double-layered skin on the south side of the building will deflect the harshest sunlight. On the north side, the surface peels apart to reveal transparent glass skin. The tower's peak, conceived as an extension of the skin, seemingly fraying apart in the breeze, consists of a cluster of antennas and a wind farm that will generate electric power.

Not exactly another Eiffel Tower, but definitely a tall statement...

When I lived in Paris, I was only a ten minute express-commuter-train ride away from the "La Défense" district. If I understand the article correctly, the new curving tower will be built approximately in the location pictured in the center of this photo:
The IHT article mentions the 'hollow cube'...well you see it clearly above--a thirty-story hollow building, with a façade of white Carrera marble; the entire edifice of Notre Dame Cathedral can fit inside the modern structure, which was built as a modernistic office building/'monument' to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989. (The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the first centennial, and for decades remained the tallest man-made structure in the world)

I used to take the train to this neighborhood to run errands (of the book and cd purchasing kind) once in a while; and I admit that I occasionally stopped at the local McDonald's...for a cheap cup of espresso...

To put the La Défense skyscraper-suburb (location of most of the headquarters of France's big finance/computer/insurance, etc. companies) in context, look at the view below, taken a few miles away from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, looking west:

In order to keep the harmonious historical character of Paris intact, the city's building codes do not allow skyscrapers, so they have been 'exiled' to the 'burbs...That's not to say that Paris is anti-modern; far from it. What today passes for 'typically Parisian' was, when it was built, revolutionary and modern. The uniform facades of mansard-roofed buildings lining straight tree-lined avenues that connect plazas and parks--that was all 19th-century 'modern' urban planning... And the city continues its quest to stay modern by commissioning ever newer monuments and buildings...just no more skyscrapers in the middle of the city...

(I couldn't resist: here's a night-time, street-level view of the Arc de Triomphe from the middle of the Champs-Elysées:)

Another example--my favorite modern building in Paris--is the Institut du Monde Arabe. Here's a portion of its 10-story ultra-modern glass façade:
Each gigantic 'pane' of the facade has metal 'lacework' that can be opened or closed via computer--kind of like giant camera-shutters, to let in much or little daylight:
And from the rooftop café-terrace of the Institut, you get this classic view of central Paris--the back of the l'Ile de la cité with the flying buttresses of Notre Dame, and a couple of bridges over the Seine, linking the left bank to the Ile St-Louis, and the Ile St-Louis to the Ile de la Cité:

Finally, to close out today's newspaper-inspired architectural reminiscence of Paris, a less-than-monumental example, found in a commercial-ghetto of a suburb south of the Seine:
Oui, mon ami, you're looking at a car-dealership with a car-vending-machine!
Parking's a pain in European capitals, so the smaller the better, n'est-ce pas?
I wonder how many Euro-coins it would take to get your vehicle to come out the bottom...
and remember:
if your purchase gets 'stuck,' don't try to shake the machine or tip it over, s'il vous plaît...


  1. Ah, what better way to pass a few minutes at 5:50am at a coffee stand on a dark Vashon morning than to dream of walking through a Paris neighborhood (or racing through it's streets on a punchy Smart car). Thanks Joe.

  2. Yeah, this post is awesome. I'd be interested to do some further reading on it. The design kind of reminds me of a far more (French) aesthetically pleasing design of the Freedom Tower, what with it's curviness and such. I don't like Freedom Tower, but this one is better. I still think nothing beats the Petronas Towers, and I also like the design of the Shanghai World Finance Ctr. Different from this design, but still stunning

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