How times are changing for Paris’ low-rise skyline
The French capital is famed for keeping its skyline low. It’s a policy that has allowed the Eiffel Tower and the mid-19th century buildings surrounding it to retain their wonder, across inner-city Paris and the globe. But thinking is now moving on.
In 2015 a glass skyscraper won planning permission to be built in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. Tour Triangle standing 180 metres tall from a trapezoid base – wide from one side and narrow from another – will be completed in 2020, making it the city’s third tallest building. Only the controversial Montparnasse tower built in 1973 will stand between it and the Eiffel Tower in central Paris.
Although 73 skyscrapers have been built in the wider area known as Grand Paris since 1960, only two of those are office towers. And a height restriction of 37 metres until 2011 has meant that these older skyscrapers have been limited in their skywards ambition.
Every 20 years, the average height of a tower increases by 20 meters.
A few meters at a time
“It’s wrong to say we haven’t built towers in the past,” says Joel De Lafond, JLL’s director of project and development services in France. “There are 12 new office towers located in La Défense, Paris’s business district, for instance. What we have seen is that every 20 years, the average height of a tower increases by 20 meters.”
So, between 1960 and 1980 the average height for a new tower was 120 meters. The current average is 150 metres and it’s estimated all building projects after 2020 will be around 180 metres – the height of Tour Triangle when it’s finished.
With its 120-bedroom hotel, co-working office space, and cultural space, Tour Triangle has been dubbed Paris’ answer to London’s Shard. The architects behind it are the Swiss agency Herzog & de Meuron who designed the birds-nest-style stadium for the Beijing Olympic Games.
The battle for taller buildings
Plans for the construction of Tour Triangle were initially rejected by Paris City councilors in November 2014. But in summer 2015 the project was granted planning permission, by a narrow majority.
“Maybe we’re sometimes a little too conservative in France. We could build towers in more central locations but we don’t,” says De Lafond. French people had a bad experience with Tour Montparnasse – they disliked its ugliness which has meant a reluctance to build taller skyscrapers since the 1970s.
One of the Triangle’s biggest supporters is the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo. She claims Paris will be left behind if it doesn’t embrace the type of buildings now expected in international cities.
Joel De Lafond agrees. “I’m well in favour of this kind of asset and we mustn’t be afraid of innovation and new architecture,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense to restrict planning. We have to think on a bigger scale.” He believes there needs to be more financial investment in skyscrapers as more than 15 tower projects have been abandoned in Paris.
The debate also continues on how to make towers sustainable and easier to maintain. Thought needs to be given, he thinks, as to how older high spaces can accommodate new ways of working.
“A city must be full of life,” enthuses De Lafond. “A city must not be afraid to grow within its own walls.” Tour Triangle could be the start of Paris’s ascent to the clouds.