The French capital, whose symbol is a tall building, has a love-hate relationship with tall buildings. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, says that the time has come for a low-rise city – leaving aside the Eiffel Tower and a few eyesores from the 1970s – to go up in the world. Otherwise she warns, Paris will be left behind architecturally and economically by other cities.
But Ms Hidalgo suffered a defeat this week, eight months after she was elected. An unnatural coalition of right wingers, greens and the hard left on the Paris city council rejected plans to build a spectacular 180-metre high glass and steel pyramid – the Triangle Tower – on the southern edge of the city.
Today, Ms Hidalgo declared the vote to be null and void. She insisted that the tower will go ahead.
Plans are advanced to construct three smaller towers on the eastern and northern boundaries of Paris – the first high rises within the city for 40 years. Opposition to these towers is less vocal but still smouldering.
“We risk Paris becoming solely a city with a history – a museum piece with no outlook on the future,“ said the architect Jacques Rougerie. Another award-wining architect, Jean Nouvel, praised the Triangle Tower, designed by the Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, as “one of the most incredible pieces of sculpture that I have seen in ages”.
“There is this obsession in France that new architecture should not stand out,” he said. “This causes a problem for towers, which must be visible and proud of themselves.”
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who leads the centre-right councillors, says that the tower will be an eyesore and not in keeping with the uniform mid-19th century style of most of Paris. She also complains that the city has a glut of office space. Almost 90 per cent of the 80,000sq metres of space in the proposed tower are earmarked for offices. Ms Hidalgo, like her predecessor Bertrand Delanoë, says Paris cannot afford to lose the jobs and business taxes that the new tower will bring.
Most of the unused office space is unsuitable for hi-tech offices. Large firms are moving out to the tall buildings which have been constructed outside Paris proper in the last 40 years in places like La Défense, the business ghetto two miles west of the city boundary.
“We are the only country in the world where a €500m investment would be rejected purely for reasons of political point-scoring,” Ms Hidalgo complained. Ms Hidalgo and others have no wish to transform central Paris into Manhattan or Shanghai, they say, but defining statements of early 21st century architecture could be squeezed into the edges of the city.