'Funnel' vision for Paris skyline as tower is approved

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The Independent Online

After more than a century reigning over the landscape of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is finally to have a rival approaching its own size.

By 2012, a futuristic 300m-high tower block, called La Phare (the lighthouse) is to be constructed amid the relatively modest skyscrapers of the La Défense area, just west of Paris proper.

The new Parisian landmark will be only 20 metres shorter than Gustav Eiffel's famous tower, which has stood since 1889, and will be almost one third as tall again as the Tour Montparnasse, the only true skyscraper within the city boundaries.

An international jury has chosen a design by the award-winning Californian architect, Thom Mayne, which has flowing curves like a giant ship's funnel. The building will be asymmetric - in other words it will look different from every angle - and will be crowned by a forest of giant, electricity-generating windmills.

The building's owner, the property group Unibail, asked for something which would make a "resolute break" with tradition and provide a model of "sustainable development".

La Phare is one of a series of distinctive high-rise buildings which will transform the landscape of the relatively low-rise Paris conurbation over the next decade. Another office block planned for La Défense, topped by four spires, will be only a little shorter than La Phare.

New high-rise buildings are banned by local law within the boundaries of the city of Paris itself. Bertrand Delanoë, the city's Mayor, has pushed for the law to be eased to allow the construction of distinctive modern buildings in the architecturally undistinguished eastern reaches of the capital. However the city council has rejected this proposal.

But the construction of La Phare and other tall office buildings just outside Paris proper seems certain to reopen the debate. High-quality, open-plan, computer-friendly office space is limited within the city boundaries.

Large companies have been moving out to the suburbs in recent years, reducing the capital's tax base. By offering hundreds of thousands of square metres of extra offices - 130,000 square metres in La Phare alone - the new buildings could accelerate this exodus.

La Phare is part of an ambitious plan to revitalise La Défense, an area of modern office buildings two miles west of Paris, built between 1958 and 1989. The political architect of the new plan is Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister and likely centre-right candidate in next spring's presidential elections. M. Sarkozy is also president of the council of Hauts-de-Seine, the small, wealthy département just west of Paris which includes La Défense.

He says the redevelopment is needed to keep the area of La Défense in the same league as other large office developments in Europe, such as Moscow City or the London Docklands.

Thom Mayneis co-founder of the Morphosis architecture firm in Los Angeles which won the Pritzker Prize - architecture's highest international honour - last year. His previous buildings include the Design Centre in Taipei, Taiwan, and the Sun Tower in Seoul, South Korea.