TOW­ER­ING AM­BI­TION

Large-scale de­vel­op­ment is set to make Paris’s La Défense busi­ness dis­trict more tempt­ing for liv­ing and work­ing – and it has UK staff in its sights, says Jenny Southan

Business Traveller - - NEWS -

The busi­ness dis­trict of La Défense in Paris stands to gain from a Brexit ex­o­dus

Iam not a fan of heights, but ev­ery now and then it’s im­por­tant to get your­self into a glass lift and see the views. Loom­ing 111 me­tres high, La Grande Arche is La Défense’s most fa­mil­iar land­mark; a mono­lithic open-sided cube, with an 11,000 sqm, newly ren­o­vated roof that al­lows you to gaze all the way down Av­enue Charles de Gaulle to the Arc du Tri­om­phe, on the other side of the River Seine.

Con­struc­tion of this two-square-mile clus­ter of high-rise tow­ers be­gan in 1958, with the in­ten­tion of re­plac­ing farm­land and di­lap­i­dated sub­urbs with a hub for busi­ness and bank­ing. The first build­ing erected was the low but ex­pan­sive Cen­tre of New In­dus­tries and Tech­nolo­gies (now a con­ven­tion cen­tre and Hil­ton ho­tel at the foot of the Arche), fol­lowed by the first of France’s of­fice blocks – the Esso Tower and the No­bel Tower – in the six­ties.

To­day, La Défense is the largest pur­pose-built dis­trict in Europe, hov­er­ing above a net­work of roads on a 30-hectare el­e­vated con­crete plat­form called “the Slab”, which al­lows pedes­tri­ans to walk freely across enor­mous plazas while cars pass be­neath. For decades, the area has been home to a for­est of mono-func­tional struc­tures, oc­cu­pied nine-to-five by work­ers who ebb and flow from their jobs to their out­ly­ing homes.

How­ever, Paris has realised that it is fall­ing be­hind other cities with its life­style-less ur­ban plan­ning, so has em­barked on turn­ing La Défense into a place not only for work but for liv­ing and so­cial­is­ing, too. Cen­tral to this is a host of am­bi­tious projects that will set new records for scale; and in so do­ing rob Lon­don’s Shard of the ti­tle of “tallest build­ing in the EU”.

At the same time, with Brexit loom­ing, the French cap­i­tal is look­ing to pull in as many as 20,000 UK fi­nance work­ers as they are com­pelled to mi­grate. Com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Lon­don and Paris is hot­ting up.

LOOK OUT, LON­DON “Tired of the fog? Try the frogs.” So reads the lat­est ad cam­paign from gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion De­facto. This sum­mer it hosted a five-week pop-up in front of La Défense’s Les Qu­a­tre Temps shop­ping mall. Deckchairs were laid out on Astro­turf lawns, food trucks parked up and peo­ple played ta­ble foot­ball on their lunch breaks. It was de­signed to em­body a slice of Lon­don – there were signs for King’s Cross and Queensway, Union Jack flags flut­ter­ing against

a fa­mil­iarly grey sky, and spray-painted mu­rals of Big Ben. All that was miss­ing were cu­cum­ber sand­wiches and jugs of Pimm’s.

Thomas Le­doux, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for De­facto, says: “The idea is to show peo­ple that you can live here like you can in Lon­don. We launched our cam­paign af­ter we heard it would be a hard Brexit – we wanted peo­ple to know Paris will wel­come you. We have of­fice space avail­able, whereas in Dublin, for ex­am­ple, there is none. That is a prob­lem. Frank­furt is ef­fi­cient but it doesn’t have the size of Paris, and with that [size] comes a cer­tain life­style.”

Ear­lier this year, Gold­man Sachs an­nounced that it would move 6,000 staff to Frank­furt and Paris as part of a con­tin­gency plan ahead of the UK’s de­par­ture from the EU. HSBC has said it will move 1,000 jobs to Paris, while Reuters will re­lo­cate 9,000 to the con­ti­nent. Newly elected pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has pledged to re­ju­ve­nate the French econ­omy and has been cam­paign­ing for fi­nanciers to choose Paris over other Euro­pean hubs such as Mi­lan, Am­s­ter­dam, Madrid or Lux­em­bourg.

A spokesper­son for the French Em­bassy in Lon­don says: “[Paris] is a ma­jor fi­nan­cial cen­tre, com­mit­ted to Europe, to the sin­gle cur­rency, to busi­ness sta­bil­ity and to longterm per­spec­tives. Be­sides, French reg­u­la­tors have been recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally for their work; they pro­vide clar­ity to busi­nesses and en­sure fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity.

“In­creas­ing France’s busi­ness at­trac­tive­ness is di­rectly linked to eco­nomic re­form. We will fo­cus on im­prov­ing our eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness, busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and labour sys­tem through an am­bi­tious plan spear­headed by the new gov­ern­ment. Th­ese re­forms do not tar­get Bri­tish busi­nesses specif­i­cally. How­ever, Brexit may cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties in some sec­tors, which France stands ready to seize.”

DE­SIGN FOR LIFE While the rest of Paris en­joys beau­ti­ful Hauss­mann boule­vards, pave­ment din­ing

‘The idea is to show peo­ple that you can live here like you can in Lon­don’

and chic ate­liers, La Défense tends to be in­hu­man in scale and sub­stance, with im­pen­e­tra­ble Bru­tal­ist blocks and nev­erend­ing es­planades. There have been at­tempts to brighten up the place – there is an “art walk” that takes in more than 60 al fresco sculp­tures, a free­stand­ing chim­ney dec­o­rated in rain­bow stripes and an ur­ban gar­den near the Yaa­cov Agam foun­tain. But de­vel­op­ers want to im­prove it fur­ther, with mixed-use projects that cater to tourists, lo­cals and Bri­tish bankers alike.

The best ex­am­ple of this is Her­mitage Plaza, a pair of tow­ers be­ing de­signed by Fos­ter and Part­ners that will stand at 320 me­tres tall, mak­ing them the high­est not only in Paris but in the EU. Lo­cated on the banks of the Seine, with a jetty for peo­ple ar­riv­ing by speed­boat, con­struc­tion on this new “ar­rondisse­ment in the sky” will be­gin next year and is sched­uled to be com­pleted in early 2023. It will com­prise 35,000 sqm of of­fice space, 488 high-end apart­ments and a 230-room five-star ho­tel, plus a spa and pool, de­signer shops, restau­rants, a con­cert hall and art gallery.

Emin Isk­enderov, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Rus­sian devel­oper Her­mitage, calls it “a new era for La Défense”. He says: “From Wall Street to Ca­nary Wharf, this model ex­ists ev­ery­where in the world ex­cept France.” But the € 2.4 bil­lion project is set­ting a new trend for Paris.

Dozens of other new build­ings are also on the hori­zon. French ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel has de­signed the Res­i­dence Cam­pusea, a gleam­ing block of stu­dent apart­ments that will open next year, and the faceted 220-me­tre Hekla tower, to fol­low in 2021. Next year, the Belvédère will pro­vide 18,000 sqm of of­fice and com­mer­cial space. In 2019 will be the 140-me­tre tall Trin­ity and the 165-me­tre Saint Gobain. In 2020 there will be the Alto tower and, in 2022, the Sis­ters – one stand­ing at 200 me­tres and the other at 100 me­tres. Con­nected by a glass bridge, they will house of­fices and a ho­tel.

A pair of tow­ers be­ing de­signed by Fos­ter and Part­ners will be the tallest in the EU

In a con­tin­u­ing ef­fort to in­tro­duce more green space, next sum­mer will see the un­veil­ing of Oxy­gen, a 1,500 sqm semi­cir­cu­lar park at the end of the Slab, with out­door ter­races par­ti­tioned by banks of tall grasses, liv­ing walls, sleek cafés with turf roofs and free-flow­ing or­ganic ar­chi­tec­ture.

In 2019, Ta­ble Square will be­come a “bistron­omy” des­ti­na­tion with seven new restau­rants and bars. “For decades we have been grow­ing ver­ti­cally – now we are de­vel­op­ing hor­i­zon­tally,” Le­doux says.

CRE­ATIVE CLUS­TER To the north-west of La Grande Arche is a long aerial walk­way that ends abruptly out­side the new Cit­i­zen M La Défense ho­tel in the Nan­terre zone. Opened in June, the 175-room prop­erty is a far cry from nearby busi­ness ho­tels such as the Mer­cure, Re­nais­sance and Pull­man. The Dutch brand has in­stead de­liv­ered a place to stay where all rooms are the same, you get iPads pre­loaded with free porn, and prices are capped even dur­ing peak sea­son.

The com­mu­nal lounges are dec­o­rated with quirky mod­ern art, and there’s co-work­ing space, a con­cept store, a 24-hour self-ser­vice canteen and stylish meet­ing rooms with white­board walls. “We are about af­ford­able lux­ury. We have de­signer Vi­tra fur­ni­ture and our house pour is Ke­tel One vodka but we don’t charge pre­mium prices,” says Alex Per­per, Cit­i­zen M’s area man­ager for France.

From the out­door deck, you can look across to the new U Arena, which will open this au­tumn with a con­cert from the Rolling Stones. The 40,000-seat venue will also be used for rugby matches, mo­tocross cham­pi­onships and con­ven­tions.

Come 2022, next to it will be the La Tour de Jardins de l’Arche. Re­sem­bling a tower of glass Jenga blocks planted with trees, it will have of­fices, 700 ho­tel rooms, a spa, pool and rooftop restau­rant.

Corinne de Conti, pres­i­dent of event ser­vices com­pany City One 111, says: “The neigh­bour­hood has been trans­formed dur­ing the past cou­ple of years – it has be­come very dy­namic and young.”

The fi­nal part of the ur­ban re­newal plan is the € 26 bil­lion ex­pan­sion of the Paris Metro sys­tem, tak­ing place over the next 15 years. The Grand Paris Ex­press is ex­pected to boost ca­pac­ity to two mil­lion peo­ple a day by 2026, with the ad­di­tion of four au­to­matic lines, the ex­ten­sion of two ex­ist­ing ones, and 72 new sta­tions.

By 2027, there will be a di­rect link from La Défense to Paris Charles de Gaulle’s Ter­mi­nal 2. The French Em­bassy spokesper­son says: “The Grand Paris project rep­re­sents a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the cap­i­tal. By 2030, it could gen­er­ate an ad­di­tional € 100 bil­lion to € 200 bil­lion in GDP, as well as 115,000 jobs.”One thing is for sure, Lon­don can’t rest on its lau­rels.

Visit busi­nesstrav­eller.com/tried-andtested for a re­view of the Cit­i­zen M Paris La Défense. cit­i­zenm.com

Eurostar op­er­ates up to 19 times a day from Lon­don to Paris. eurostar.com

‘The Grand Paris project rep­re­sents a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the cap­i­tal’

Pic­tured: Ren­der­ing of the forth­com­ing Her­mitage Plaza

Clock­wise from right: The Sis­ters tow­ers; Ta­ble Square; U Arena

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