am 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 Rendering of the forthcoming Hermitage Plaza