Business Traveller (Middle East) - - News -

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.


“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


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