Will 'monster' tower destroy the romance of Paris?

Updated 28th July 2015
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Will 'monster' tower destroy the romance of Paris?
Written by By Kieron Monks, for CNN
While the skyline of London surges upward on a tide of new and startling towers, its eternal rival in Paris has taken the opposite approach.
After the deeply unpopular Tour Montparnasse was built in 1973, skyscrapers were effectively prohibited by a 36-meter height limit for new buildings in the city.
The limit was designed to preserve Paris' unique aesthetic, forged by Baron Haussmann's 19th century renovation, which created its iconic boulevards, public gardens, and housing blocks ringed with balconies.
But in 2010 the height restrictions were lifted, and the serenity could now be shattered by a 180-meter glass triangle in the South-West of the city.
Called 'Tour Triangle,' the $555 million project from Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron -- backed by Europe's largest property group Unibail Rodamco -- represents a radical and controversial departure from Parisian traditions.

Slim approval

Nine years after first being proposed, the Triangle narrowly passed a vote in Paris' City Council. It was the second such vote, after the plans were rejected in November, a decision later deemed 'invalid.'
The proposal was strongly supported by Socialist Party Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who stressed the economic opportunities of the Triangle, including 70,000 square meters of office space, luxury accommodation and leisure facilities.
"The abandonment of this project would be a disaster for the economy in Paris," Deputy Mayor Jean Louis Missika told Le Monde, claiming the project would create 3000 permanent jobs. "The Triangle Tower can be a signal to foreign investors, and international architects."
Herzog & de Meuron, responsible for Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium and London's Tate Modern, argue the building will fit with its environment.
"(We) take into account the impact of a high building on its environment," the architects said in a statement. "Its triangular shape reduces casting shadows on adjacent residential buildings. The environmental approach of the project is also perceptible in its simple, compact volume, which limits its ground impact."

Not an ideal solution?

While the Tower's supporters stress the need to modernize and adapt Paris to modern business needs, it is not clear that it offers solutions to pressing problems.
"There is already a lot of empty office space in Paris and the close suburbs -- currently more than one million square meters," says Miranda Bothe, a real estate expert at Paris Property Group. "The Triangle offices are not pre-rented."
The Tower reflects the city's new approach to urban planning, Boethe believes.
"The Triangle project is championed by the left for the statement it makes about Paris. New construction, dynamic city, jobs created to construct the building, and mixed-use facilities that combine people of different walks of life. The left politicians have this vision for the city, and it permeates all initiatives they are taking at the moment."
Supporters of the project have a difficult job to convince a skeptical public.

Strong opposition

A survey found that 62% of Parisians oppose skyscrapers in principle, and the Triangle has generated fierce opposition.
"Parisians reject this office tower because it does not give answers to their current needs," said a spokesperson for Collective against the Triangle Tower, a resident pressure group. "Lack of housing - not offices - problems with public transport, degradation of the living environment with unsuited urban policy."
The group dispute claims that the building will provide thousands of jobs and new cultural spaces.
They are critical of its ecological impact, arguing the irregular shape requires higher energy consumption, and believe the project is ill-suited to the city environment.
"Tour triangle disrespects the existing place and Paris skyline," the spokesperson said. "We are convinced that contemporary architecture can express itself in harmony with existing place. It is not the case with this isolated skyscraper which is 180 meters high and 150 meters wide."

First of many

The Triangle is likely to be a precursor to further disruption. Mayor Hidalgo has stated a commitment to "urban experiment on an unparalleled scale." A dozen more skyscrapers are slated for construction, including a spectacular project from star architect Jean Nouvel.
Much of Haussmann's central Paris is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the body has been critical of the city's development plans. Other cities have faced losing their heritage status through the "negative impact" of skyscrapers.
Architects are also concerned the new building will cause lasting damage.
"The Tour Triangle is anti-urban in the extreme: a giant blade which cuts the site in two and looms like an extra-terrestrial apparition over its immediate surroundings," wrote architectural historian William J. R. Curtis, who describes the building as a ' wasteful monster'.
"The real aim was − and is − to break the zoning laws which restrict heights in central Paris so as to allow a free-for-all of towers for greedy developers and architects."
Curtis believes the Triangle will have a negative social impact.
"(It) will push up property values and rents in the neighboring area. In an era of social crisis and encroaching poverty it is an irrelevant and costly extravaganza which would devalue one of the world's great cities."
Work on the building is due to begin next year, although court challenges are expected.
Should work go ahead as planned, Paris may be moving away from its traditions, to follow the footsteps of its old enemies in London.