The Metro or, even quicker, a regional train connects Paris to La Défense. The modern neighbourhood with its highrises doesn’t belong to Paris as I thought it might, it is to the west of the city and instead part of Courbevoie, Nanterre and Puteaux.
The neighbourhood is named in honour of the soldiers that defended the city in the war between Germany and France. A monument was erected for them in this area in 1883 and it can still be seen today in the middle of a roundabout in Courbevoie.
The development of the neighbourhood started when the Etablissement Public d’Aménagement de La Défense (EPAD) was founded in 1958. The EPAD was supposed to make the existing financial and office districts less busy and to create new infrastructures. The new financial and office district started to take shape in 1963. The area was gradually increased and offered space for offices in office towers on 850.000m². The truly innovative part of the concept was the 40-hectare big panel on stilts. The idea was to create a pedestrianised area on the plate and have all infrastructure, parking spaces and roads to and from the district underneath it.
Over the years many modern looking office buildings were created that are characteristic for the look of the district these days. The whole neighbourhood holds three million square meters of office space and 600.000 m² of living space in 10.000 apartments. Some 2500 companies have settled here, amongst them the branches of 13 of the 50 largest companies in existence. For the 150.000 workers that go about their jobs here almost daily, there are excellent public transport connections and 25.000 underground parking spaces. Massive shopping centres were built and are now supplying people with their goods.
Our first destination after having left the train station was the Grande Arche.
The Grande Arche stands in the highrises district La Défense. It was the plan of François Mitterrand, a former French prime minister, to change the look of Paris. Not all of his ideas were actually put in action. But one of his project ideas, the Grande Arche was built between 1984 and 1989 and was opened on the 14th of July 1989 for the 200 year anniversary of the French Revolution.
From in front of the imposing building, it becomes apparent that is was placed almost exactly in line with the historic visual axis between Arc de Triomphe, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Louvre. The minimal divergence of 7 degrees had to be accepted to avoid structural problems of the existing car tunnels.
Stairs lead below the office building. One does feel rather small when standing here and looking up. The building is 110,9 meters high and almost cube-shaped. One stands underneath a big, square arch. All elements are geometrically arranged. The marble and glass façade sparkles in the sun and an enormous awning was placed inside the cube arch. The hight of the awning can be adjusted and it looks a bit like a cloud between the 28 storeys of the Grande Arche.
A glass lift goes up to a viewing platform since mid-2017. But going up these will rip a big, fat hole into the holiday budget. The ticket price is currently 15€ per person. This big price tag was reflected in the empty ticket stalls. In the time that we spent checking out the structure of the building, we saw exactly two people going up. We also didn’t make use of the lift but I can imagine that the view during the elevator ride must be spectacular.
1 Parvis de la Défense,
92800 Puteaux, Frankreich
Opening Hours (2017):
Daily: 09:30 – 18:30
Children up to the age of 18: 7€
Seniors and people with disabilities: 12€
Between the large buildings of La Défense
After looking at the Grande Arche, we drifted along with the flow at La Défense. It is so much fun exploring a large urban area like that without having to cross any streets. Sidewalks are wide and even though there is so much concrete, the French builders tried to integrate greenery wherever possible. When it does become necessary to cross one of the streets on the lower levels one does so via the pedestrian bridges. We used a glass bridge across one of the streets.
On the other side, we spotted some buildings that seemed to not necessarily go with the rest of the architecture. The almost completely round towers appeared to be empty from afar. I researched a bit and now I know what they were. Architect Aillaud built 18 highrises in 1977. All of them have exactly the same footprint and house 1607 flats. The tallest one of the buildings is 105 meters high. Those Tours Aillaud or Tours Nuages (cloud towers) were thought to be a pioneering new style of creating living space in suburbs. Unfortunately, in the 1980s this area developed into more of a deprived area.
And the buildings aren’t even looking all that good from afar. There was a lot to discover and some of what we saw doesn’t really translate well into photographs.
We were lucky with the weather and the sun kept creating sensational reflexes on the reflective surfaces. The water feature in the centre of the pedestrian area cooled us down a little bit and we were able to experience a lot in La Défense.
On closer inspection, many interesting details reveal themselves such as the UFO over one of the entrances.
I find that La Défense is absolutely worth a visit.