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Nouvel Envisions New Icon for Paris

June 19, 2008

By Sam Lubell

On May 27, less than two months after winning the 2008 Pritzker Prize, French architect Jean Nouvel defeated top firms such as Foster + Partners and Studio Daniel Libeskind in a competition to design a new iconic tower for La Défense, an aging business district on the outskirts of Paris. 

Nouvel’s 71-story Signal Tower

Image courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel

French architect Jean Nouvel defeated top firms such as Foster + Partners and Studio Daniel Libeskind in a competition to design a new iconic tower for La Défense, an aging business district on the outskirts of Paris. Nouvel’s 71-story Signal Tower will be France’s first mixed-use skyscraper; it will measure only 75 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower.

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The 71-story, 985-foot-tall Tour Signal, or Signal Tower, will be France’s first mixed-use skyscraper, with more than a half-million square feet of offices, 355,000 square feet of residential space, and a 420,000-square-foot luxury hotel. In addition, it will contain shops, restaurants, and a significant amount of public space. Completion is planned for 2015. Patrick Devedjian, board chairman for the Public Establishment for Installation of La Défense (EPAD), which selected Nouvel’s scheme, hails the structure as the city’s “most important” since the Eiffel Tower (1889).

The rectangular glass-and-steel building, set within a landscaped perimeter, will measure only 75 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower. Fronted with a grid pattern, the high-rise comprises four transparent, stacked blocks, each of which will contain an atrium visible from the exterior. The building’s openness, Nouvel says, is meant to show its varied uses from far away. He adds that its location on the far western edge of La Défense—competition entrants could choose their site—is intended to engage Puteaux, an adjacent town. Presently, La Défense connects primarily with Paris, rather than with its smaller, poorer municipal neighbors.

The 1.5-million-square-foot tower is intended to symbolize the revival of La Défense, established in 1958 as Europe’s first business district. Fifty years later, it contains most of the skyscrapers in the Paris metropolitan area (skyscrapers can’t be built within the city limits of Paris). The Arche de la Défense, designed by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and completed in 1990, is the district’s major landmark. 

In 2006, EPAD, a government agency facilitating new economic activity in La Défense, launched an ambitious redevelopment scheme for the area. It calls for infrastructure upgrades, new parks and cultural spaces, and the addition of 4.85 million square feet of office space and about 1 million square feet of residential space within the next 12 years. Morphosis’s sinous Phare Tower, Christian de Portzamparc’s wedge-shaped Tour Granite, and Robert Stern’s faceted Tour Carpe Diem are also part of that effort.

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