Defense of The City

Paris, France

A visit to an interesting, if not expected sight in Paris.
La Défense
I had been curious about this place since my first trip to Paris, but until now, never mustered enough interest to see it first hand. It is a suburb to the west containing numerous ultra modern high-rise and other commercial buildings with a centerpiece that can only be described as a gigantic box-like structure called the Grande Arche.

For those who live in North Texas, the closest analogue for La Défense is Las Colinas in Irving—a totally planned multi-use development. The architecture in the French version is ultra-modern chic—glass and steel. It’s a spaceport, a la Star Wars, Star Trek, or any number of futuristic cityscapes.

The Grande Arche is at the top of an esplanade that gradually descends about three-quarters of a mile toward the Seine River, which curves north here. The Arche is in the more or less shape of a cube (100 yards wide, 100 yards high, and 100 years deep. It has a reinforced concrete frame covered with a glass and white-ish marble facade. It is built on a axis that includes the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre several miles to the east. The Arche is large enough that Notre Dame cathedral could comfortably fit inside. The sides and top-member contain offices, some private, some government.

The development is purported to be named in honor of the unsuccessful defenders of the city during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. More appropriately, it should commemorate the defense of Paris against the horrors of modern architecture. The glass and steel high-rise Tour Montparnasse, built in the southern part of the city during the early 1970s caused such outrage that future structures were limited to five stories or fewer. The solution to accommodate the latter day architecture was to build a high-tech ghetto on the outskirts.

The foregoing might be a little harsh. The glass and steel design modern works when it is all by itself, is not interspersed with, and does not compete with the older, more sedate buildings that give the city—or any city—its historical charm. Perhaps it needs to grow on you.

Anyone interested can take the Paris Metro Line #1 (yellow) to its end at La Défense. That fully automated line also has stops at the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, and the Place de Bastille.

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