At La Défense, there is a tower imagined by Thom Mayne, which, purged of all its recourses, is truly waiting for an economic recovery in order to emerge from the cartoon world and become reality beyond all polemics. In Quebec, also on paper, Le Phare - another one - which was presented to the public last month, already arouses the first emotions.
From Paris to the Belle Province, there is something in common: verticality engenders debate and is the talk of the town.
The most neutral announcement, summarized by Le Journal de Québec on February 18, 2015, evoked a real estate complex worth 600 million dollars, including a 65-story tower: in sum, a "Rockefeller Center" offered to the city by one of the most important developers in the region.
The presentation was first of all statistical: four towers, among them one that is 250 meters high, 1,000 housing units over 10 years, 853,000 square feet, and in time, nearly 3,000 workers and 2,000 residents.
"A Phare that is too big for Québec," two days later, the title of an article by Pierre Couture in the Journal de Montréal. The aesthetic question has not been raised yet. On the other hand, the place of the project in a tight real estate market raises questions.
"Several analysts are of the opinion that this project, if it is adopted as is, will inevitably put the breaks on the development of other construction sites in other parts of the Québec region ... No developers will want to launch office building projects of some breadth, even less so on the Boulevard Laurier," he writes.
"Pinch me, someone," revolts for his part François Cardinal for La Presse in an article that appeared on February 23, 2015. The reality is barely believable. Comparing Le Phare to the Rockefeller Center seems totally off topic.
The Burj Dubai, then? "If there is a comparison to be made with Le Phare, it is not to the Persian Gulf that we must turn ... Rather, it is toward Paris, where we find an immense tower ... that we have been dreaming of demolishing for 40 years ... The Montparnasse Tower rises into the Paris sky like a 57-story Mirador, an ugly growth that has been decried since its opening in 1973."
François Cardinal is not tender toward the Parisian IGH. "Hideous," he takes it up another notch. Black and slender, it is however a more sober sprig than Québec's Le Phare.
Beyond aesthetic considerations, the author denounces the bluff. "We are not responding to a demand, we are provoking it. In an artificial manner. We are targeting an abandoned terrain, creating a semblance of a neighborhood with a semblance of public space and a semblance of urban animation. Then, we cross our fingers," he writes.
In the Le Soleil columns of February 21st, Valérie Gaudreau has fun with the historic precedents, "Too high! Too big! Poorly integrated! It was just yesterday that skyscrapers engendered debate in Québec. At the end of the 1920s, the population decried the construction of a high building. Its name? The Price building," she notes.
"More than 85 years before the 65 stories of Québec's Le Phare, there was this Art Deco building in the heart of Old Québec, which has become a symbol of the capital today. However, in 1928, the idea of building a 17-story tower to house the social headquarters of the forestry company Price Brothers & Company inspired controversy. Such that this construction - at the cost of 500,000 dollars - led the municipal council of the time to vote on a regulation limiting the height of buildings to 20 meters," she continues.
Yet, contrary to Price, the new real estate complex is appreciated. "Massive support for Le Phare:" the title in Le Journal de Québec in its February 25th edition. "72 percent of respondents welcome the skyscraper project," it reads.
"Even the neighbors of Le Phare, in Sainte-Foy-Sillery-Cap-Rouge, support the project by 71 percent, while in the Cité-Limoilou, the support is a little milder, but still in the majority at 59 percent," says the article of Jean-Luc Lavallée.
Questioned on the subject, the director of the polling institute provides her opinion: "Since we are doing a media analysis of everything that has been said recently on this project, I think that all the urban columnists have been much more severe regarding the project than citizens can be. With this poll, it's the citizen's turn to express themselves."
Yet, in parallel - "Le Phare worries young architects," reports Ici Radio-Canada. "Some 325 young architects, interns and architecture students have signed a letter to this effect in order to ask the City of Québec to redo its homework," the article indicates.
Beyond the absence of impact studies of such a project on the city, the signatories, led by Alexandre Laprise, who originated the contestation movement, regret that there was no architectural competition held.
In an open letter, published in the February 25th edition of Le Soleil, Alexandre Laprise also maintains that Le Phare "confirms the malaise that we experience faced with the announcement of recent urban development and real estate projects by the municipal administration and certain urban developers. We are at a discrepancy with the visions of the urban and architectural forms of these development projects, as well as the mass transit vision that accompanies them," he writes.
Questioned by Pierre-Olivier Fortin in Le Journal de Montréal, Jean Grondin, of the firm Alpha-architecture, in charge of the project, responds to the critics with a "plea for audacity:" "This signature project will change, according to him, this image of the 'Old Capital' that sticks to Québec's skin by showing a firmly modern North-American side, a postcard from 2015 next to that of Château Frontenac. 'We are in North America,' he pleads, 'and we are capable of projects of a wide scope. This will attract young professionals who are looking for a trendy lifestyle. We will be able to feel like they do in the other big Canadian cities. We are no longer a provincial town."
And to believe that, in the end, it's the size that counts.
Does your city have a well-known or disputed skyscraper? Why are skyscrapers valued, in your opinion? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.