Jacques Herzog found himself in an uncomfortable situation at Paris, France’s Pavillion de l’Arsenal on October 30th. The Swiss architect was presenting the plans for the sculptural building that his firm, Herzog & De Meuron, had conceived for Paris’ Porte de Versailles (the location of one of the original gates into Paris and now an exposition park). This presentation comes only shortly before a decisive vote by the Council of Paris that threatens to block the project.
Triangle Tower Project: Key Figures
- Size of plot of land: 7,500 m2
- Height: 180 m
- Width at the base: 35 m
- Width at the summit: 17 m
- Floor area: 92,204 m2
- Office space: 84,930 m2
- Public space: 6,650 m2
- Commercial space: 1,585 m2
Straight away, Jacques Herzog set the tone in the Pavillion, the center of architectural and urban planning information in the French capital. He explained: “I am not here to defend the Triangle Tower project in its entirety, but rather to try and explain to you the architectural position of the project.” The architect, co-founder of internationally renowned firm Herzog & De Meuron, was long-awaited. The firm’s 180-meter mixed-use tower is expected to be built at the southern border of Paris, at the Porte de Versailles in Paris’ 15th arrondissement.
In the crowded room, skeptics of the project for the tower were ready and waiting. Amongst them were representatives from the Collective against the Triangle Tower and SOS Paris (the city’s architectural heritage preservation organization). Also visible was elected ecologist Yves Contassot, who has never hidden his opposition to the construction. So great was the present opposition that when Alexandre Labasse, the director of the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, introduced Jacques Herzog, he made sure to remind the audience that Herzog was “an architect, and he would respond to questions about architecture.” What could be read beneath the comment was that this was not the time or the place to lay into questions about Paris’ political decisions.
A significant precision remains to be made regarding the project, which is being financed by Viparis, an affiliate of real estate developer Unibail-Rodamco. At the next meeting of the Council of Paris, which will take place the 17th to the 19th of November, the capital’s elected officials will have to deliberate on whether or not to downgrade the status of the land base for the project, as the land is no longer being used by the Parc des Expositions.
The text being discussed also involves signing a lease pledge and a building lease between the City and the contracting authority. But nothing guarantees that the text will actually be adopted on that day.
Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, recently admitted that she is having “a problem gaining a majority” regarding the project. In order to keep in line with their platform, Les Verts, France’s Green Party, could end up disapproving of the plans. Council members from the UMP party might conform to the position of their leader, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who judges the project “old-fashioned.”
The situation is delicate enough that even before the conference with Jacques Herzog, Jean-Louis Missika, the Mayor’s Deputy in charge of urban planning questions, came to the Pavillon de l’Arsenal accompanied by representatives from Unibail-Rodamco. The visit was made in order to view the exposition on Triangle Tower that is being held until January 4th. The exposition shows sixty models of the tower as well as window samples and other details of the project’s implementation. Missika was also there, above all, to answer journalists’ questions. “With Anne Hidalgo, we have the intention of fighting for this project,” Missika began. “I believe in the wisdom of the Council of Paris. If it unfortunately comes to pass that they refuse to downgrade the classification of the site, it would certainly be a blow to the project, but would it be the end? In a city, every important project encounters difficulties, but none are ever completely stopped.” As an example, Missika discussed the Louis Vuitton Foundation building (shown below), constructed by architect Frank Gehry. The building just recently opened in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne after going through a number of tribulations.
Missika then moved into a statement of warning: If the Triangle project were to ultimately fail, “it would be a terrible sign to send to the world, when France already has a reputation as a country that struggles to come into modernity.”
From the Unibail-Rodamco’s perspective, there is no question of meddling in the democratic process of the Council’s vote. Jean-Jacques Lefebvre, the firm’s General Manager, did, however, underline the fact that his firm was “very confident that an operation such as this will find takers, because we are investing 550 million euros in the project.”
This all having been set up earlier in the day, Jacques Herzog was left to expound upon the principles that led to the conception of this pointed glass tower, which is set to be raised on the axis of the Rue de Vaugirard. The official presentation of the project, of which the French agency Valode & Pistre is the executing architect, can be found here. Herzog insisted on the building’s Parisian character. Like many of the capital’s monuments that are constructed at the meeting point of major arterial streets, the tower will become a focal point of a grand intersection. “The Porte de Versailles location is in need of this sort of intervention,” he assured the audience. “The tower will open up movement between the city within the gate and outside of it,” therefore making the city more inclusive of its periphery.
“Besides, we did not only conceive of this building as an economic motor. If we had, we would have created a building with the greatest surface area possible given to offices. We would have imagined a much simpler and sealed-off shape,” he specified. A transparent structure, The Triangle will seem to be a double-faced tower. One smooth side will be met with another, more fragmented, giving the building a more intimate appearance.
Dealing with the counter-arguments, Jacques Herzog emphasized the environmentalism of the building’s construction as well as a ground floor enlivened with stores and restaurants. He also brought out what is perhaps the most seductive element of the tower’s design: an elevator, the only one of its kind in the world, that will link the atrium to a panoramic viewpoint at the tower’s summit, offering visitors a new way to experience Paris from ahigh.
To give an even greater feeling of security to the audience, the architect presented several other projects of his, carefully chosen to illustrate Herzog & De Meuron’s abilities. He demonstrated their skill of building on historic sites (as was the case at the Armory in New York City), as well as their ability to create spectacular, lauded architectural creations (like the parking structure at 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.) Above all, Jacques Herzog emphasized “the beauty” of the Triangle project, even though architects rarely directly discuss the domain of esthetics. “I do not think that I am being arrogant when I say that ,” he judged.
Despite Herzog’s presentation, the anti-Triangle portion of the audience did not fail to make their counter-arguments known when it came time to ask him questions. The sparring between the groups was not particularly muted, though the discussion remained polite. At the end of the evening, the project’s developers no doubt breathed a little easier, having finished with this step of the process. Now they must wait for the great battle, which will take place November 17-19, 2014 at town hall.
What conflicts have arisen in your city between architects, politicians, and environmentalists? How have they been resolved?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.