Architect Jean Nouvel to build new Paris skyscraper

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The new tower to be built in the La Defense district will rival the Eiffel Tower for domination of the city skyline.

27 May 2008

PARIS - French star architect Jean Nouvel was chosen Tuesday over four world-class peers to build a landmark skyscraper on the edge of Paris, set to rival the Eiffel Tower for domination of the city skyline.

Set for completion by 2014, the new tower to be built in the La Defense district is part of an ambitious plan to renovate the 50-year-old business hub on the city's western rim.

Winner of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, the industry's top award, Nouvel was selected for the "Signal Tower" project by a panel of local and state officials and architects.

"The Signal Tower is the most important architectural event since the Eiffel Tower," said Patrick Devedjian, head of the public body in charge of renovating La Defense, EPAD, as he announced the winner at a press conference in Paris.

Devedjian said Nouvel's tower, "irreproachable in terms of technique and sustainable development, would be "the defining building in the Greater Paris that is currently taking shape."

Nouvel faced stiff competition from a line-up of bidders including British designer Norman Foster and the American Daniel Libeskind - chosen to rebuild Ground Zero, the site of the September 11 attacks - as well as his compatriots Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Jacques Ferrier.

Soaring 301 metres high, just short of the Eiffel Tower which rises 324 metres over the city, Nouvel's tower aims to provide a hub for local life, in a district often criticised as cold and faceless.

Set in parkland, the rectangular white tower will mix offices, flats, hotel rooms, shops, restaurants and public facilities, to be built in partnership with the investment groups Medea et Layetana.

The 62-year-old Nouvel is best known as the architect behind the Arab World Institute in Paris, a building noted for its clever use of natural light.

Adjustable metal lenses are embedded in one of the facades to control the amount of light allowed to the interior of the building.

Nouvel also designed Paris' extraordinary Musee du Quai Branly, which opened in 2006 as a home for tribal arts from Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Africa.

Although the bulk of his work is in France, Nouvel has designed projects all over the world, including Japan, Spain, England, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and the United States.

La Defense, which describes itself as Europe's largest business district, is used by 400,000 people each day and home to 2,500 company headquarters as well as 20,000 residents.

Seventeen of its ageing buildings are scheduled for demolition by 2013, to be replaced by new skyscrapers, shops, parks and cycle lanes, as part of a renovation plan overseen by EPAD.

La Defense's first building, a vast shell-shaped white dome called the CNIT, was built in 1958, while another landmark, the Great Arch was built in the axis of the Champs Elysees Avenue and Arc de Triomphe in 1989.

The "Signal Tower" is the second major skyscraper project to be launched in La Defense since 2006, when US architect Thom Mayne won a contract to build a soaring structure called "Le Phare" (The Lighthouse), due for delivery in 2012.

Strict building regulations have until now kept most high-rises firmly outside the Paris city walls -- with a few notable exceptions such as the Tour Montparnasse which rises 180 metres over the southwest of the capital.

But Paris's Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe has sparked controversy by suggesting a handful of skyscrapers could be built just inside the city walls, to revitalise run-down parts of the capital.

[AFP / Expatica]

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