By international standards, the Tour Albert (for the sake of this article we'll use this name as it connects it to Edouard Albert - its principal architect - rather than the area in which it can be found), is a tiddler. At 67 metres and 23 floors it is not even a third of the height of the Tour Montparnasse, but in its time it was just as revolutionary.
Although its size, breaking age-old city regulations, was obviously controversial when it was completed in 1960, the revolution was mostly in the way the building was put together (by the engineer Jean-Louis Sarf). The tower is almost a completely pre-fabricated structure, using a system of concrete filled steel tubes interspersed with horizontal blocks of concrete. Having almost no internal supporting walls, the apartments can be freely reorganised according to the desires of their inhabitants.
This design, combined with its facade of glass and stainless steel panels and the fact that all windows can be opened outwards gives it an almost unique aspect. Perhaps most interesting of all though is the terrace that cuts through the building about one third of the way up.
Seen from below, it is the cubist-styled decorations by artist Jacques Lagrange on the ceiling of the terrace that stand out. This space though is not just a simple design feature of the building, but was originally planned to be one of its key elements. To appreciate this, we need to see the building from the other side, on the Rue Abel-Hovelacque.
The view from this angle is obscured by a tall iron fence, but by standing on tip-toes and pointing the camera over the top, it is possible to see that the building sits above an RATP Metro depot.
The original sketches by the team of architects (Édouard Albert, Robert Boileau and Jacques Henri-Labourdette) shows how they had imagined the construction. Despite being the first 'skyscraper' in the city, it is in fact an extremely discreet building and largely unnoticeable in the city landscape. This is because it is built into a slope, with the terrace marking the point where the land drops sharply downwards.
The architects had planned to cover over the Metro depot and create an esplanade in front of the building. The terrace would have been a viewing platform, open to the general public (indeed, visible in the sketches are the Eiffel tower and what looks like the dome of the Invalides building, although both are now obscured in my photo by other buildings).
The article describes promotional material for the new construction that appeared in the le Figaro newspaper on 23 January 1959. The slogan for prospective buyers was 'aimeriez-vous habiter au premier étage de la tour Eiffel?' (would you like to live on the first floor of the Eiffel tower), but the reference was not the one that the building's principal architect would have chosen. Edouard Albert was a fan of gothic architecture, and deliberately chose to model the height of his tower on those of Notre Dame (his tower measures 67 metres, against 69 metres for Notre Dame).
It seems that the building's modern design appealed to young professionals, including a large number of university professors, who were attracted to the building due to its proximity to their schools and comparatively cheap prices. Situated in what was historically a working class part of the city, it quickly became known as the 'Tour des Snobs'.
If the building was listed in the inventaire supplémentaire des monuments historiques in 1994 it was largely down to the campaigning of the architect's daughter, Anne Coutine, who has also lived in the building for a number of years. "My father would have hated the fact that his building had been listed" she explains, "but I had to do it to stop it falling into ruin."