Thursday 10 November 2016

"Le France" d'en bas

When you live alongside giants, being tall is nothing special. This might be the perspective of the 'Le France' tower in Puteaux, which stretches up to the sky, only to still find itself in the shadows of the neighbouring La Défense constructions. Worse still, it cannot even claim the crown of the tallest residential tower in the Paris region. Though more down to earth in character, the Tour Défense 2000, also in Puteaux, beats it by 8 metres.

Does this then also explain the modesty of the 'Le France' development, which also includes a covered shopping centre, and its inability to change with the times? Let's go back to the beginning.

In 1973, La Défense, now Europe's largest business district, was just sprouting from previously industrial land. Jean de Mailly, the architect of Le France, had already built one tower in the area, the tour Nobel which crested at just over 100m. Le France was its residential taller (128m) sibling, the stack of homes for the new generation of office workers. 1973 though was also the year of the international petrol crisis, and not a single square metre of office space was sold in La Défense for the next four years. 

At some point there must have been a golden age, a moment when it seemed like life in Le France was what the 20th century had been progressing towards, when the future had finally been reached. But then again, President Pompidou, the man who criticised to the towers of Notre Dame for being too short, had died in 1974, replaced by Giscard d'Estaing and his more grounded vision of a city.

Le France was more than just a tower, it was almost a small town to itself, with its residential units anchored by a shopping centre. And not just any shopping centre. This one had gleaming floors and sliding doors. The commercial units, stylishly discreet behind steel trimmings and walls of glass, were - one imagines - home to cutting edge services such as reprographics firms, video rental shops and photo development agencies.

All this has now gone, the windows left just to reflect on past times. It is not without activity thanks to several restaurant units that escaped due to their terrace footprint. Their mall sides remain far more enigmatic, the picture of an era that looked forward as much as it looked back.  

It is this element that is most striking about Le France. When did we stop seeing the future as glamourous and exciting? The busiest parts of Puteaux, like most of the rest of the Paris region, are lived out today in renovated 19th century structures, places that in 1973 were seen as architecturally dull and socially archaic.

This is not to say that Le France is a run-down, crumbling tower block. Far from it. The penthouse apartment is currently on the market at a little over a miilion and a half Euros, and all the apartments - with their curved walls and fantastic views - seem popular. 

Walking around Le France is a demonstration that you do not need to tour post-industrial ruins for an urbex adventure. The shiny floors and empty shop units here tell us as much about how our world has changed in recent decades. Many of those deserted factories and concrete warehouses are being reclaimed as authentic structures for designer offices and luxury flats. Will 1970s futurism also one day be seen as an authentic heritage space to salvage and recycle?  


Colin Bisset said...

A touch of London's Barbican, perhaps. I reckon it'll become quite 'the place' in time, especially with that location. Love your shots of the curvy tabac sign and stairways.

Susan said...

La Défense is Europe's largest business district by what measure and definition of business? Monetary flow? Footprint? And is business the finance sector or broader? Just curious.

Susan said...

Don't worry -- I can answer my own question after checking Wikipedia. It's footprint and the business is corporate.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Between 1971 and 1973 I worked (and for a time lived) in Evasion 2000, part of the Fronts de Seine development in the Grenelle region. Back then, they were in the throes of building an HLM block next door.... and there were the most wonderful sunsets I have ever seen before or since from my office window over the building site and the Seine behind it! La Defense was the end of the fledgling RER, which ran from Charles de Gaulle Etoile for just the one stop....

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