Council for European Urbanism Analyzes Paris High-Rise Proposals

David Brussat, architecture critic for the Providence, RI, Journal, describes a new report from the Council for European Urbanism, which finds that the high-rises planned for Paris will not live up to their promises.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a "Grand Paris 2030" plan, with 10 international celebrity architects picked to design major projects, mostly skyscrapers. Mayor Bertrand Delanoë and the Paris city council have proposed three modernist skyscraper projects, with others in the wings.

The CEU White Paper on Three Paris Projects lays waste to the mayor's three projects, and by extension the president's 10, says Brussat.

According to the author, "Each of the projects relies on economic estimates already rendered moot by Europe's sovereign-debt crisis. They embrace green technologies that would spend years "swimming upstream" against the CO2 emitted to build them in the first place."

He concludes that, "All three barely disguise the glee by which they shred the beauty of Paris's fabric, stomping on an urbanism spontaneously efficient in ways Parisians understand instinctively."

One wonders, however, if Brussat's argument could have benefited from a counter-proposal for where to house the needed office and residential space so tightly curtailed by the historic city's ardent defenders.

Thanks to Charles Siegel

Full Story: France must heed cry of SOS Paris



Brussat's argument using the CEU white paper on Paris towers

The editor suggests that "the historic city's ardent defenders" are curtailing building needed office and residential space in Paris. He is misinformed. As an active member of SOS Paris, an organizer of the SOS-CEU visit to the tower sites, and the person who as Dave Brussat says brought the plans for towers to his attention in 2008, I can testify that the proposed new projects in Paris with taller buildings are a manifestly less efficient use of space than the traditional Parisian way, with dense Haussmannian blocks of buildings six or eight stories tall. If Paris wishes to add housing, the best way would be to build new blocks of housing on the Haussmannian model. This is what many of the historic city's ardent defenders suggest.

If anyone is curtailing building needed office and residential space in Paris, in fact it is the city's own planners. The editor, however, makes an assumption that does not apply to current planning in Paris, namely, that towers are always a way to use space better than low- or mid-rise building. In fact, as things are done in Paris nowadays, space is always left between new towers. New towers in Paris are surrounded by grass. Surrounding buildings with grass is a less efficient use of space than the boxy, dense, Haussmannian blocks of traditional central Paris, and one effect is to curtail building office and residential space.

Readers who examine the images that accompany Dave Brussat's story can tell at a glance that in the proposal for Clichy-Batignolles in the 17eme, the space is not being used as efficiently as it would be in traditional Haussmannian blocks of six or eight stories. Likewise, if readers look at the picture of the maquette for Paris-Rive Gauche, with our SOS-CEU group standing around it, they will see that there is plenty of space for building traditional six or eight-story Paris buildings in that project, and there is no need for towers. Michael Mehaffy, the principal author of the CEU white paper, stood beside that maquette and said, "There is no need for towers here." No one objected, because he was obviously right.

Indeed, Paris is already one of the densest capital cities in the world, denser than Mumbai. The reason is the efficiency of its traditional six and eight-story Haussmannian blocks. The best way for Paris to add housing would be to build more of them.

Readers desiring more information about the proposed tower projects in Paris may be interested in my article "Who Will Save the Skyline of Paris?" It appeared in Planetizen in November of 2010.

Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D.

Paris Highrise Densities Are Lower Than Traditional Densities

Let me summarize the numbers to show that the proposed high-rise projects in Paris are less dense than traditional Paris urbanism:

-- Existing gross density within the city limits of Paris: 212 persons per hectare, or 86 persons per acre.

-- Paris Rive Gauche: 115 persons per hectare, or 46 persons per acre

-- Clichy-Batignolles: 136 persons per hectare, or 55 persons per acre (estimated from number of units x 2.0 persons average per unit.)

If we want to build needed office and residential space in Paris, we would do much better to build traditional Paris urbanism, rather than these tower-in-a-park projects, with high-rises surrounded by low-density development and open space.

Charles Siegel

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.
Grids and Guide Red book cover

Grids & Guides

A notebook for visual thinkers. Available in red and black.

City Map Posters are in!

Available in 9 different cities.