On a Friday lunch, above the cemetery at Montmartre, seeing the fleeting rays of sun poking through the cloud cover and flashing intermittently from the steel and glass towers of a distant La Defense, we decided to go and have a look.
Having only had short stays in Paris before we’d never made it to La Defense. It sits there; outside the periphery; its tall towers suggesting a CBD in the West but not really enough time to explore.
Upon arrival at the Metro terminus at La Defense the most obvious feature, as we get pushed up from below by the escalator, is the huge arch that sits above the plaza on the East West access that is dominated, at the traditional Paris end, by the Arc de Triumph. Here the scale is soaring; the space amplified and the buildings competing to diverge in height and scale from the well ordered Haussman Boulevardes of the ‘City of Love.’
As we view the vast open spaces near the Arch, with a Westfield shopping centre to the right and countless modern buildings and public art installations it is almost as though it is saying: “Modern? You want modern? “Voila! Ici!”
As the vast space opens in front of us to the East we begin a slow walk of discovery; down toward the Esplanade where La Defense looks across the river toward the Arc de Triumph in the distance.
This has been a publicly initiated and managed project for over many decades bringing together modern urban design and residential and commercial spaces.
Some history at https://parisladefense.com/en/territory-strategy/history
While there is much that is symmetrical and aimed at utility within stark lines there are quirky signs of the humanity that, by it’s nature, infuses places where people live: creating pause for that which is beyond the ordinary. Young men with phones recording on small tripods while they seek the perfect trick with feet and football; a Santa striving to make a belated Christmas delivery.
As we walk further there are whole groves of trees with lights that will appear at nightfall featuring flocks of lit birds on perches before a lotus pond, overlooked by park furniture of a scale at odds with the surrounds: a bench dwarfing the friends who have clambered upon it for a late afternoon look over the water and Paris, off to the East.
As night falls, the lotus buds on the pond light and reflect back up the access while, streaming in from the East, one of the driverless Metro trains powers toward its destination at an interval of one every minute. This is a side of Paris that we hadn’t seen before but a side that makes a positive statement in belief about the future and the ability of the new to sit beside and expand the potential of that which has emerged throughout countless iterations and designs.
Paris continues to reveal itself: layer upon layer as it defies attempts to pigeon hole or describe with more that a nod of fascination.