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Local Matters / Changing Landscape

Low rise Paris, a city center with few skyscrapers

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Have you ever wondered why central Paris has so few skyscrapers? Compared with most major world cities – Hong Kong, New York or Dubai, for example – the City of Light has few high rise apartment buildings.

La Défense business district has a towering skyline, but that’s located in the western suburbs. In the 13th arrondissement (district) there is a series of residential towers, but none tops 37 stories. The Front de Seine area that borders the river in the 15th arrondissement also has high rise residential and commercial blocks. But the heart of Paris is mostly free of tower blocks.

It might all have been very different. In 1973, the Montparnasse Tower office building rose up in the 15th arrondissement. This 59-story, 209m (686ft) high eyesore has had few champions since it was built.

Following the Montparnasse Tower experience, the City Council set a height limit of 37m (121ft) for new buildings within the city limits. This allowed Paris’ famous monuments – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, Notre-Dame – to reign unchallenged.

The City Council raised the height limit in 2010 to 50m (160ft) in certain central areas and 180m (590ft) in the city’s outer areas. This doesn’t mean that skyscrapers will spring up in the core of Paris. For the oldest and most central neighborhoods, the former height limits remain in force.

In November, the City Council ditched a project to build a 42-floor, 180m high glass tower, known as the Tour Triangle, in the 15th arrondissement. The tower’s opponents criticized it for architectural reasons, but also for intruding on the skyline. UNESCO also opposed the scheme on the grounds that Paris is one of the few “horizontal” cities to have been preserved.

Opinions are divided on whether a height limit is a good thing. While it limits the availability of residential and commercial real estate, it has enabled Paris to retain its beauty and well-proportioned scale.

Photo Credit – DXR

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