Another view of the Tour Montparnasse

Paris is not perfect. But we do by and large give it five stars, 90 or more points, and a fine arts museum-like standing even though we realize there are some imperfections. The most imperfect of these imperfections has always been, in my some 40 year love affaire with the city, the Tour Montparnasse. It’s ugly, and its ugly reach extends far out into the surrounding 15th. arrondissement. Only one good thing is commonly said about the Tour, that the view from the top is the most beautiful in Paris, because it is the only place from which the tower itself cannot be seen.

Montparnasse

When the nearly 700-foot Tour Montparnasse (center) was completed in 1973, it was considered such a blight on Paris’s historic skyline that the city instated height restrictions on all future buildings. The office tower, designed by Eugène Beaudouin, Urbain Cassan and Louis Hoym de Marien, is the rare destination from which tourists can view the city unmolested by its own dark, Modernist presence.



Now into this situation steps DANIEL LIBESKIND, who, along with six other leading architects, writes in today’s Times in defense of the world’s most hated buildings. Here is Libeskind on the Tour Montparnasse:

“It’s legendary for being the most hated building in Paris. I want to defend it not because it’s a particularly beautiful tower, but because of the idea it represents. Parisians panicked when they saw it, and when they abandoned the tower they also abandoned the idea of a high-density sustainable city. Because they exiled all future high rises to some far neighborhood like La Défense, they were segregating growth. Parisians reacted aesthetically, as they are wont to do, but they failed to consider the consequences of what it means to be a vital, living city versus a museum city. People sentimentalize their notions of the city, but with the carbon footprint, the waste of resources, our shrinking capacity, we have no choice but to build good high-rise buildings that are affordable. It’s not by coincidence that people are going to London now not just for work but for the available space. No young company can afford Paris. Maybe Tour Montparnasse is not a work of genius, but it signified a notion of what the city of the future will have to be.”

(Daniel Libeskind recently completed work on Vitra, a luminous, 16-story residential tower in São Paulo, Brazil.)

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