- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

PARIS

French star architect Jean Nouvel was chosen yesterday over four world-class peers to build a landmark skyscraper on the edge of Paris, set to rival the Eiffel Tower for domination of the city skyline.

Set for completion by 2014, the concrete, glass and steel tower will spearhead an ambitious plan to rejuvenate La Defense, the 50-year-old business hub on the city’s western rim.

Winner of this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize, the industry’s top award, Mr. Nouvel faced a stiff challenge from the likes of Britain’s Norman Foster and American Daniel Libeskind, who was chosen to rebuild the Twin Towers site of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Nouvel, 62, said he was “overjoyed” by the jury’s decision.

There is hope that his tower, soaring 990 feet high, just short of the Eiffel Tower’s 1,063 feet, will become a hub for local life in a district often criticized as cold and faceless.

“The Signal Tower is the most important architectural event since the Eiffel Tower,” said Patrick Devedjian, head of the public body in charge of renovating La Defense, as he announced the winner at a press conference in Paris.

Set in parkland, its 71 stories are split into four cubes with shops and restaurants on the ground floor, then offices, a 333-room hotel and, finally, a top level of luxury apartments.

Each section is built around a giant glass-fronted loggia housing courtyard gardens and public spaces, with sliding panels that open to provide natural ventilation in hotter months.

Vast colored panels will be printed onto the back walls of each loggia, visible from miles away.

The $950 million tower will aim for 50 percent energy savings, with solar panels and wind turbines on the roof and mirror-covered window frames to reflect more natural light inside.

Mr. Devedjian says Mr. Nouvel’s tower would be “the defining building in the Greater Paris that is currently taking shape,” a development plan for Paris and its outskirts championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. Nouvel has designed all over the world, from Japan to Italy, Germany and the United States, but his flagship French works in Paris are the Arab World Institute and the Quai Branly museum of tribal arts, which opened in 2006.

In the early 1990s, he designed a 1,320-foot skyscraper, the Tower Without End, for La Defense, but the project was never built.

La Defense, which describes itself as Europe’s largest business district, with 2,500 company headquarters and 20,000 residents, is used by 400,000 people each day.

Its first building, a vast shell-shaped white dome called the CNIT, was built in 1958, while another landmark, the Great Arch, was built in alignment with the Champs-Elysees Avenue and Arc de Triomphe in 1989.

Under a renovation plan begun in 2006, 17 aging buildings are scheduled for demolition in La Defense by 2013, to be replaced by new skyscrapers, shops, parks and cycle lanes.

Two other 990-foot skyscraper projects are under way: a soaring structure called Le Phare (the Lighthouse) by American architect Thom Mayne, and the Generali Tower, both due for delivery in 2012.

Until now, strict building regulations have kept most high-rises firmly outside Paris city limits, with a few notable exceptions such as the Tour Montparnasse, which rises around 660 feet over the southwest of the city.

However, Bertrand Delanoe, Paris’ Socialist mayor, has sparked controversy by suggesting a handful of skyscrapers could be built just inside the city to revitalize run-down parts of the capital.

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