The Tour Triangle, Vitruvius and Me by Rosemary Flannery


Nous avons le plaisir de publier en intégralité et en version originale (Anglais), le point de vue de Rosemary Flannery sur la Tour Triangle. Rosemary est artiste, écrivain et guide. Elle est l’auteur du livre « Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour through the History of Paris » : initiation à l’architecture parisienne à travers la figure de l’ange.

Construction of the Tour Triangle – the Triangle Tower, Herzog & de Meuron’s 42-story office building in the 15th arrondissement of Paris is slated to begin in 2017. Arguments for and against it abound.  Most are against, and for compelling reasons. The Tour Triangle defies the most basic functions of architecture, abandoning them at great cost to the citizens of Paris and to the environment.

3 qualities of a good building according to Vitruvius

Before examining the specifics, let’s turn to the precepts of the great architect and engineer Marco Vitruvius Pollio, whose multi-volume De Architectura, dedicated to his patron Julius Cesar in the first century BC, remains an important reference for students of architecture today. Vitruvius’ triad crystallizes the qualities of a good building: firmatas or durability, meaning it should stand up robustly and remain in good condition; utilitas or utility: it should be useful and function well for the people using it; and venustas or beauty: it should delight people and raise their spirits.

> Quality of « Firmatas » or Durability

Beginning with the axiom of « firmitas, » durability, the Tour Triangle may qualify on this count, but at what cost to humanity? At a height of 180 meters (590 feet), it would cast an unwanted shadow on nearby residential and office buildings; it would also be in a nearly direct visual axis from the Eiffel Tower, cluttering the view. The fact that it will stand at all, in that place and at that height, creates an aggressive presence in the primarily residential area to which it is destined. Its ‘durability’ will exact a huge toll economically: There is no economy of scale with immense towers. In fact, the opposite is true: building two towers of 50 meters costs just over half the cost of a single tower of 100 meters. Additionally, if indeed the proposed office space were to be rented, it would burden the present public and general transport system; as yet, an improved transportation infrastructure is not on the planning boards.

> Quality of « Utilitas » or Utility

As for « utilitas, »utility, the original purpose of the Tour Triangle was to house offices, a large-capacity, luxury hotel and some exhibition space for vendors of the nearby convention center, the Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles. Yet the voracious energy requirements of the Tower have already negated its feasibility for the hotel, as well as for its use as an adjunct to the Parc des Expositions. In addition, the unbalanced proportions of the projected building do not provide adequate floor space for requisite elevators, staircases and fire escapes; this is a common design dilemma with buildings intended to dazzle, but in which form does not follow function. As office space alone, the Tour Triangle is redundant. There is no demand for it. At present, 10 percent of all Parisian office buildings are vacant. The notion that a building by a « starchitect »will attract new business is unfounded. Even worse, according to statistics published annually by Barclays Bank « Skyscraper Index, » the building of skyscrapers is peculiarly linked with impending financial disaster. Their analysts note that often the world’s tallest buildings are simply the edifice of a broader skyscraper building boom, reflecting a widespread misallocation of capital and an impending economic correction: they observe an unhealthy correlation between the building of skyscrapers and subsequent financial crashes. France is presently in recession; unemployment in Paris is at 8.5 percent. Let’s not add fuel to the fire.   In his July 2012 study for Challenges, the on-line magazine of Le Nouvel Observateur, Jean-Louis Dell’Oro raised the question, « Faut-il cesser de construire des grattes-ciels? »- Should we stop building skyscrapers? He points out that rentals of offices in the mammoth business area of La Défense on the periphery of Paris plunged 18 percent in 2011, and that only 122,000 square meters (1,313 square feet) of office space found buyers last year.   The anticipated location and funds for the Tour Triangle could be wisely oriented towards something truly useful and beneficial to the economy, such the creation of a technical school, as Mayor Bloomberg fostered with Cornell University on Roosevelt Island in NYC. France, like the United States, needs more technicians and engineers. Now is the time, and here could be the place, to do it.   Or why not give the city something else it desperately needs: subsidized social housing, as well as affordable housing for the other residents of Paris, where rents have risen and spaces have shrunk exponentially in the past five years. Here is Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s golden opportunity to respond to an urgent need, and to make a meaningful contribution to the capital city and its population. Yet in what appears to be an egotistical power play, Delanoë and his first deputy, Anne Hidalgo, are determined to plough ahead with the Tour Triangle, despite its uselessness.

> Quality of « Venustas » or Beauty

Lastly, consider Vitruvius’ precept of venustas, beauty, that a building should « delight people and raise their spirits. » Dell’Oro also reports that from the side of corporate management as well as of employees, there is a real demand for a « campus »on a more human scale, where one has the impression of seeing others more. People are simply not delighted about working in impersonal, giant structures.   But beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. The French have already nicknamed the Tour Triangle, the ‘Tour Toblerone’, thanks to its uncanny resemblance to the famous triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate. (The architectural firm is Swiss; perhaps this was its inspiration?)


A threat for Paris tourism and economy

Anne Hidalgo fears that Paris is in danger of becoming a « ville musée » – a « museum city » – suspended in time, in need of keeping pace with other European cities and their latest architectural forays. Paris is a museum city, home to 150 museums – one of the prime reasons for it being the most visited city in the world. Paris has embraced modern architecture, and curiously enough, most often for its museums and exhibition space: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ Centre Pompidou, 1977; I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid, 1989; Frank O. Gehry’s Cinematheque,1994, and Jean Nouvel’s musée du Quai Branly, 2006. Even Dominique Perrault’s 1997 Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris holds an important permanent collection of the globes of Louis XIV as well as several temporary exhibitions.

The Tour Triangle’s official website claims that Paris ‘cannot hope to maintain its economic rank if it is not endowed with competitive tools’. But Paris’ economic rank is directly linked to tourism: It is more dependent on tourism than other major cities whose lifelines are finance, entertainment or other services. One in ten workers in Paris is employed in the tourism industry. I’m one of them, an author and artist working also as a guide in Paris’ museums and neighborhoods.   Paris is as ever beloved as an « outdoor museum, » its picturesque bridges over the Seine, lovely gardens and mosaic of quarters, each with its own unique personality. I hear visitors marvel at the beauty of Paris, and its magnificent centuries-old buildings, and then see them aghast, as we all are, at the view of the 1972 Montparnasse Tower, a 59-floor office building, completely at odds with its surroundings. A monstrous blot on the city landscape, ugly by any standard, that tower was considered for demolition, but deemed too expensive to dismantle. The construction of the Tour Triangle would likewise wreak an irreversible change and unspeakable damage on this beautiful city. All are welcome to join the campaign to halt the construction of this ill-begotten building.

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