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La Grande Arche de La Défense
Paris La Défense

Located just beyond the city limits, on the other side of the Seine from the 17th arrondissement, the Grande Arche de La Défense anchors the eastern end of the historic axis that stretches from the Louvre down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.

One of the Grands Projets (Mitterrand’s 15 billion franc program to provide a series of modern monuments to symbolize France’s central role in art, politics, and world economy at the end of the twentieth century), the modern triumphal arch is actually a 35-story office building—a monument to capitalism? The area surrounding La Défense is home to modern office towers housing 14 of France’s top 20 corporations.

Von Spreckelsen’s scheme was chosen by Mitterrand in an international competition for its 'purity and strength'. Von Spreckelsen backed out of the project before its completion, reportedly disheartened by red tape and having grown displeased with his own design. He died before its completion.

Tourist guides tout the arch’s impressive dimensions and statistics: each side is 110m long; the arch contains 95,000 square meters of office space. It is clearly the grandest and the most ‘moderne’ of the Grands Projets. Amidst the superlatives, the most pleasant aspect of the scheme is its surprising (and surprisingly subtle) asymmetry; it is rotated six degrees off center of the axis, breaking the symmetry of its position extending the line of the Champs Elysées. The rotation was not part of the original design, but was done so that the piles supporting the structure could avoid the network of tunnels under the site.

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Jay Berman 1999


How to visit

Take the Metro (Line 1) or RER 'A' to the station Grande Arche de La Défense.

Visitors climb the imposing white bank of steps which forms part of the arch's geometry, the angle and color of the steps reflected in the other three sides of the square arch. The sides of the arch are offices, but visitors can take a glass elevator through the sculptural 'clouds' that hang within the arch's interior space, up to the belvedere. The elevator is open between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


3791316788_m.gif (14084 bytes) Paris: Contemporary Architecture
Andrea Gleiniger, Gerhard Matzig and Sebastian Redecke

A readable and particularly well illustrated description of 20 recent archiectural projects in Paris, including but not limited to the Grands Projets. Includes a map for visiting them.



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