At the end of the first World War, plans were made to develop the axis from the Arc de Triomphe at the Etoile to La Défense.  Numerous plans were submitted for the Voie Triomphale or Triumphal Way as it was known, most of them with endless rows of impressive skyscrapers in mostly modernist style.  Many of the plans which were submitted in 1930 came from renowned architects like Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret.  None of these plans were realised, mainly due to the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Hotels in La Défense


However in 1931, the authorities organised a new competition with the intention of limiting the height of the buildings along the Triumphal Way.  Only at the end of the long avenue, at the Défense, were towers allowed.  This was recommended by the authorities as towers close to the centre would obstruct the view of the Etoile.  Most of the 35 (French) entries in the competition were either classical or modernist style, but again none of the plans were actually realised due to lack of funding.  The main focus now moved from the Triumphal Way to the Défense area, or La Défense.  The name ‘Défense’ originates from the monument ‘La Défense de Paris ’, which was erected at this site in 1883 to commemorate the war of 1870.


The Tête Défense

In 1951, the Défense site was chosen as an office centre.  In 1958, development of the area was started by a special agency, the Etablissement Public d’Aménagement de la Défense.  The first plan had 2 rows of skyscrapers of equal height.  In 1964, a plan was approved to have 20 office towers of 25 storeys each.  Little of the development on the Défence was actually built according to this plan, as most companies started to press for taller office towers. The result is a mix of mostly cheap towers of different heights.  The tallest of them, the GAN tower, measured 200 metres.The height of several towers, and in particular the GAN tower, caused a public outcry as the ‘forest of towers’ disturbs the view of the Arc de Triomphe as seen from the Etoile.  Partly in response to this criticism,  a new monument was built at the entrance of the Défense as a counterweight for the Arc de Triomphe: The Tête Défense, also known as the Grande Arche de la Défense.


Grande Arche

The project to build the ‘Grande Arche’ was initiated by the French President Mitterand.  He wanted a twentieth century Arc de Triomphe.  The design of the Danish architect Otto van Spreckelsen looks more like a cube-shaped building than an arch of triumph.  It is a 106 metre tall white building with the middle part left open. The sides of the cube contain offices.  You can take a lift to the top of the Arche de la Défense, from where you have a good view of the city centre which is only 4 km further away.

Copyright text : Sarah Francis 2011