UNESCO says NO to Paris skyscrapers


Unesco has a negative opinion of the proposed skyscrapers such as Triangle Tower in Paris, as the French capital is "one of the few horizontal cities that have been preserved," said the Deputy Director-General of Unesco for Culture, Francesco Bandarin. 

"If Paris wishes to be considered as a city with historical value and a heritage context, it should not do this," said Mr. Bandarin. "This is a very bad idea, to put towers at all the gateways of Paris", he continued.

"This is the case of Triangle Tower (proposed in the south of Paris), although I greatly respect its architects," noted Mr. Bandarin, with reference to Swiss Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. All the gateways of Paris "would want a tower" if one is provided, he lamented, adding, " This type of isolated construction should not be permitted."

"There are places where you can create groups and there is a question of height," said the UNESCO head. "We must measure what the visual impact of the height will be.  There are scientific techniques that can do this."

For Unesco, "it is not just the banks of the Seine, which put Paris on the list as World Heritage Centre, but it is the idea of the scale of the whole city." "Paris is a city that was developed in the nineteenth century as a city of just six floors," and this is what has given it its value. "It is the most densely populated city: it is denser than New York thanks to its formula of just six floors."

"The idea of densification with height, this is a misconception." "A tower, because it needs a lot of services, it needs parking, does not help to make a denser, compact city... This is not a good model. This is not the future."

This conclusion echoes the report from a fact-finding delegation of the Council for European Urbanism which evaluated three new projects with tall buildings in the central city, and concluded the City is damaging centuries of heritage for short-term gain — without even achieving the stipulated “sustainability” goals.

A Russian, Iskenderov, is developing a $4 billion, 1,050’ high twin tower project designed by Foster + Partners for the banks of the Seine near La Defense. With this, Iskenderov plans to beat London’s Shard as Europe’s tallest skyscraper.

“In my view, this project is really targeted almost 100 percent toward foreign buyers, first-time buyers who really want to have peace of mind, who don’t want to renovate in Paris, who don’t want to be bothered with maintenance and upkeep, and who are really looking for all the services they have in Hong-Kong, Moscow, Tokyo, etc,” said Sotheby’s Alexander Kraft

In the oil-rich countries, China, and Asia, multi-billionaires and global corporations are investing in luxury ultra-high constructions because these projects generate the highest short term returns. And after all, the poor and the middle class don’t have funds to support this kind of hubris. In so doing, these luxury high rises are making ever-more visible the increasing inequality gap between the very rich and the poor.

 “The richest 400 Americans already have more wealth than the bottom 150 million put together,” observes Robert Reich in his new film Inequality for All.  “Since the current [economic] recovery began, 95 percent of the gains have gone to the richest 1 percent.”

While some relish living high in the clouds, far from life on the street, with the wind and the view as their constant companions, other more vulnerable groups such as mothers, children and elders fare less well. A review of the research on Consequences of Living in High Rise Buildings concludes: “…the literature suggests that high-rises are less satisfactory than other housing forms for most people, that they are not optimal for children, that social relations are more impersonal and helping behavior is less than in other housing forms, that crime and fear of crime are greater, and that they may independently account for some suicides.” In a separate review of research into housing and mental health, Gary Evans notes: “In general, people living in high-rises seem to have more mental health problems than those living in low-rises or houses”, and he concludes that the  “adverse impacts of high-rise dwellings may be due to social isolation.”

The new movie Gravity, a film with only two actors who float in space, seems to sum up the increasing estrangement of human beings from the earth and from each other.

The view of the world from on high fosters a disengagement from the well-being of our fellow human beings. Hitler’s refuge was his “Eagle’s Nest” at the top of the Berchtesgaden, from which he could look down on Germany and Austria laid out at his feet. From that height, human beings were barely recognizable even as dots on the landscape.

Perhaps this philosophy has best been put into words by Harry Lime, in The Third Man. From the top of the Ferris Wheel, Lime says to his friend Holly Martins: “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.”