the opportunity to add buildings at the district of la défense in paris remains a rare one, however louis paillard architecte got the chance to build the ‘skylight tower’, an apartment tower with a delicate, perforated facade. the district of la défense, willed into existence by general de gaulle to show the world of the 1960s that france was entering into the modern world of finance and business, is a curious above-ground urban mixture, an artificial island, veritable realm of ‘corporate architecture’ punctuated by a multitude of high-rise office towers, business centers, rather hollow official monuments, shopping centers and a few public housing complexes. all of these placed atop an immense, windswept concrete slab and irrigated from below by a labyrinth of vehicular arteries, railway tunnels among other piped networks.
louis paillard architecte entered the competition to build housing in the office building-oriented area. nature is rare here, being expressed most often in the form of jardinières and potted plants, and even in flat and shallow basins reflecting the climatic variations of the sky. inhabitants only occupy these places during office hours because social life is essentially work-related.
for the last few years, the établissement public d’aménagement de la défense seine arche has been attempting to re-humanize this urban area. by densifying the few remaining unbuilt areas with the construction of housing. it was under the framework of this effort that we participated in the consultation organized by the epadesa and nexity, responsible for project management.
the competition required superimposing two housing programs above railways in the parisian district. with the lower section of the tower containing 168 student apartments and the upper section, 112 ownership program apartments. the trapezoidal lot was located just behind the grande arche, on the town of puteaux side, at the foot of an elevated walkway designed by paul chemetov.
the lot’s main shortcoming was the fact that the longer width of the trapezoid was oriented northward and that, on the southern side, the architects were prohibited from creating bays. and yet, they had to design 11,000 m² of inhabitable surface area. to come up with the ideal form, the designers applied the take zoning method as a design guideline and adapted it to the site by means of multiple scale and 3d models.
the idea the architects were pursuing was to optimize the openings on the south side by proposing a strong unitary form in the shape of an easily identifiable ‘round hump.’ their work on the building’s profile is what enabled them to resolve the challenge of providing views and maximum sunshine despite the shape of the lot, thanks to this 8-m cantilevered upper section supported by a series of 25-m columns – in homage to 20th-century modernist architecture – in the v, i, o, x or square forms.
in addition to the aforementioned challenges, louis paillard architects also had to place this building above three tunnels of train tracks of the high-speed suburban line a. the entire edifice, isolated by its exterior, is clad in perforated cassettes panels made of anodized aluminum to enhance its homogeneity and underscore its presence facing the neighboring towers built in the 1980s, the worst period of 20th-century architecture.
project name: skylight tower
architecture firm: louis paillard architecte
location: la défense, paris, france
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