The Grande Arche of La Défense is the culmination of an axis leading from the Arc de Triomphe, nearly 5km away. It’s a monumental structure, designed to be seen silhouetted against the sky. Two side towers thirty seven storeys high joined by a horizontal ‘plateau’ enclose a hundred meter cube of empty space. The ground drops away beyond the arch and the wind whistles through it.
In my memory of a visit to La Défense twenty five years ago the Grande Arche, soon after its inauguration, was completely empty. I’d assumed that the canopy of tensioned fabric on steel cables was a late afterthought, added in an attempt to make the space cozier. In fact the canopy was part of the original prize-winning design by Danish architect Johan Otto von Spreckelsen and was installed before the steps leading to the arch were completed. My memory has registered ‘vast, bleak and windy’ but left out the details.
In a more receptive frame of mind than on my earlier visit I can see beauty in the intersecting patterns of the canopy and the towering, newly renovated building.
The blue glass windbreaks create interesting patterns too. A new addition or part of the original plan? I really can’t remember.
Windy or not, the arch is the focal point of the public open space at La Défense and a natural meeting place, if only because it is unmissable and unmistakable. As from June this year the restored viewing terrace on the top is now open to the public again (and the the lift has been reinforced to cope with winds up to 80km per hour). The view is said to be unforgettable.