Paris rejects first skyscraper in more than 40 years

A model of the Tour Triangle, a proposed skyscraper designed by Swiss agency Herzog & de Meuron, is displayed at the Paris Center for architecture and urbanism center The Pavillon de l'Arsenal in Paris, on Nov 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A model of the Tour Triangle, a proposed skyscraper designed by Swiss agency Herzog & de Meuron, is displayed at the Paris Center for architecture and urbanism center The Pavillon de l'Arsenal in Paris, on Nov 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris city councillors voted against plans on Monday for French capital's first modern skyscraper in more than 40 years, leaving the Eiffel Tower to reign supreme over the Paris skyline for now.

But Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo declared the vote null and void because some opposition conservative councillors displayed their ballots in defiance of decision to make the vote secret. She asked for a court ruling on whether the vote stands.

The legal uncertainty is a blow for Europe's biggest listed property group, Unibail-Rodamco, which was to invest 500 million euros (S$808 million) in the project due for completion in 2018.

Conservative and Green city councillors formed a slight but blocking majority against Tour Triangle, the 180-m-high triangular-shaped building backed by Hidalgo and Socialist councillors.

Though common in most other major capitals, skyscrapers have faced deep opposition in Paris ever since the 300-m high Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Universal Exposition.

No major skyscraper has been built within the city proper since the 59-floor, 210-m Montparnasse building in southern Paris opened in 1973.

The brown carbuncle has made it all but impossible for developers to win approval for future high-rises.

Paris imposed a height limit of 37 metres in the wake of the uproar over the tower in Montparnasse - which was accused of ruining both the view and a once-beloved artist district.

City developers later struck a compromise with critics by quarantining high-rise buildings in the La Defense business sector just outside the centre.

But the rules changed in 2010 when the city decided to allow apartment blocks up to 50 metres and offices up to 180 metres in areas near the ring road. In July last year, it gave initial approval to the Tour Triangle on the southwestern fringe of the city in the Porte de Versailles neighbourhood.

Environmentalists and aesthetes were immediately up in arms.

They had formidable support, including from Norman Foster, the celebrated British architect behind several skyscrapers including London's Gherkin. "I don't see what Paris needs with a skyscraper," he said at the time.

The United Nation's cultural body UNESCO also waded in, warning that new towers would threaten the landscape of "one of the few remaining horizontal cities".

The prestigious Swiss team behind the project, Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron, rejected the criticism, saying the Triangle was "beautiful".

The architects were behind the conversion of London's Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern art museum and Beijing's Bird's Nest National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

Hidalgo backed the scheme despite polls showing a majority of Parisians opposed it. Her deputy, Missika, called it one of the "future centres of Greater Paris" and a dynamic symbol of its ability to revitalise itself.

"It's not a tower, it's a pyramidal monument," he said.

But Michel Carmona, an expert in the Haussmann style in which Paris was designed in the 1800s, said that such sudden breaks with the past were "a taboo" for Parisians.

"The unity of the Paris landscape is the envy of the world. It's a test of talent for an architect to work within the Parisian template without breaking it," he told AFP. "Will the Tour Triangle attract foreigners? Not a chance."

With some 85,000 square metres of office space to let, the Triangle would have been one of the biggest office projects in Paris, which is seeing a surge in investment interest this year from yield-hungry investors.