Modern architecture is often unwelcome in old world cities such as Paris for fear of ruining the urban fabric. A new skyscraper in Paris could change things, however.

The controversial project, Tour Triangle, is an approved 180-metre triangular glass skyscraper planned for the Porte de Versailles site.

It will be Paris’ first skyscraper since the 209-metre Tour Montparnasse, built in 1973.

Designed by Herzog & de Meuron (H&dM), the building will house a four star hotel with 120 rooms, a restaurant, a sky bar open to the public on the 12th floor, 2,200 square metres of co-working space to encourage entrepreneurs and a 540 square metre cultural space.

The mixed-use facilities are impressive, but its design and height have drawn criticism.

SOS Paris, an organisation dedicated to preserving Paris’ heritage, recently filed an administrative appeal to overturn the decision of the Council authorising the project.

H&dM say, however, that the project is more than its silhouette and that it has been designed from the inside out to reflect the city.

“Like that of a classical building, this one features two levels of interpretation; an easily recognisable overall form and the fine, crystalline silhouette of its façade, which allows Triangle to be perceived in various ways,” H&dM’s website reads.

The project also prompts a new conversation of density and skyscrapers in historic cities such as Paris.

So how does a city like Paris manage high density while retaining its architectural history?

Manuelle Gautrand

Manuelle Gautrand, architect Image via Baunetz

According to French architect Manuelle Gautrand, a balance of both history and density is required and Tour Triangle is a great place to start.

Gautrand believes contemporary architecture has a place among traditional buildings, and she personally loves the work of H&dM.

“Paris needs iconic and innovative architecture and Paris also needs towers in some strategic places,” she said.

Gautrand “very much likes the project,” including its controversial shape.

“…There are certainly a lot of reasons which have convinced the architects to give a triangle shape,” she said. “The result is a building which is not as thin as a tower, with very large shadows on the context.”

According to H&dM, the building’s trapezoidal footprint takes into account the impact of a tall structure on its environment.

“Its triangular shape reduces casting shadows on adjacent residential buildings,” the firm said. “The environmental approach of the project is also perceptible in its simple compact volume, which limits its ground impact.”

Gautrand believes Tour Triangle won’t be standing alone as the city cannot avoid skyscrapers for much longer.

“Skyscrapers are a fantastic opportunity to rethink the programs: in answering to new ways of life and new needs, introducing more mixed-uses and common facilities, proposing innovation solutions for sustainability,” she said.

Tour Triangle’s location allows for the creation of  a public square and park and a strong link between the two poles of the Parc des Expositions. It marks the Paris/Issy-les-Moulineaux axis, allowing the urban space to cross the peripheral boulevard by activating the entire façade of the avenue Ernest Renan.

Gautrand noted that one complaint – the building’s size – makes it well-suited to cities like Paris.

“We have to remain open-minded to all types of architecture, with the goal to accept densifying the city,” she said. “We cannot let it always grow in a horizontal way, increasing its surface and letting so many people be far away from everything.

“We cannot accept increasing a city with only low-density architecture, it would be a huge error.

“An important density is the only solution to offer good conditions of life to millions of inhabitants; they have to keep a feeling of urbanity, to minimise as much as possible the distances and the time that they have to spend each to join their workplace for example.”

While H&dM’s Tour Triangle is going ahead for now, the firm has again demonstrated the approval challenges for architects who propose ambitious projects in cities such as Paris.

Gautrand has seen her fair share of debate surrounding her own projects, and while she understands the desire to retain history, she sometimes finds the process stressful.

“The historical beauty of the town is a break to innovation and modern architecture,” she said. “The heritage listed buildings are everywhere in Paris, and I can understand that Monumental Authorities need a lot of dialogue and discussions to approve a project.”

For those worried about Paris’ iconic skyline, it should be noted that the Eiffel Tower’s 325-metre height will still trump Tour Triangle, allowing it to remain the tallest structure in Paris.