Synthesizing Idiosyncrasies to Mend a Site
Drawing on the power of parametric scripting, the design of the Phare Tower gathers disparate programmatic, physical, and infrastructural elements from the requirements of the building and its surrounding context, and synthesizes these into a form that seamlessly integrates the building into the idiosyncrasies of its site while expressing multiple flows of movement. In the spirit of the Paris Exposition competition proposals, the tower embodies state-of-the-art technological advances to become a cultural landmark.
The complex structure and skin adapt to the tower’s nonstandard form while simultaneously responding to a range of complex, and often competing, physical and environmental considerations. Technologies integrated into the Phare Tower capture the wind for the production of energy and selectively minimize solar gain while maximizing glare-free daylight. Its high-performance skin transforms with changes in light, becoming opaque, translucent, or transparent from different angles and vantage points.
Between 1958 and 1989, high-rise buildings (banned in the historic center of Paris) were constructed just outside the city boundary, forming the business district of La Défense two miles west of Paris. The Phare Tower (phare being French for beacon or lighthouse) marks the first stage of a major redevelopment of the district. La Défense is currently a zone of discrete, isolated buildings amid blank plazas—essentially a nonsite.
The tower emerges from its irregular site, defined by a neighboring motorway and a rail link, and bisected by an existing pedestrian walkway. It is located between the 1989 Grande Arche de la Défense and the 1958 CNIT building, the former exhibition hall of the National Inter-University Consortium for Telecommunications, with an architecturally significant glass façade, designed by Jean Prouvé. These disparate elements, crowded together and seemingly unrelated, provide an opportunity to mend the site. The site strategy thus synthesizes the programmatic, physical, and infrastructural complexities to connect the surrounding urban space and create a coherent sense of place where none previously existed.
At the levels of urbanism and circulation, the scheme complements existing plans to transform the CNIT into a center for commerce and recreation. Circulation is directed from the existing transit hub below grade, through the renovated CNIT facilities, and into the tower’s public spaces via a pavilion. The pavilion connects to the Place Carpeaux, and transitions from horizontal to vertical, becoming an integral element in the tower’s form. Glazed exterior escalators soar 35 meters from the pavilion to the tower’s ninth-floor lobby, transporting approximately eight thousand pedestrians each day. As the visitor rides up the escalators to the Grand Hall, the fully glazed envelope reveals views of the traffic passing underneath, as well as of Parisian monuments in the distance.