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Paris's Montparnasse Tower to get dazzling €300 million revamp

© Nouvelle AOM, Luxigon3

Text by Anna SANSOM

Latest update : 2017-09-23

Montparnasse Tower has long been derided as the ugliest building in Paris. But the 1970s skyscraper is set to undergo a total revamp, costing €300mn, to become a stunning, ecological landmark for when Paris hosts the 2024 Olympic Games.

For Parisians, Montparnasse Tower, or Tour Montparnasse, may be considered a blight on the cityscape, but even locals admit its top floor offers the best views of the French capital – with the added advantage of not having to glimpse the unsightly skyscraper.

The owners of the 210 metre-high tower having become so fed up with its negative reputation decided to launch an international competition for a design overhaul. The winner of the project, announced on Tuesday evening at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal (an exhibition venue for architecture near Bastille, Paris), is Nouvelle AOM – a consortium of three architectural agencies: Franklin Azzi, Chartier Dalix Architectes (founded by Pascale Dalix and Frédéric Chartier) and Hardel et Le Bihan Architectes (founded by Mathurin Hardel and Cyrille Le Bihan).

Ensemble Immobilier Tour Maine-Montparnasse (EITMM), owners of Montparnasse Tower, launched an open-call to redesign the tower in June 2016. Architects were invited to submit proposals that would give the tower a “powerful, dynamic and bold new identity”. A staggering 700 architecture firms took on the challenge and sent in their proposals, with seven of them invited to participate in the second stage of the competition, which ended in May this year. Then two agencies – Nouvelle AOM and Studio Gang, an American practice founded by Jeanne Gang – went head-to-head, with judges mulling over their proposals for four months.

Nouvelle AOM beat heavyweights such as France’s Dominique Perrault and Dutch firm OMA/Rem Koolhaas, to scoop the commission. The maquettes of the seven shortlisted firms are currently being exhibited at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal.

Maquette of Nouvelle AOM's revamp project for Montparnasse Tower, currently on display at Pavillon de l'Arsenal, Paris. © Pavillon Arsenal

The Montparnasse Tower’s massive renovation project, costing €300 million, is being entirely funded by EITMM. It is expected to start in 2019 and be completed by 2024.

“Scheduled to be unveiled in time for the Olympic Games, the revamped tower will become an iconic landmark in Paris’s modern cityscape,” saidJean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris.

According to Patrick Abisseror, co-owner of EITMM and president of the Demain Montparnasse revamp project, the tower which dates back to 1973 was once "a symbol of novelty, modernity and innovation”. But 40 years later it’s a different story.

“It no longer corresponds to the expectations of a tower in the 21st century, in terms of its usage and performance, energy and the environment," he said.

The redesign aims to make the tower, which houses numerous offices and has a restaurant on the 56th of its 59 floors, more vibrant. On the ground floor there will be a crèche, a gym, a business/conference centre, a nightclub and an exhibition space. The roof will house a greenhouse for growing fruits and vegetables, adding 17 metres onto the tower’s height. The produce grown will be served in the restaurant. The building will also include a hotel and have gardens with viewing platforms on the 14th floor.

“Our goal is to revitalise the Montparnasse area so that the new tower gives Parisians the desire to come here,” said Abisseror.

Abisseror hopes to vastly increase the annual number of visitors, which currently stands at one million, by adding a high-tech observatory similar to the Tilt observation deck at the John Hancock Center in Chicago. Visitors will have access to 3D-virtual reality headsets as a way of enhancing their experience of the tower.

For the architects of Nouvelle AOM, the commission represents the opportunity to make Montparnasse Tower a living, breathing multi-purpose space.

“Until now, the tower has just been a place where people work, from 10am-6pm. But we want to bring in people from different walks of life, so it was really important to include a hotel,” Le Bihan told FRANCE 24. “

The partners of Nouvelle AOM in the office that they rented on the 44th floor of Montparnasse Tower in order to conceive the project. From L to R Pascale Dalix, Franklin Azzi, Mathurin Hardel, Cyrille Le Bihan and Frédéric Charti © © nouvelle AOM / Alexandre Tabaste

The starting point for the architects was to transform the lacklustre building into something transparent with a glass façade with reliefs, creating a sense of openness.

“As it’s a renovation, we didn’t begin with a blank sheet of paper; rather, we spent a year setting up a research laboratory in an office we rented on the 44th floor of Montparnasse Tower so we could gain a precise understanding of the existing building and its history,” Azzi told FRANCE 24. “We worked on adapting – from black to transparent, from a closed building to an open one.”

Central to Nouvelle AOM’s project is the use of green energy, such as developing strategies with engineers for the wind to circulate in the building. The aim is to reduce mechanical ventilation by 70 percent.

“The idea is for the building to function like a glider plane, only using electricity when it’s very hot or cold,” said Le Bihan. Another innovation is installing invisible solar panels in the greenhouse on the roof.

Coincidentally, all five architects of Nouvelle AOM were born in the early 1970s and have all lived near Montparnasse Tower at some point in their lives. “I used to roller-skate near the tower when I was growing up and I always loved this building – it’s a true landmark,” Dalix told FRANCE 24.

“As we were born in the 1970s, when the building was finished, we didn’t experience the trauma of seeing the tower being built like our parents did,” added Azziz. “For us, it’s iconic and part of the urban fabric.”

“But it hasn’t been a lively emblem of the city," said Le Bihan. "Even the restaurant wasn't visible from the outside. We want to make the interior of the tower visible from the exterior.”

By 2024, Parisians – and the hordes of tourists coming to the Olympic Games – will hopefully have a beautiful tower to admire.

The International Architectural Competition for the Redesign of the Montparnasse Tower is exhibited at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, 21 Boulevard Morland, 75004 Paris, until October 22, 2017. Free entrance.

Date created : 2017-09-20


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