Paris is famous for its historical architecture, which is often admired and romanticized. As the European Union's second largest metropolitan area with more than 12 million inhabitants, Paris also has its share of modern architecture and tall buildings. Mostly concentrated in the business district of La Défense, just outside of the city limits, tall office buildings have dramatically altered an area that once consisted of mid- to low-rise residential buildings and shanties. 

The CNIT and La Défense in the late 1950s, image courtesy of vision80

The picture above is an aerial view of the district in the late 1950s, just after the completion of the first building that initiated the transformation of the area. Known as the CNIT, or Center of New Industries and Technologies, this triangular building was completed in 1958 as an exhibition centre for the French machine tools industry. Its roof is made out of a freestanding, six-centimetre-thick concrete vault covering an area of 22,500 square metres. It is supported by three abutments and spans over a length of 218 metres, a world record. 

La Défense in 2014, picture by Wikimedia Commons User Jean-François Gornet

Fast Forward to 2014, and the CNIT is still there although it was partially buried in 1978 by the construction of a 30-hectare pedestrian-only esplanade covering the highways, subways, train station, roads, parking garages, traffic, and loading docks below. Closing the ten-kilometre Historical Axis starting at the Louvre in downtown Paris, the 1989-built, 112-metre-high Grande Arche now complements the CNIT as a modernist symbol of a neighbourhood where 3.5 million square metres of office space accommodate 180,000 daily workers.

We will be back next week for another look at the past. In the meantime, you can voice your opinion about today's post by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page. 

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