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La Défense is the main high-rise office area of Paris. Many of Paris's tallest buildings are located in this district. In 1951, the Défense site was appointed as an office center. Nowadays, it is primarily an office district although residential areas surround it.
The initial plan had 2 rows of skyscrapers of equal height. But, little of the development on the Défence was actually built according to this plan, as most companies started to press for taller office towers.
This resulted to a mix of mainly cheap towers of different heights. The tallest of them, the GAN tower, is 200 meters. The height of several towers, and in particular the GAN tower caused a public reaction as the 'forest of towers' disturbs the view on the Arc de Triomphe when seen from the Etoile.
La Défense is named after a statue, La Défense de Paris that was built in 1883 in order to commemorate the soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. The name of the area sometimes causes confusion with visitors, who occasionally assume it is some kind of military zone or establishment.
La Defense is actually a neighborhood outside Paris and therefore is not in the usual arrondissement divisions. It is situated between the 16th and the 17th arrondissement. Besides the famous empty Cube, which can be seen from afar, the whole neighborhood was built as if it were a large convention centre.
Many political, social, cultural, national and European movements use it as their headquarters. Every day hundreds of state employees commutes here and, likewise, hundreds of tourists come here to visit and admire the grandeur of the tall buildings and the large squares and fountains.
Grande Arche de la Défense
The French president Mitterand initiated the project of building the 'Grande Arche' . He wanted to monument that would be in the eyes od public the contemporary version of the Arc de Triomphe.
The Danish architect Otto van Spreckelsen took up the project presenting a design that looks more like a cube-shaped building than a triumphal arch quite imposing though.
It is a 106 meters white building with the middle part left open. The sides of the cube contain offices. You can take a lift to the top of the Arche de la Defense, from where you have a nice view on the city center that is only 4 km further.
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