Wednesday, 16 March 2011

La Défense, ways of escape

La Défense is a fifty year continuing experiment in appeasing Parisian developers who, denied the opportunity to build high rise blocks in the arrondissements, have had the chance to indulge their wildest architectural fantasies on an enormous plot of land carved out of the communes of Puteaux, Courbevoie and Nanterre. Walking through the plazas at La Défense bounded by regiments of tower blocks is an uncomfortable experience. These are bombastic buildings that compete for attention. They express the expansionist and controlling ambitions of their corporate masters and diminish their occupants to microbial proportions. As for the public whose misfortune it is to circulate in the surrounding spaces, their fate is to be battered by aerial turbulence and blinded by dust storms. For myself, thoughts of escape preoccupy the mind. It’s not so easy to achieve – directional signs are calculated to dispatch pedestrians along pre-ordained paths but by wandering off-piste there are some avenues of escape to be found. Search for the under-used back road out of Faubourg de l’Arche to the hinterland of Nanterre and you’ll find a quiet space of deserted roadways and little used railway tracks bounded by rampant invasive plant growth. From here you can enjoy the views they don’t want you to see. The carefully planned vistas, designed to impress and intimidate are nowhere to be seen. In their place is a gloriously untidy, uncoordinated patchwork of structures wedged together like a clumsy exercise in assemblage.

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