AWP was commissioned to provide design and implementation guidance for La Defense Central Business District. The objective was to conceive a new strategic master plan for the entire site (161 hectares) that addressed issues of public space – green space, urban infrastructure, circulation, transportation and site evolution – specifically as they relate to the 30 hectare slab.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE SLAB
The project at La Defense is most strongly defined by its programmatic and spatial complexity. This is especially evident in the multileveled nature of circulation, infrastructure, and occupiable space. What appears on the surface as just a slab, is in fact, just a small part of a larger system. The slab, functioning as a hybrid ground, serves at once as the pedestrian walkway, a roof to 6 stories of underground infrastructure, and a wall to surrounding streets all the while floating above a transportation hub. In this way, it epitomizes the relationship between landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. In response, a set of guidelines proposed by AWP reimagines the slab as a key connector in the site instead of a barrier, maximizes efficient use of the space in, on, and around the slab, and develops a holistic vision for a new cultural and programmatic culture on the site. The new plan strategically links Paris to the CDB, strengthens connections to the surrounding neighborhood, and integrates the underground transportation. The guidelines create a framework under which the CBD can build new towers, remodel extant commercial properties, design spaces for exercise and cultural events, install a network of green and open spaces, expand infrastructure and transportation, and evolve planning structures over the next 20 years. This plan also envisions the long-term evolution of the site and identifies possibilities to extended infrastructure to adjacent neighborhoods.
EXPLORING THE UNDERGROUND Beneath La Defense lay several train and metro lines (metro line 1, RER A), a highway (A14 route), and a large number of parking as well, but there is little character to these spaces. The plaza is envisioned as the central hub of the project, connecting people to all aspects of their life at La Defense: interface to parking, link to work, access to the stadium, cinema or shopping centre. Multileveled systems pose a number of serious challenges and opportunities for design. On the one hand semisubmerged roadways contribute to a safe and pedestrian-oriented central plaza, yet permeability between levels is often weak. In order to formulate the relationship between vertical and horizontal territories, a new design strategy is proposed. The surface is cut through, subterranean parts are day-lighted, visual connection is established, and circulation systems are added. The vision is that in the future, the underground can function as more than a transition route to other destinations, but rather become a destination in itself, a meeting place, and a place for programmed activities. Thus, this axis is the medium to penetrate the greater richness of the site and, in this way La Defense can serve as a model for exploiting the full potential of the underground. In response to this challenging condition of the site, it was necessary to develop the theme of “depth” in a rather literal sense: creating places for living within the areas now used for parking. Through site analysis and spatial reconfiguring, we were able to re-find 100,000 square meters of underused spaces in between buildings and between level changes that have great potential to link important locations. As part of the intervention’s first goals, the potential value of the underground network at La Defense is developed to a maximum extent particularly as it serves as the interface between subterranean parking, metro lines, and the elevated walkway that links office buildings.
1/ DIAGNOSTIC PHASE The first phase of the project included analysis and a site diagnostic evaluation. The diagnostic phase was comprised of analysis that resulted in a series of data maps. In the case of plan guide public areas of La Defense, this phase was essential for the understanding of the site. The first task of the study was to create a system of representation, to compile an atlas of public spaces, and gather unpublished data owned by different actors on the site. A series of walking workshops were conceived as a new way to generate knowledge from the site's operational actors: Defacto, employees and residents, and other visitors to achieve a sensitive experiential mapping of the visit. These steps helped us read the site and break it down into programmatic typologies and a set of targeted interventions.
2/ GENERAL PROGRAMME PHASE After the diagnostic phase, a general program was established based on our five principles. Guiding principles for design include: redefining the ground (through interventions on the slab), reestablishing the grand axis, inhabiting in-between spaces, allowing for a natural invasion, and incorporating shared spaces. The five principles set out in order of importance were grouped under the title ‘Towards A Climate’. This phase was essential to the understanding of the site and also for producing 10 themed books which outlined the different layers of public space of La Defense.
These strategies also helped to structure proposals and formulate a strategy for implementation.
3/ STRATEGIC MASTERPLAN The following phase focused on infrastructure, with profound changes to the character of the neighborhood driven by a stronger engagement with public space. Improving wayfinding so that one can take pleasure in walking and driving around La Defense, as one would in the centre of Paris. The ring road will mutate into an urban boulevard; pavements and walkways will be renovated and connections to nearby Puteaux, Courbevoie and Nanterre will be improved. As a result, La Defense serves as a critical link in a larger network of streetscape interventions from one bend of the Seine to the next and between Paris and its surrounding hinterlands. Defacto has already begun important work to simplify and improve access for road users and pedestrians, upgrade car parking, install a new signaling system on the plaza, a new lighting plan and unify wayfinding, street fittings and advertising signs. On the drawing of the masterplan: - Grey represents the existing space that is neutral, and is to be kept as is - Blue represents the existing space that needs to be improved, transformed, amplified - Yellow represents the public space that is to be created in the future
HHF, Grontmij, LEA, Jonction
Marc Armengaud, Matthias Armengaud, Alessandra Cianchetta (Partners), with Laureline Guilpain; Charles Bouscasse, Denis Brochard, Bérénice Gentil, Amine Ibnolmobarak, Joseph Jabbour, Clara Lamerre, Miguel La Parra Knapman, Noel Manzano, Maya Nemeta, David Perez, Chloé Raillard (work team)
La Défense, Paris, France