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A New Tower to Soar over Paris

Thom Mayne designed a building that seems to move — and actually does — as California's regional transportation headquarters in Los Angeles, the city of cars. Now the prize-winning architect has set his sights higher — with plans for a soaring tower in Paris aimed at bringing brightness and life to a bleak part of the city of light.

Mayne's Caltrans building features photovoltaic walls that make energy from sunlight. To catch the light, Mayne installed random horizontal metal bumps, and awnings that raise and lower like eyelashes when the sun hits them. So the building is in motion — just like the freeways. It uses light as a building material.

"It's not only a building material," Mayne says. "It's dynamic. It's changing."


At Morphosis, Mayne's Santa Monica office, the young staff is designing a structure for a city whose most beautiful, romantic and beloved heart was built centuries ago. They're planning a glass office tower for Paris — the tallest structure to rise there since the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

Mayne's 68-story landmark will loom over an area called La Defense — a big, bleak, faceless business complex on the outskirts of town.

The lines of Mayne's 984-foot tower are soft and sensuous. It torques — like a twisting torso. It could humanize a most inhuman space, and harmonize with the old Paris, spread out in the distance.

Mayne says he's not intimidated by creating a modern icon for this iconic city.

"[In Paris,] there has to be a present," he says. "History becomes the most interesting when it's compared to the present.


"There's a whole group of people that want to build new buildings that look like old buildings," Mayne adds. "It's ridiculous, right? It would be like ... somehow cherishing a horse and buggy. I think what's so lovely for me to work in that city is that we have an opportunity to use all of the devices available to us that in fact give meaning to the centuries of history of this 2,000-year-old city."

The Phare Tower is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

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