Guide Tour of Paris La Défense, Ile-de-France, France

La Défense is a major business district located three kilometres west of the city limits of Paris. La Défense bringing together the skills of development, management, animation and promotion of the territory. The Paris La Défense teams are working on the development and modernization of the district, by setting up ambitious real estate and urban projects. The establishment has also embarked on a major project to diversify the district by developing a leading commercial, residential and leisure offer.

La Défense is a business district located in the metropolis of Greater Paris in Île-de-France, the first in Europe by the extent of its office park, the second in Europe for the volume of financial activities after the City of London and is ranked as the fourth most attractive business district in the world according to a study published by EY in 2017. The district notably houses the headquarters of many French and foreign companies as well as the European banking authority.

La Défense is Europe’s largest purpose-built business district, covering 560 hectares (1,400 acres), for 180,000 daily workers, with 72 glass and steel buildings (of which 19 are completed skyscrapers), and 3,500,000 square metres (38,000,000 sq ft) of office space. Around its Grande Arche and esplanade (“le Parvis”), La Défense contains many of the Paris urban area’s tallest high-rises. Les Quatre Temps, a large shopping mall in La Défense, has 220 stores, 48 restaurants and a 24-screen movie theatre.

It is part of the Paris metropolitan area in the Île-de-France region, La Défense is not an isolated business centre, but is located in a vast area of western Paris where tertiary activity is particularly strong. It is located in the northwest suburb of Paris, in the Hauts-de-Seine department, on the territories of the communes of Puteaux, Courbevoie, Nanterre and La Garenne-Colombes, at the western end of the historic axis which begins at the Louvre Palace and continues through the ‘ avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and beyond to the Pont de Neuilly and the Arche de la Défense

Erected since the 1960s, La Défense is mostly made up of high-rise buildings, mainly comprising offices (about three million square meters). La Défense is however a mixed district: it accommodates 600,000 m 2 of housing and the opening of the Les Quatre Temps shopping center in 1981 made it a major commercial center in Île-de-France. In 2009, the district had 2,500 businesses, approximately 180,000 employees and 20,000 inhabitants spread over 71 towers. In particular, it houses the headquarters of large French and foreign multinationals.

The neighborhood stretches in and out of a one -way circular boulevard. It extends over 160 hectares and was divided in 2011 into four large sectors (Arche Nord, Arche Sud, Esplanade Nord and Esplanade Sud) which replace the twelve former numbered sectors. The district extends over a vast pedestrian slab of 31 hectares raised above the natural ground. The public space of the slab, essentially mineral, is also composed of hanging gardens and ponds. On the slab, around sixty works of art make La Défense an open-air museum.

The development of the district of La Défense was entrusted by the State in 1958 to the public establishment for the development of the region of La Défense (EPAD), whose scope of intervention was reduced in 2000, then widened. in 2010, becoming the Public Establishment for the Development of La Défense Seine Arche (EPADESA) in order to implement a coherent project from the Seine to the Seine, in one of the major territories of Greater Paris. The scope of action of this entity created in 2010 goes far beyond the circular boulevard of La Défense and now extends over the municipalities of Puteaux, Courbevoie,and La Garenne-Colombes.

La Défense is named after the statue La Défense de Paris by Louis-Ernest Barrias, which was erected in 1883 to commemorate the soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

In September 1958, the Public Establishment for Installation of La Défense (EPAD) buildings (of which the Esso Tower was the very first) were built and began to slowly replace the city’s factories, shanties, and even a few farms. The Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT) was built and first used in 1958. These “first generation” skyscrapers were all very similar in appearance, limited to a height of 100 metres (330 ft).

In 1964, the first master plan was adopted for the business district, 850,000 m² of offices were planned on either side of a vast esplanade in buildings of the same size. Added to this set of apartment buildings inspired by the Royal Palace, shops and recreational activities. 1964, pioneers, ESSO employees discover the first building constructed in La Défense.

Thus decided the master plan of the Epad, the first towers of La Défense will all be identical, with a base of 42 meters by 24, they will rise to 100 meters in height. The so-called first generation buildings offer very uniform services: 27,000 m2 of total surface area, floors of approximately 800 m2 and shallow offices exclusively on the first day.

1966 saw the delivery of the first tower in the business district, the NOBEL tower: designed by one of the architects of the Cnit, de Mailly, also co-author of the master plan for the Epad, it marks the entrance to the site. The order had been placed by the Centrale de Dynamite (NOBEL).

In 1967, the Aquitaine tower welcomed its occupants. Very quickly, the master plan of 1964 will show its limits. It does not allow the architectural diversity which ensures a better identification of the buildings and consequently of the companies which occupy them. Above all, it can neither respond to requests for very large surfaces, nor allow open spaces conducive to teamwork.

In the early 1970s, in response to great demand, a second generation of buildings began to appear, but the economic crisis in 1973 nearly halted all construction in the area. A third generation of towers began to appear in the early 1980s. The biggest shopping centre in Europe (at the time), the Quatre Temps, was created in 1981. In 1982, the EPAD launched the Tête Défense competition to find a monument to complete the Axe historique, which eventually led to the construction of Grande Arche at the west end of the quarter. During the same period, hotels were constructed, the CNIT was restructured, and in 1992, Line 1 of the Paris Métro was extended to La Défense, which made the area readily accessible to even more of the city.

On Bastille Day 1990, French electronic composer Jean Michel Jarre staged an ambitious concert at the site, using the Grande Arche and three of the area’s towers as projection screens, and building a pyramidal stage above the road. The free concert, titled simply Paris la Defense, attracted two million spectators, stretching all the way back to the Arc de Triomphe. This beat Jarre’s own previous world record for the largest attendance for a musical concert. After Jean Michel Jarre, German DJ Sash! and the singer La Trec have set at La Défense the videoclip for their song Stay in 1997.

After a stagnation in new development in the mid-1990s, La Défense is once again expanding and is now the largest purpose-built business district in Europe. Important corporations headquartered at La Défense include Neuf Cegetel, Société Générale, Total, Aventis, Areva, and Arcelor. The tallest skyscraper, the Tour First belongs to AXA, constructed in 1974. It is 231 metres (758 ft) high, has 50 floors, and is the highest inhabited building in the Paris area (a title previously held by the Tour Montparnasse, which was the tallest inhabited building until the Tour First was renovated between 2007 and 2011, bringing it to its current height from a previous 159 metres (522 ft); the tallest structure in Paris is the Eiffel Tower).

In December 2005, Bernard Bled, CEO & Chairman of EPAD (La Defense Management & Development Office) announced an ambitious 9-year development plan called “La Defense 2006–2015”.This important modernisation plan has to give a new dimension to the district and focuses on four main axes: regenerate outdated skyscrapers, allow new buildings, improve the balance between offices and residential housing and make the transport of local employees from their homes to La Défense easier.

The La Défense 2015 project, a major modernization plan for the business district in order to give it a new dimension. State valid in July 2006, this recovery plan, the finalization of which is announced around 2015 and which would allow the business district to confirm its European leadership in the office market, with approximately 4,000,000 m2 of tertiary surface area. This renewal plan could also make it possible to develop the financial importance of Paris in Europe.

Visiting Information
Paris La Défense is a district straddling several towns in Hauts-de-Seine, it is also a business district, the first in Europe and the fourth in the world. It is a meeting place for thousands of people who, every day, go to work in one of the innumerable towers or the Arche de La Défense, stroll on the esplanade to discover the works of that line it or go shopping in one of the two emblematic places of the business district, CNIT and Westfield Les 4 Temps, which welcome more than 63 million visitors a year.

It will take you more than a day to visit the business district, starting from the access to the roof of the Grande Arche which culminates at 110 meters high and which will allow you to have a panoramic view of the streets. of the capital. Once your feet are back on the ground, you can visit Paris La Défense Art Collection which offers free access to more than 60 works from the 20th and 21st centuries and then go stroll in the André Malraux park and its 25 hectares of greenery imagined by the landscape architect Jacques Sgard or admire the view from the Japan Bridge pedestrian walkway.

As lunchtime approaches, go to one of the countless restaurants along your route or, for those who wish to have a quick lunch in the open air, in one of our famous Food Trucks that you will find at the Grande Arche, on Place de la Défense, Bassin de Takis and Cours Valmy. Then, all you have to do is stroll through the Westfield Les 4 Temps shopping center which includes fashion, electronics and multimedia, interior decoration and many more.

You can end your day on the 19th floor of the Meliá hotel, with the panoramic view of the Skyline Lounge Bar, which, thanks to its rooftop concept, allows you to enjoy a selection of cocktails and tapas while admiring the setting sun. All you have to do is go to one of the hotels in the La Défense district, including the Hilton hotel at the foot of the Grande Arche, to recover from this busy day.

The Info Center located in the heart of the business district, near the Agam fountain, the Espace Info Paris La Défense welcomes you to get your bearings and answer your questions. You will find information and documentation on the business district (maps, guides) and you can find out about events, congresses, forums, trade fairs as well as unmissable events such as the jazz festival, Garden Parvis or Urban Week.

Discover each of the buildings that make the reputation of the La Défense business district. Its unique architecture, its unique decor and its skyline extending from the Champs-Élysées and the historic axis.

First architectural shock: when leaving the Grande Arche station in La Défense. Here you are on the pedestrian slab, in front of two emblems of La Défense: the Grande Arche, symbol of the district since its construction in 1989 and the Cnit, with its impressive vault which houses shops and restaurants. Two monuments that make the business district shine around the world.

A source of inspiration and imagination, La Défense attracts the biggest names in 20th century architecture. Signatures from La Défense include Jean-Paul Viguier (architect of Cœur Défense and Majunga), Paul Andreu (who built La Grande Arche based on drawings by Otto von Spreckelsen), Bernard Zehrfuss (father of Cnit), Michel Stenzel (First and Europlaza towers) and Christian de Portzamparc (architect of the Chassagne and Alicante towers, also called Société Générale towers). Designed by the Japanese Kisho Kurokawa, the Pacific building is distinguished by its “Chu-Mon”, a monumental portal evoking the entrance to a room for the tea ceremony.

Culture Space
For sixty years, more than sixty works have joined La Défense. Some signed by prestigious artists – César, Miró, Moretti, Calder – others less known. Frescoes, statues and pools represent the major trends in contemporary art, from abstraction to surrealism, via kinetic art or land art. More recently, Paris La Défense has even become an unmissable meeting place for street art through events such as Urban Week.

Beyond the diversity of currents and forms, a common concern: to improve the living environment of the inhabitants and employees of the business district, to bring to the latter a supplement of art at the same time as a supplement of soul.

More than fifty works of art are located directly in the public space. To (re)discover them, routes indicated by the cartel tiles will guide visitors on the Grand Axis route (double lines) and in connection with that towards the Quartiers routes (single line).

Green Space
Today, the green areas in La Défense represent 11 hectares, or nearly 35% of the pedestrian area. And this is just the beginning. In 2019, Paris La Défense created 3,700 m² of public spaces dominated by plants. This ecological vision does not only concern public spaces. Paris La Défense requires that all new construction projects make room for plants, around or on the roofs of buildings.

A happy neighborhood is a neighborhood that breathes. To be reborn, to garden, to reconnect with nature, with light, with conviviality, whether it helps to fight against heat islands or to embellish everyday life, plants are one of the pillars of the transformation of Paris La Defense.

From the projecteco-district of Les Groues in Nanterre, the creation of a park on the esplanade of La Défense, passing by the suspended promenade of the Rose de Cherbourg, green continues to gain ground in all districts.

Paris La Défense also hosts 3 shared gardens, accessible only to members except during gardening workshops. There are 7 parks, including one of the largest, the Diderot park, with an area of 12,000 m² and a drop of 14 meters. In total, 4,137 trees are cared for and cared for by Paris La Défense teams across the country, including 2,900 in La Défense.

Food Trucks
To the delight of employees and residents, 6 Food Trucks can be found every day at 3 locations in the large business district. On the menu, world cuisine: Thai, Spanish, Italian, Korean, pancakes and galettes, burgers… The Food Trucks have adapted to health constraints and several offer a Click & Collect service.

Territory and strategy
In 60 years, Paris La Défense has become an exceptional territory, with international influence. Today it is the fourth most attractive business district in the world and has become a showcase for the dynamism of the French economy. With 500 companies, 41% of which are of foreign origin, 15 Fortune 500 companies and 180,000 employees, the district offers 3.7 million m² of offices spread over more than 125 buildings and 40,000 m² of coworking spaces. This territory of 564ha extends over four communes of Hauts-de-Seine: Courbevoie, Puteaux, Nanterre and Garenne-Colombes.

The success of the business district should not, however, hide the many challenges it faces: global warming, new global balances, the Covid 19 health crisis and the rise of telework, but also the transformation of lifestyles. It is to better meet the current needs of residents, employees and businesses that the business district has accelerated its transformation and is diversifying. Every day it becomes more of a real living quarter.

Paris La Défense, a local public institution in charge of the development, management, animation and promotion of the territory, has launched an ambitious action plan aimed at ensuring the resilience of the district and its development. Uniting the major players in the territory around a common vision, the establishment acts in a constant logic of cooperation in the service of the territory and the common interest. This is why Paris La Défense has adopted a Purpose in 2021 aimed at making the area the first post-carbon business district on a global scale. Paris La Défense aims to halve the region’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Urban planning
The general layout of the La Défense district was designed according to the principles of the Modern movement between the 1960s and 1980s. The organization of spaces is based on a strict separation of flows. The district revolves around a vast slab bringing together all the pedestrian traffic, while car traffic, deliveries and car parks are located on the outskirts or under the slab.

The designers of the La Défense district have reserved part of the space for apartment buildings to make it a balanced and lively district. The bet is not entirely successful: La Défense, once the employees have left, is a quiet district, cut off from the neighboring towns of Puteaux, Courbevoie and Nanterre by the circular boulevard which surrounds the district. But the situation is changing since the opening of the UGC-Ciné Cité cinema has given a little more life in the evening and on weekends, and work in progress on the flyer is trying to remedy the isolation of the district.

It should be noted that the La Défense district includes a church house, Notre-Dame de Pentecôte, completed inJanuary 2001at the very beginning of the 3rd millennium, and present next to the CNIT, on the esplanade. This place of spirituality of a new kind constitutes, according to the expression of the bishop of Nanterre, Gérard Daucourt, a laboratory for the evangelization of lay and secularized society in France.

The diocese of Nanterre and the house of Notre-Dame-de-Pentecôte Church have transformed the former Jean-XXIII relay into a solidarity restaurant. In this space, located at the foot of the office towers near the EDF tower, a real meeting place has been created between precarious people and employees or residents of the surrounding area. The dining room is open from the November 15, 2021. The mission of the “house of friendship” space is to meet, help and support people on the street, in La Défense.

La Défense slab
The slab of the business district is singularly different from a traditional circulation space. It constitutes a vast public space (30 ha) reserved for the exclusive circulation of pedestrians and emergency vehicles. Oriented along the historical axis and following the natural terrain, it organizes flows and provides access to the sectors and buildings of La Défense. The main axis can be divided into sequences according to the different urban atmospheres created by the building and the layout of the spaces.

Road network
The La Défense road network is the result of work carried out in the 1960s and 1970s by the EPAD. The pre-existing street network has completely disappeared.

Heating network
At the start of 2017, this network still runs on natural gas, heavy fuel oil and it recovers energy from thermo-fridge-pumps. In 2017 Total Marketing France must deliver to Enertherm (a subsidiary of the Idex group) 3,000 tonnes (and 6,000 tonnes in the following years) of a less polluting heavy fuel oil substitute, derived from biomass (called Total Biotech Fuel, to be manufactured in France by Total). Sulfur and nitrogen emissions should then be halved and the installation’s carbon footprint improved. By 2020, this boiler should have halved its fossil fuel consumption.

Public transport
This accessibility by public transport is one of the factors that contributed to the development of the business district. However, the accessibility of La Défense today suffers from the chronic saturation of these lines.

The CNIT, the first milestone of the new district, was built on the edge of the Paris-Saint-Lazare – Versailles-Rive-Droite line. La Défense station was then built on this line, which today passes under the forecourt and the Arche de la Défense. La Défense experienced its first phase of expansion when line A of the Île-de-France RER was inaugurated at the end of 1969: the underground RER station at La Défense, with particularly monumental dimensions, provided the connection with the suburban line; now La Défense is 11 minutes from the center of Parisand residents of the eastern suburbs can reach this new concentration of tertiary employment in half an hour. The station is in zone 3 of the Ile-de-France public transport.

To cope with the growth in traffic, line 1 of the Paris metro, whose terminus was previously at Pont de Neuilly, was extended in 1992 to La Défense, near the SNCF station, but this terminus will be considered to be in an urban area, like all metro stations. The correspondence with the RER A, in the process of saturation, and the Transilien makes it possible to relieve these lines a little, but in turn saturates line 1. An intermediate station, Esplanade de la Défense, serves the east of the slab, near from the Neuilly bridge.

In 1997, line 2 of the tramway, an extension of the old Moulineaux line from Puteaux to La Défense and transformed into a tramway, was inaugurated. Ensuring a dedicated lane service between La Défense and Issy-Val de Seine. The line quickly became a victim of its success and the transition to double trains in 2005 only delayed its saturation a little. It is extended to the Porte de Versailles on November 21, 2009 and to the Pont de Bezons the November 19, 2012, providing a new service to the Faubourg de l’Arche, in the Arche Nord sector of La Défense.

To get to work, bicycles are on the rise. The potential is significant: nearly 30% of employees live less than 30 minutes by bike from the neighborhood. Paris La Défense accompanies the movement by marking cycle links, secure parking, upkeep and maintenance services, but also by strengthening information and signage. The public establishment is also working on the creation of a pedestrian and cycle bridge between Neuilly-sur-Seine and the business district.

One of the objectives of Paris La Défense is to erase the urban divides inherited from the past, often generated by transport infrastructures. Several operations have thus made it possible to reconnect different districts of the site or different municipalities. In 2017, the Jardins de l’Arche promenade created a link between the Parvis de La Défense and the Terrasses de Nanterre. The Trinity operation provides for the construction of a footbridge between the Coupole-Regnault sector and the other neighboring districts of Courbevoie. In the Boieldieu district, the pedestrian link between the footbridge of the requalified terraces and the Place de La Défense pursues the same objective, all in a green environment.

Commissioned in 1971, Boulevard Circulaire de La Défense (30,000 vehicles per day) encircles the business district, cutting it off from its urban fabric. The establishment and the Department of Hauts-de-Seine intend to transform these 4 km of bitumen into an innovative and exemplary urban boulevard. A more welcoming and green space, reconnecting Paris La Défense to Courbevoie and Puteaux.

Located in direct proximity to the center of Paris and less than 3 hours from the main European business districts, Paris La Défense benefits from one of the best public transport networks in the world: 5 lines high-capacity railways and 22 bus lines. The public transport offer will be further expanded in the coming years. From 2022, Paris La Défense will be served by the RER E via the Éole extension. Under the Cnit, the construction of its future underground station is progressing rapidly. A new metro line will appear by 2030 with the arrival of line 15 of the Grand Paris Express, offering connections with line 14 and the future lines 16 and 17 of the Grand Paris Express.

Les Groues
From 2022, the Groues district in Nanterre will begin to give way to a lively district fully integrated into the city and connected to the business district. Long dedicated to industrial and rail activities, this 65 ha territory has begun a radical transformation to become an attractive and accessible place thanks to the arrival of the RER E in 2022 and the Grand Paris Express by 2030.

Committed by the City of Nanterre and Paris La Défense, this metamorphosis provides for the creation of 288,000 m² of housing, 210,500 m² of offices, 79,000 m² of shops, business premises and facilities. The revival of Les Groues is also based on an ambitious environmental strategy. The programming mixes energy efficiency, comfort of the inhabitants and quality of life. The territory has thus just taken a decisive step in obtaining the EcoQuartier government label.

The Groues district also wants to be a territory of experimentation and consultation. Since 2016, a community has been formed around its future, with co-construction workshops bringing together the developer, communities, residents and future users. At the same time, initiatives such as “Vive les Groues” allow all audiences to explore urban transformation through a participatory approach.

Sustainability challenge
A new chapter is opening in the history of the district: Paris La Défense sets a new strategic course for the area and aims to make it the first post-carbon business district on a global scale. Paris La Défense is charting a new path in line with contemporary social, societal and environmental requirements. Through its “raison d’être*”, the establishment wishes to embody the vision of a carbon-free future for the territory and undertakes to halve the territorial greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Building a post-carbon business district requires building and renovating differently and better, in consultation with all stakeholders in regional development. The post-carbon business district must also be a place where we live better together, in terms of the use of spaces, diversity, mobility and even quality of life.

Paris La Défense is part of a logic of exemplarity to promote a general dynamic in favor of this post-carbon movement. The mobilization of all Paris La Défense stakeholders on these environmental issues is necessary to guarantee the implementation of the first post-carbon business district.

The La Défense district was designed at a time when environmental issues were not yet perceived as critical. The gradual emergence since the 1970s of environmental policies, then more generally of sustainable development, has made it necessary to reconsider certain principles of architecture and town planning.

Green revolution
In 2019, more than 8,000 m² of green spaces were added to the landscape of Paris La Défense, bringing the vegetated areas to 37 ha. Today, 35% of the area’s pedestrian space is vegetated. Something to deconstruct the clichés about the omnipresence of concrete! In the years to come, Paris La Défense will intensify this approach with the planting of trees, the creation of new urban parks, shared gardens and the greening of roofs and terraces in new real estate programs. In the business district, nature is gaining ground every day.

Enhance nearly 20,000 m² of surface under slab located under the esplanade: this is the objective that Paris La Défense has set itself through the call for projects launched in early 2019 with architecture and urban planning agencies. Five international teams have been selected to take part in the competitive dialogue. The challenge: to transform this vast unused space, formerly intended for technical and logistical functions, into an authentic living space. Among the spaces to be reclaimed: the emblematic “Cathedral”, with a surface area of 6,000 m² and a ceiling of up to 15 meters! One thing is certain: with this project, Paris La Défense wishes to offer an unprecedented urban experience in Île-de-France.

Paris La Défense has launched a call for projects to upgrade the Seine car park by encouraging environmental initiatives, the circular economy and social integration. Among the projects already under study: an urban farm, an organic waste processing space and logistics spaces.