In the La Défense district of Paris, the Grande Arche building was renovated in 2017 and the place is proving to be a great playground for an architectural photographer.

With a very spectacular skyline of skyscrapers at the edge of the Seine and a huge esplanade on several levels, it is pleasant to be able to stroll quietly (before the return of the tourists) to carry out its shots.

This article is a pretext to publish some of my post-confinement and post-repair photographs of the Great Arch of Defense. This is the first part of a series dedicated to the architecture of the La Défense district in Paris.

In Paris, a nice cube on the terrace

Deserted restaurant terrace in front of the Grande Arche

Among the buildings of various styles that make up the La Défense district, at the end of an immense raised slab, a white cube hollowed out like a frame and whose perimeter is decorated with glass and stone.

The architect, this unknown

Many of the towers and buildings surrounding the esplanade were made by fabrics of famous architects but the most iconic construction of the neighborhood remains “La Grande Arche“, unique masterpiece of an unknown architect Danish.

Photographic entanglement of architectures in Paris La Défense
Where is the Big Arch?

The architect Johan Otto von Spreckelsen had been awarded at an international competition in 1982, under the chairmanship of François Mitterrand, for the creation of an architectural work ending the perspective of the historic axis Louvre – Champs Elysees – Arc de Triomphe.

Close up on windows inside the construction of the Grande Arche

The architect at the heart of the defense

Winning the competition against already renowned architects such as Jean-Paul Viguier, Jean-François Jodry or Jean Nouvel, this artist architect was rather novice for such a project since he had only realized a few churches before
Unfortunately, he will never see the end of construction of his cube.

View of the façade inside the Grande Arche

Upset by the political procrastination surrounding the project and by the technical difficulties encountered for the realization of his building at the top of the esplanade of La Défense, Otto Von Spreckelsen will abandon the site during construction.
He died in 1987 without seeing his work completed, leaving the French architect Paul Andreu, who died in 2018, to complete the building for their respective posterity.

Multiples reflets dans les vitrages recouvrant la Grande Arche de la Défense

A very famous cube

Many very good professional photographers have passed through the La Défense district and the difficulty is to distinguish oneself and try to bring a new stone to the edifice of Parisian architectural photography without suffering too much from the comparison.

Sculpture in front of the Grande Arche in Paris la Défense

To photograph The Great Arch of Defense as a whole is to take a picture of the large part of emptiness that constitutes it and to solve a small geometric equation because Von Spreckelsen’s work is 6.5° out of alignment with the skyscrapers on the axis of the Champs Élysées.

Brutalist shot of the skyscrapers of the La Défense district in Paris

This slight shift in the alignment is very visible since when we are facing La Défense we always see slightly one side of the building!
This is a bit unusual in architecture and more generally for a city drawn in a straight line.
The explanation would come from a difficulty in building the foundations linked to the existing underground infrastructures and the consequent choice to align the Grande Arche with the position of the Louvre pyramid.

In architectural photography, we often pay a lot of attention to vertical and horizontal alignments and compositions but we take pleasure in making an exception for the Grande Arche.

For this report, I preferred to shoot with a square format to keep a visual coherence with the shape of the building.

The neighborhood always under construction

After the renovation of the Grande Arche in 2017 which consisted for the most visible part of the outside to replace the original white marble with white granite from Vermont in the USA, the now AMERI-CUBE remains surrounded by cranes and construction sites that reflect the dynamism of one of the first European business district.

Construction crane above the CNIT and in front of the Grande Arche de la Défense

Stories of sculptures

This high stage of the Hauts-de-Seine is also a real open pit museum exhibiting works of art, guitaries as many sculptures exhibited on the defense’s forecourt.
On the following photos, we find, always associated with the ark, the inch of the French artist César and the Utsurohi work of Miyawaki Aiko.

The sculptural finger of the French artist César in the large arch cube
Can a photographer afford to put a finger in the cube hole ?

Deconfined on the move

As is often the case after an architectural shoot, I take some time to look at the life around me.

Deconfined and masked humans on the steps of the Grande Arche

And in these times of deconfinement, we encounter many masked humanoids walking, walking… and some walking up the steps of the Ark.

Passants devant les marches de la Grande Arche