La Défense & the Athens Charter, a 20th Century Utopia

If La Défense manages to be both so modern and so classical, it’s because the Business District goes by the rational of an utopian city as founf in the Athens Charter.

While the whole world praises ornements and Déco, the 4th Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne ends in 1933 on a ship going from Marseilles to Athens. Urban planners and architects established Functionalism and the functional City by signing the Athens Charter and prepare, with the guidance of Le Corbusier, the city planning rational that will prevail during the most part of the 20th century. Of course, the Charter detail towers, but also most of the principle of the Functional City, such as the separation of neighborhoods by functions -work, dwelling, entertainment- and most of all the absolute separation between cars and pedestrians.

Built during the 60s and 70s, La Defense is the child of this Athens Charter. And one of the only succesful children. Probably because 80 of workers use the public transportation system and the entertainments, including France’s largest mall, drags people there all year round, the separation between pedestrians on the concrete slab and transportations ( railroads, metro, parking lots, highways) under it is not as unpleasant as it is in other places where the Charter was implemented. For example, the Front de Seine, built in the70s with Slab Urbanism and the same principles if a fine instance of what could have happened in la Défense, and if today we’re talking millions of Euro to destroy this Slab, la Défense can still be proud of her Functionalist legacy and becomes a rather convincing example of the Athens Charter in the world, like Brasilia.

Today, the Athens Charter is considered obsolete and has been replaced by the Aalborg Charter in 1994, which focuses on human feelings and sustainable development, challenging la Défense in a serious way… Yet so far la Défense is taking up all these challenges one by one with success !

Luckily, La Defense is located 10 minutes walking from the Home in La Defense apartments, so this nice urbanistic example of the Athens Charter is right around the corner.