Why Paris will no longer grow beyond 37 m in height

Why Paris will no longer grow beyond 37 m in height
Why Paris will no longer grow beyond 37 m in height
  • A new local urban plan is put to the vote of the municipal council in Paris on Monday, after months of negotiations which have divided the majority.
  • The compromise found records the end of large buildings 50 or more than 100 meters high, but extends the possibilities of raising buildings in the streets by more than 12 meters, to create social housing there.
  • This new PLU will promote the transformation of buildings rather than construction. “We can, for the duration of a PLU, enthusiastically consider a city project that takes the already-there as its primary resource, and which for all that profoundly changes the city”, rejoices the architect Jacques Ferrier.

This is an old debate, which is taking a radical turn. With the new local urban plan, which must be voted on Monday by the Council of Paris, the city will limit the height of buildings that can be built. While the current regulations authorize constructions of up to 180 m on the outskirts of the city, no new project can now exceed 37 m. It is in a way a page that is definitively turned on the era of large high-rise projects, launched by the former urban planning assistant Jean-Louis Missika, with the highly contested Triangle Tower, 180 meters in height, as its emblem. , work on which began in 2022.

The challenge was located on the outskirts, and in particular in the neighborhoods of Bruneseau (13th arrondissement of Paris) and Bercy-Charenton (12th arrondissement of Paris), where large towers had once been considered. Because in the center of Paris, the limit has long been 31 m, even 25 or 18 m “If we look back in history, Paris has never really used height to create its density. The city is capped everywhere at the same height, there are very few intramural towers”, relativizes with 20 minutes Franck Boutté, who runs an environmental engineering workshop and received the Grand Prix de l’urbanisme in 2022.

In dark ornage, the height limit of 37 meters imposed in Paris under the new PLU. – Paris City Hall

The maximum height of 37 meters authorized in places dates back to the 1970s, a time when building was rampant. In 2010, new regulations pierced this ceiling, authorizing residential towers of a maximum of 50 meters and office towers up to 180 meters in height, in places. “We said to ourselves that Paris was old-fashioned, that we had to do big towers, in a context of competition with the City [londonienne]and while the Strauss-Kahnian socialist left dominates, ”explains Emile Meunier, elected ecologist who fought for this new PLU.

Additions for housing

If the new text marks the end of tall buildings – a “180 degree turn” according to Bernard Landau, honorary architect voyer of the City of Paris – it nevertheless authorizes more elevations than before, for streets whose width is greater than 12 meters, within the limit of 37 meters in height and for building housing only. “From the moment when we prohibit almost any construction on the ground, we have to do housing, and our track is the transformation of the building”, explains Emile Meunier, who thinks that these elevations will be done sparingly and accompanied by ecological constraints. , since according to ecologists the elevations may be conditional on the improvement of the environmental qualities of the building.

“This will make a few thousand more dwellings”, adds Jacques Baudrier, deputy in charge of the ecological transition of buildings and construction, who estimates that these elevations could concern 1% of Parisian buildings. “We did not fight to go beyond 37 meters in height because it seemed more important to us to be able to raise, that is a lot more housing”, adds the communist deputy, for whom the production of social housing is a priority of priorities.

Are tall buildings less green?

Possible elevations but a limited height, this is the compromise found by the majority, which made it possible to bring everyone together. The environmental group had been asking for years that the height be limited, a real “obsession” for their detractors, which has ecological reasons, according to Emile Meunier. The consultations carried out by the environmental group would show that above 30 m, it would be more complicated to make bioclimatic architecture. At this height, explains the elected representative, “you consume a lot more energy both in the design of the building and in its life as a building. The higher a building is, the more people and fluids are moved and the surface in contact with the air is also greater”.


A conception shared by Bernard Landau, who affirms that “very tall buildings consume more energy, their carbon footprint is less good”. But not by everyone. “Tall buildings involve more material and require greater energy consumption to raise and lower fluids, people… But to be more fair, we should compare comparable objects: if we compare a building 60 m high compared to a 30 m building, obviously more material is needed for the 60 m building, but in fact it must be compared to two 30 m buildings, and then from the point of view of the footprint, or infrastructure necessary for the supply of these objects for example, we understand that the comparison is complicated”, considers Franck Boutté, for whom “there are a lot of fantasies on the question of height” and “no scientific study serious about it.”

Other reasons explain the choice of ecologists. “Paris is already full as an egg, it is out of the question to densify it, Parisians can’t take it anymore. It is the densest city in Europe from the point of view of people and buildings, you have to know how to say stop. We have to stop making square meters at all costs,” says Emile Meunier. A conception shared by Christine Nedelec, president of France Nature Environnement Paris, who believes that “it is an aberration to want to pile people in the same places”.

A “transformation PLU”

European cities, faced with the imperatives of the climate crisis, will they still grow in height? Some, like Bernard Landau, believe that this is not their future, both for heritage and ecological reasons. Others, like Franck Boutté, do not agree, considering it essential in a city like Paris to free up open ground, on very densely occupied ground, with very little free space. “If we want to free the soil and allow plants to take root without losing density, ideally we should go up”, thinks the engineer.

A speech that appears as purely “theoretical” to Jacques Baudrier, who refuses to demolish buildings and evict people. Since, according to him, we can neither destroy nor build, but it is still essential to produce housing in a city where the essential is built, the executive has therefore noted that the new PLU would be above all a “PLU of transformation”, as summed up by Emmanuel Grégoire. “Today construction will be the exception, the transformation the rule. We will not destroy any more, because we will lose too many square meters, ”abounds Emile Meunier, while a rule provides that each plot above 150 m2 must include up to 65% of open ground on the ground. “We have created an incentive to transform the existing”, rejoices the elected ecologist, who says he is “proud of the work done collectively”.

A prospect that also delights the architect Jacques Ferrier, who sent us this comment about the new PLU: “In hyper-dense urban centers like Paris, let’s be daring: let’s not build anymore! One can, for the duration of a PLU, envision with enthusiasm a city project which takes the already-there as its primary resource, and which for all that profoundly changes the city. Far from seeing this as a limit to creativity, on the contrary, I see it as an opportunity to step aside and free ourselves from the tyranny of the always new. »

Aude Lorriaux



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