The Esplanade de la Défense is both a landscape figure and a major public space of metropolitan scale. It is located in the extension of an axis materialized during the 17th century by Le Nôtre.
The 8 km long royal axis extended from the center of Paris to its western periphery, connecting over the years the emblematic places of the capital: the Louvre Palace, Carrousel Arch, the Tuileries Garden, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysées, Etoile and the Pont de Neuilly. In the middle of the 20th century, it finally crossed the new business district of La Défense, inscribing its immense slab and its Arch in the geography of Paris.
When the modernist landscape designer Dan Kiley has designed this esplanade in the 1970s, he has formally inscribed it in a tradition, closely linked to the art of French classical gardens. A tradition which he has proposed a modern and powerful reinterpretation. The Esplanade reaffirms the metropolitan axis by updating a vocabulary neglected by French and European landscape architects. Above all, the role of vegetation has reappeared as a tool to enhance and contextualize the urban project on a very large scale.
La Défense district has now reached a maturity, a critical density. The public spaces are being transformed, are alive. The Esplanade is today confronted with the important mutations of the neighborhoods, both in terms of status, and in terms of ecological management and practices of public spaces. Its current layout is sometimes inadequate.
The transformation of the Esplanade de la Défense into a park is a project of great ambition. This intervention offers the opportunity to restore, but also transform, the powerful classical writing of Dan Kiley. It cannot be envisaged without taking a humble and attentive look at the proposals of its author, and without being nourished by his references.
In addition to the perfect mastery of scale and the rational interplay of spaces, the project inherits undeniable qualities, to be preserved, revealed and explored. But beyond this rehabilitation of the spirit of Kiley and in its respect, we imagine a strong evolution of the plant and water presence. It is a question of completely changing the uses, and for that to happen, we must find the appropriate technical solutions, notably in the definition and management of the soils. The infrastructures of the slab allowing to bring substantial and perennial vegetal masses, the notion of full ground can be reinterpreted.
If the writing and the method are rigorous, classical, they are in no way minimalist. The major composition will become the support of a renewed, singular and contemporary plant ensemble. The superposition of a powerful modernist composition with a naturalist vegetation of a rigorous and precise palette, a current way of considering the plant based on nowadays ecological knowledge.
Paris - La Défense
MDP Michel Desvigne Paysagiste (lead consultant)