revised in 1964, it provided for twenty towers, each of twenty-five stories. Developers and the public disagreed over taller buildings, but the mediocre development—someone has described them as “all of the postmodernist ‘could-be-anywhere’ style”—emerged as “a forest of towers” of various heights. Finally, a new monument was built at La Défense “as a counterweight for the Arc de Triomphe”: La Grande Arche—innovative architecture par excellence and a daring technical achievement.

The construction of La Grande Arche was among the more controversial and certainly the grandest of President François Mitterrand’s so-called Grands Projets; initiated at a cost of Fr 15 billion (about U.S.$2.2 billion), the program was intended to build a series of monuments that symbolized France’s central place in the world at the end of the twentieth century. A design competition was held in July 1982, and the 424 entries were reduced to a short list of four for a second stage in April 1983. That was won by the Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen (1929–1987), in collaboration with the civil engineer Erik Reitzel; their scheme was chosen by an international panel of judges for its “purity and strength.” Work began in 1985 in the hope that the building would be completed in 1989 to coincide with the celebration of the bicentenary of the French Revolution. The budget for the project was Fr 2.9 billion (U.S.$420 million). Von Spreckelsen, frustrated by French bureaucracy and dissatisfied with his own design, later withdrew from the project. He died before the building was finished.

La Grande Arche, dedicated to the French concept of Fraternité, is in fact a square arch, a 330,000-ton (300,000-tonne), 352-foot (110-meter), hollowed-out, chamfered cube that houses in its massive legs thirty-five stories of offices, reached by elevators in freestanding transparent shafts. Most offices are occupied by French government ministries, as well as the Fondation des Droits de l’Homme (Human Rights Commission), the World Road Association, and some large private companies. There are also showrooms, a large exhibition hall, and a conference center. The narrower surfaces of the pre-stressed concrete frame building are faced with Italian Carrara marble and gray granite; glass walls facing into the hollow provide daylight to the offices. The imposing structure is rotated very slightly off perpendicular to the grand axis, in order to accommodate the placement of foundation piles. Around its base and under a suspended fabric canopy known as “the Cloud” are fountains and sculptures by famous artists, including Joan Miró.

Further reading

Chaslin, François, and Virginie Picon-Lefebvre. 1989. La Grande Arche de la Défense. Paris: Electa Moniteur.

La Tête Défense. 1990. Arkitektur DK 34 (January/February): the issue.

Vonier, T. 1993. “Critique: Non-Parallel Parking—Two Divergent Approaches to Urban Parks in Paris.” Progressive Architecture 10: 66–71.

Great Pyramid of Cheops

Giza, Egypt

In the western suburbs of modern Cairo, 130 feet above the Nile, stands a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) square artificial rocky plateau called Giza (El-Jizah) by the Arabs. It is the site of three Fourth Dynasty pyramid tombs—Cheops’, Chephren’s, and Mycerinus’s—named by the ancients among the seven wonders of the world. The largest of them, built at the command of Cheops, has been called a “unique monument” because of its internal disposition. While it is clearly part of an evolving architectural type, there is little doubt that in terms of engineering and logistics, this so-called Great Pyramid was a superlative achievement.

Cheops, also known as Khufu (Khnum-Khufwy, “Protected by Khnum”), was the second king of the Fourth Dynasty and reigned from 2589 to 2566 b.c. Although little is known of him, he is believed by some scholars to have been a tyrannical and cruel ruler. Whatever the case, clearly he was able to lead and coordinate, because the building of his tomb involved sophisticated social planning to harness an immense team of workers, both on and off the site, together with all the backup resources needed for such a daunting task. The fifth-century-b.c. Greek historian Herodotus calculated that 100,000 slaves would have taken 30 years to build the Great Pyramid. But it was not constructed by slave labor; rather,