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Like the look of Paris? Blink! It's about to change

Posting in Cities

"Never again" depends on your definition of "never." Skyscrapers are going up in central Paris, 40 years after Montparnasse Tower (left) led to their banning. Until recently they were quarantined in La Défense district (background).

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Parisians were so appalled the last time someone threw up a skyscraper within the traditional city limits that they banned anything over seven stories tall from ever rising again. Any one wishing to stack floor upon floor was strictly quarantined to the outskirts in a section called La Défense.

That was the 1970s, and the monstrosity was Montparnasse Tower. The running joke about the 690-foot building is that it's the best place to get a view of Paris, because you can't see it when you're atop it. Not long ago, it won second place in an international poll of the world's ugliest buildings.

Double your pleasure. "Duo," a set of leaning towers, will rise on the Left Bank of the Seine.

But rules are meant to be broken - or at least changed.

"Paris is...cautiously allowing skyscrapers back into the city," reports The Atlantic Cities. "After Paris relaxed its laws to allow building heights of up to 180 meters (around 590 feet) three years ago, towers are encroaching once more, and not just in the consistently high-rise Défense finance district."

Many developers believe the decision will help Paris shake an image as a living museum and allow it to compete in a global real estate market where "its offerings are starting to look antiquated and obsolescent," Atlantic Cities notes. Opponents fear a "slippery slope" and a "stealthy attack on Paris' visual identity designed to boost developers profits."

I'm not so sure about stealthy. The 525-foot Palace of Justice going up in the Montmartre section, the 590-foot Tour Triangle under construction near the Eiffel Tower, and two 590-foot tall leaning towers dubbed Duo on the Left Bank of the Seine seem more "in your face" than "stealth."

But whether they're an attack the city, or an asset to it, could be a question that keeps the cafes abuzz with lively discussion. For now, there's an official détente on glass and steel.

Images: Montparnasse is from User:Thbz via Wikimedia. Duo is a screen grab from the Ateliers Jean Nouvel website.

More Parisian heights on SmartPlanet:

— By on September 29, 2013, 8:59 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure