Essential Architecture-  Paris

La Grande Arche


Johann Otto von Spreckelsen


On the Place de la Defense, where it is the pre-eminent landmark, and distantly on axis with the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees. (get off at metro station: La Défense - Grande Arche.)


1982 to 1990




marble cladding


Office Building
  The Grande Arche, La Défense district

The Grande Arche de la Fraternité is a monument in the business district of La Défense to the west of Paris. It is usually known as the Arche de la Défense or simply as La Grande Arche.

An international design competition was launched at the initiative of French president François Mitterrand. Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen (1929-1987) designed the winning entry to be a 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe: a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories. The construction was begun in 1982. After Spreckelsen's death in 1987, his associate, French architect Paul Andreu, completed the work in 1989/90.

The Arche is almost a perfect cube (width: 108m, height: 110m, depth: 112m; it has been suggested that the structure looks like a four dimensional hypercube projected onto the three dimensional world). It has a pre-stressed concrete frame covered with glass and Carrara marble from Italy and was built by the French civil engineering company Bouygues.

The Grande Arche seen from the Arc de Triomphe on the Axe historique
The almost-completed Arche was inaugurated in July 1989, with grand military parades that marked the bicentenary of the French revolution. It completed the line of monuments that forms the Axe historique running through Paris. The Arche is turned at an angle of 6.33° on this axis however, a peculiarity which has been explained by several theories. In particular the architect is said to have wanted to emphasise the depth of the monument, while the specific angle was chosen to create symmetry with the similarly-skewed Louvre at the other end of the Axe. However, it seems the most important reason was mundanely technical. With a métro station, an RER station and a motorway all situated directly underneath the Arche, the angle was the only way to accommodate the structure's giant foundations.

The two sides of the Arche house government offices. The roof section is an exhibition centre. The vertical structure visible in the photograph is the lift scaffolding. Impressive views of Paris are to be had from the lifts taking visitors to the roof.

In 1999 French urban climber Alain "Spiderman" Robert scaled the structure's exterior wall using only his bare hands and feet and with no safety devices of any kind.

In the 2004 film, Godzilla: Final Wars, it is one of the Parisian monuments destroyed by the giant insect Kamacuras.