La Défense / Zone B (1953-91): Light and Shadows of the French Welfare State


  • Pierre Chabard



Planned as early as 1958 by the Etablissement Public d’Aménagement de La Défense (EPAD, the first such agency in France), the business district of La Défense is a typical urban result of the French version of the welfare state: centralism, modernism, alliance between public and private elites. But with its vertical skyline, this district – called Zone A – constitutes only a small part of the operational sector of the EPAD; the other part, Zone B, coincides with the northern part of the city of Nanterre.

In the shadows of the crystalline skyscrapers of La Défense, Zone B was not only a kind of ‘back-office’ of the business district, but also an urban laboratory for public housing ‘paved with good intentions’. From the slab projects of Le Corbusier and his epigones to the urban compositions of postmodern architects, along the proliferating textures of Jacques Kalisz, or the humanized ‘grands ensembles’ of Emile Aillaud, the many EPAD projects for Zone B, built or not, constitute a complete collection that documents the evolution of the ‘architecture urbaine’ from the mid 1950s to the turn of the 1990s.

Author Biography

Pierre Chabard

Pierre Chabard, architect, historian and critic, took a PhD in urban history from the University of Paris VIII (2008). Lecturer at several institutions in Paris (EHESS, ESA, ENSAPB, ENSAPLV), he is a professor in architectural history and theory at the School of Architecture of Marnela-Vallée (Université Paris-Est) and leads the research team ‘Observatory of the suburban condition’. He is a founding editor of the architectural review Criticat (