Meghan McDermott
Robert A.M. Stern Architects, New York City

Technological advances have enabled the design of taller and more environmentally responsible buildings—but if designs exclude the broader life of the city, they fail on a basic level. It’s not enough for buildings to just be machines for working, they must possess a level of engagement that enhances the pedestrian experience at the street-level. Furthermore, urban fabric damaged by ill-conceived buildings must be repaired to re-establish broken pedestrian connections. Only a commitment to responsible design will prevent tall buildings from becoming vertical versions of suburban corporate office parks—exclusive, inward-facing microcosms that contribute little to their cities. The socially responsible and sustainable design of Tour Carpe Diem, a building ahead of its time, is an invaluable case study for addressing these critical issues.

Completed in 2013, Tour Carpe Diem was the first building at La Défense to reconnect the raised esplanade to the surrounding city with a new public plaza and a grand public stair. The building exceeds French and international green building certification standards; solar heating, energy recovery, and grey-water use are just a few sustainable design features in addition to innovative energy resources. Natural ventilation was strongly considered until concerns about automobile exhaust were raised—ultimately, the building was designed to retain the possibility of reverting to natural ventilation with the proliferation of electric cars. As cities grow greener and denser, buildings like Tour Carpe Diem will continue to offer important lessons on integration, sustainability, and repairing the urban fabric.