PARIS: : Over the past two decades, as successive French governments poured money into renovating the Louvre and building new museums, an opera house and a national library in Paris, lovers of orchestral music here grew resentful.
Even with the vocal backing of the conductor and composer Pierre Boulez, their insistent calls for construction of a state-of-the-art concert hall went unheeded.
Now, just weeks before President Jacques Chirac leaves office, their impatience has been rewarded with the unveiling of an eye-catching design by the French architect Jean Nouvel for a $260 million concert hall.
The Philharmonie de Paris, as it will be called, is scheduled to open in the Parc de la Villette in northeast Paris in 2012.
The aluminum-clad building, which in a model, drawings and computer-generated images resembles a mound of loosely stacked plates topped by a sail 52 meters, or 170 feet, high, will have a 2,400-place auditorium designed in what experts call a "vineyard" style, with the audience seated on all sides of the orchestra on multilevel "terraces."
Once completed, if its acoustics are applauded, the Philharmonie could rank alongside the Berlin Philharmonic's hall, Vienna's Musikverein and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw among Europe's best concert halls. It will have the Orchestre de Paris as its resident orchestra and will receive other leading orchestras.
Politics rather than culture, however, were behind the decision to place the new hall in La Villette. In the early 1980s, reacting against the concentration of cultural institutions in central Paris, the French government, then led by the Socialists, decided to turn an outlying zone once crowded with slaughterhouses into a new cultural district within easy reach of low-income suburbs to the east.
As a result, La Villette today boasts a science museum, the national conservatory, a rock concert hall, a large exhibition space and the Cité de la Musique, or Music City, with its own 1,200-seat concert hall and music museum.
But one problem remained. Even now, the French and Paris city governments, which are jointly financing the Philharmonie, are aware that many middle-class music lovers are reluctant to trek to the outskirts of Paris. And resistance may have grown since the Salle Pleyel, an 80-year-old concert hall in the heart of the city, was recently renovated.
To give an extra buzz to La Villette, it was considered vital for the Philharmonie to stand out as an architectural monument.
Government officials said that Christian de Portzamparc, the French architect and 1994 Pritzker prizewinner who designed the much-acclaimed Cité de la Musique, had long assumed that he would be commissioned to build the new hall. But, they said, European Union rules required a fresh competition.
Early this year, from among 98 architectural firms submitting bids, six were invited to present detailed proposals. Last week, a 24-member jury that included the French culture minister and the mayor of Paris picked Nouvel's design over those of Portzamparc, Francis Soler, Zaha Hadid, the Vienna-based firm Coop Himmelb(l)au and the Dutch firm MvRdV.
Nouvel, 61, already has two major Paris buildings to his name - the Institut du Monde Arabe, completed in 1987, and the Musée du Quai Branly, which opened last June. He has also been chosen to build the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, part of a $1.3 billion agreement between France and the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
On the Philharmonie, he will be working with the Australian acoustician Marshall Day, associated with Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics in Japan.
While the design of the building's exterior was limited only by a maximum height and the size of the parcel, acoustics played a role in defining strict requirements for its auditorium, notably that no member of the audience should be more than 30 meters from the conductor.