Again. Zoom in… One of the city’s landmarks, the Victor Hugo Tower

Again.  Zoom in… One of the city’s landmarks, the Victor Hugo Tower

New section “Zoom…” in partnership with CAUE. Built at the end of the 1960s by architect Georges Vito, the Victor Hugo Tower is the tallest building in Agen. The approximately 50-metre-high “skyscraper” houses residences, shops and offices.

The Victor Hugo Tower is a landmark in the center of the city, criticized or appreciated, isolated and in no way connected to the nearby urban fabric, leaving no one indifferent. The site chosen for the construction of the tower, at the intersection of Cours Victor-Hugo and Boulevard du Président-Carnot, was previously occupied by the former municipal baths – neglected since the opening of the municipal stadium – and a building. Demolition of these two buildings began in 1966. The initial project, which was very expensive due to the presence of a second basement, was modified. The announcement of the opening of the construction site was made on December 20, 1966.

The “bathtub island” was reshaped into a triangle to accommodate the tower. Foundation work will continue for several months. In January 1968, the construction reached the sixth floor level, and the work was announced completed on February 17, 1970. Its cost at that time amounted to 52,699,868 francs.

Height, a symbol of prestige

As with Le Floréal, built by the same architect a few years earlier, the Victor Hugo Tower clearly distinguishes between businesses on the base levels and homes on the upper floors. This prestigious operation is financed by a private developer, the Société Anonyme Cooperative de Construction Famille de l’Agenais (Sacofa) and entrusted to Georges Vito, an architect from Condezaygues, a graduate of the Private School of Architecture in Paris. We are also indebted to him: the city of Lyon Bloom in Agen, the residence of Le Floreal, the city of La Salve and the districts of Montano, Rodrigues among the group of architects, and complexes throughout the Lot and the Garonne. It will also shine later in the Cote d’Azur region, among individual villas, group housing, and the city of Algerian returnees in Nice. But for the Victor Hugo Tower, it was personally commissioned by Marcel Verdier, first deputy mayor Pierre Bommardé, and prefect Louis Verdier, a prominent figure.

This state representative wanted a tower that reached into the sky, the breaking point of this horizontal city. The neighborhood was in the process of being formed. It was necessary to rebuild and this senior government official had the idea of ​​a modern tower in America where the first skyscrapers began to be built at the end of the 19th century.

Scratch the sky

At that time, the towers of all major cities were built: in Paris, as of 1961, the Tour de Crolibard (Albert Tower) by Albert Boileau and Labourdet was built in the 13th arrondissement of Paris; The Montparnasse Tower, which began work on in 1968. Agen wanted his own tower! It would symbolize modernity.

Its three-headed architecture and height above all bear witness to the pre-oil crisis era with its very distinctive aesthetic of the years 65-75. “I proposed a triple star on the plan, with one of the branches pressed to give a certain elegance to the building. This shape fits perfectly into the land in question, requiring this precise configuration. There was a certain logic to this project, with facades overlooking both Boulevard Carnot and Corse Victor Hugo and a main entrance oriented towards Gaén. She imagined glass curtain walls, a new technology of blue-tinted glass manufactured by a company from La Rochelle. She proposed a special coating that included designs that “enliven the facades and hide the expansion joints,” George Vito recounted in 2019 in the columns of La Dépêche du Midi¹ The Y-shaped building occupies a floor area of ​​840 square metres. It rises over fifteen floors placed on a raised plinth. Originally planned as ten floors, the Victor Hugo Tower gained five floors under the leadership of Governor Verger .

Functional diversity model

Of the building’s nine facades, three are made of solid concrete panels, and the other six are made of glass. The horizontal bays form a repeating grid and soften the verticality of the whole.

These glass curtain walls allow light to penetrate deep into the building and create a wide panorama on every level. In the south wing, loggias replace the bays. Commercial buildings are installed in two basement levels. The northern wing is dedicated to offices.

Originally, the first floor housed the Chamber of Commerce. The Lot-et-Garonnais architect Philippe Maraud had his first offices there. Each of the 28 apartments, ranging in size from 50 sqm to 140 sqm, is equipped with all the modern improvements of the time: elevator, concierge, basement garages, large windows along the entire length… An underground parking lot has been dug into the building The only basement preserved.

At the end of the 1960s, the tower displayed ostentatious luxury. There was money, and concerns about sobriety were not yet on the minds of designers or entrepreneurs.

On gender identity

If the Victor Hugo Tower seems a bit outdated today, it brings together all real estate watchers in Agen: its apartments always meet demand. They are rare in the city center, they are expensive and do not pass through many agencies. On the other hand, the third wing, dedicated to offices, no longer seems adapted to the workflow of the day… Through its height and the separation it forms with the surrounding building, the Victor Hugo Tower symbolized modernity in the heart of the city at the time of its construction. Today it takes on its full dimension: unique, it is part of the heritage and architectural identity of the city, it is a work that must be respected, and even more so if there are connections…

1. Georges Vito, the architect who invented the Victor Hugo Tower, La Evade du Midi April 21, 2019. He died in 2020 at the age of 96.

Any tricks needed?

If the architectural formula of the tower in Agen is not renewed, to respond to the demographic growth and extreme densification of cities, the tower, which already exists, is necessarily called upon to redesign the urban skyline of tomorrow. Building high to avoid creep is a no-brainer. The challenge remains to adapt its construction to the requirements of sustainable development, make it an open space for the city and create a “vertical” community within its walls.

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