In 1978 the French government commissioned Dan Kiley to design a half-mile long pedestrian concourse running through La Défense, a business district west of central Paris developed beginning in the 1950s. The resultant esplanade is an aggregate-paved corridor built over a submerged vehicular and rail artery. It extends the Grand Axis, designed by André Le Nôtre in the 17th century as a ceremonial boulevard from the Tuileries Gardens to the River Seine and across to the Grande Arche de la Défense.
Kiley’s Modernist design evokes the rigorous classicism of Le Nôtre’s boulevard. The area acts as both a concourse for pedestrians and a public park. The wide central corridor, lined with concrete benches built into low peripheral walls, is framed by four linear bosques of pollarded London plane trees. The trees are under-planted with cotoneaster, ivy, and vinca - in the early 1990s, small flowering cherry trees were planted among the London planes. At the promenade’s origin, a large pool interspersed with metal poles (an installation by artist Takis created in 1988) frames views over Neuilly, down the Avenue de la Grande Armée to the Arc de Triomphe. The gentle slope towards the Grande Arche in the heart of La Défense is navigated by large terraces and shallow stairs, while the promenade terminates in a large, colorfully-tiled fountain with kinetic jets designed by artist Yaacov Agam. A treeless portico leading to the arch creates a contrast to the shaded promenade.