A leading contender to become Paris mayor has proposed demolishing the imposing Tour Montparnasse, long derided as a blight on the French capital's historic skyline.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the mayoral hopeful for the centre-right UMP party, has described the 210-metre (690-foot) tower as an "urban catastrophe" and promised to begin steps to tear it down.
"I have started discussions with experts and certain stakeholders about the future of the Tour Montparnasse," Kosciusko-Morizet told newspaper Le Figaro.
"I find that there are more and more of them who want to explore the possibility of demolition," she said.
Kosciusko-Morizet said the tower, plagued by repeated discoveries of asbestos, also represents a clear "health problem". The proposal was met with disbelief by main rival Anne Hidalgo of the Socialists, who dismissed it as unworkable.
"What nonsense – really!" Hidalgo told Europe 1 radio. "How can you advocate the destruction of a tower that doesn't belong to you?" Hidalgo admitted the tower is hardly an
architectural gem but said it did have some heritage value.
"It is a building that, while clearly not of great beauty, still represents the urban planning of the 1970s," she said.
Polls have shown the UMP and Socialists neck-and-neck in the first round of elections for Paris city hall next month, but the Socialists are expected to pull ahead in the second round after smaller parties are eliminated.
Completed in 1973, the Tour Montparnasse is one of only a handful of skyscrapers within Paris city limits.
It mainly hosts offices and is known for its panoramic views, which attract about a million tourists a year. But the bare monolithic tower has often been criticized as out of place in Paris's famed urban landscape, characterized by mainly six-storey buildings overlooking tree-lined avenues.
An oft-repeated joke describes the view from its top as the most beautiful in Paris — because it is the only spot from which the tower itself cannot be seen.
The frequent discoveries of asbestos – an insulator that can cause respiratory diseases after long exposure – have added to its woes, with Paris police last summer threatening to evacuate the building's some 5,000 workers.
Controversy over the tower led Paris city planners to limit the height of new buildings to 37 metres (121 feet), banishing skyscrapers to nearby suburbs like the La Defense business district.