First conceived in 1958, this Modernist suburb just west of Paris was inspired by Le Corbusier's dream of high-rise buildings, pedestrian walkways, and sunken vehicle circulation. Built as an experiment to keep high-rises out of the historic downtown, the Parisian business hub has survived economic uncertainty to become the city's prime financial district. Visiting La Défense gives you a crash course in contemporary skyscraper evolution, from the solid blocks of the 1960s and '70s to the curvy fins of the '90s and beyond. Today 20,000 people live in the suburb, but 180,000 people work here, and many more come to shop in its enormous mall. Arriving via métro Line 1, you'll get a view of the Seine, then emerge at a pedestrian plaza studded with some great public art, including César's giant thumb, Joan Miró's colorful figures, and one of Calder's great red "stabiles." The Grande Arche de La Défense dominates the area: it was designed as a controversial closure to the historic axis
of Paris (an imaginary line that runs through the Arc de Triomphe, the Arc du Carrousel, and the Louvre Pyramide). Glass-bubble elevators in a metal-frame tower whisk you a heart-jolting 360 feet to the viewing platform. At the end of June, La Defense hosts an annual weeklong jazz festival with free concerts and events; click www.ladefense.fr and follow the links to the festival for further information.