EIFFEL TOWERconstruction and design
controversies during planning and construction
subsequent popular success
Measuring 300.5 meters (986 feet) in height and weighing in at 6,300 metric tons (7,000 tons), the Eiffel Tower is the most famous landmark in France. It was constructed during the period from 1887 to 1889 by the French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923), whose name the monument has always borne. The tower was originally intended to serve as the gigantic entrance gate for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, but it quickly took on a life of its own. It is built on a large open field known as the Champ-de-Mars located in the seventh arrondissement in Paris. In shape, the tower consists of a base of about 10,300 square meters (2.54 acres) at ground level and a tapered vertical column. It is constructed entirely of perforated steel and cast iron, which gives it a vast, scaffold-like appearance. To soften its harsh metallic effect, Eiffel selectively adorned his creation with ornamental latticework in the French manner. The tower has three levels, each accessible by elevator. The first level includes a rectangular promenade with restaurants and souvenir shops, and the second originally housed editorial offices of the well-known newspaper Le Figaro. The third level contains Eiffel's private apartment and a tiny observation deck.
The Eiffel family owned one of the most successful iron-building companies in France. Since the 1860s, Gustave Eiffelhad a career designing and constructing metalbridges, viaducts, and railroad stationsin France and elsewhere. He is also remembered for his construction of the interior metal scaffolding of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The Eiffel Tower—or Eiffel's Tower, as it was first known—is now widely regarded as a masterpiece of modern design and construction. In sheer technical terms, Eiffel's achievement was astonishing: no structure of it skind had ever been attempted, and all calculations had to be accurate to one-tenth of a millimeter. Several prominent scientists maintained at the time that it was technically impossible to build such a tall structure. Likewise, construction workers had never worked at this height. Upon completion, the nearly 1,000-foot tower became the tallest building in the world, a distinction it retained for nearly forty years. (It was topped only in 1930 by the Chrysler Building in New York City.)
Contemporaries regarded the Eiffel Tower as above all "modern." It was constructed of metal, a human-made material associated with the Industrial Revolution, rather than wood or stone. Its impressive verticality overcame space and gravity. Unlike the Gothic cathedrals and Egyptian pyramids it was inevitably compared with, the tower was built quickly, in just two years, rather than over generations. It was designed not by an architect but a civil engineer. Unlike certain other major modern engineering projects—for example, the Panama Canal and Brooklyn Bridge—only a single worker lost his life in the Eiffel Tower's construction. Its observation deck, located a quarter mile up in the sky, provided an unprecedented bird's-eye view down onto the French capital, which had recently been extensively modernized by Baron Georges Haussmann, the powerful prefect of the Seine during the 1850s and 1860s. The tower also boasted a number of modern scientific and technological appurtenances, including elevators, a weather station, and, later, a radio antenna from which the first overseas broadcast from Paris was beamed to Casablanca, Morocco, in 1907. Not least of all, visitors to the exposition in 1889 were dazzled by powerful electric lights that radiated down from the tower and illuminated the fair and the city. At the end of the nineteenth century, the tower seemed the perfect spectacle of modernity.
Although now a beloved symbol of French national identity, the Eiffel Tower was conceived and constructed in a controversial ideological context. During the last third of the nineteenth century, French governments mounted a major international exhibition every eleven years. The 1889 fair was special, however, in that it also celebrated the centennial of the 1789 Revolution. The Third Republic, France's first stable and sustained exercise in parliamentary democracy, was eighteen years old at the time. The Republic traced its historical and ideological lineage back to the First French Republic of the 1790s. Royalists and Bonapartists on the political Right were not enthusiastic about the exposition and its most prominent building. The revolutionary tricolor flag flew from the tower's summit. Unlike other Parisian landmarks, such as Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Palace, and the Arc de Triomphe, the tower did not incarnate the ideologies of Catholicism, or monarchy, or national military greatness. Rather,
it celebrated the spirit of science and technology, a spirit that underpinned the secular positivism of the Third Republic. In the French culture wars of the fin de siècle, it was often contrasted to the Sacré-Coeur basilica, which overlooked the city from the neighborhood of Montmartre and had been constructed a decade earlier by Catholic conservatives to atone for alleged national sins.
In the planning stages, there was also outspoken opposition to the tower on artistic grounds. Eiffel's bold and brilliant creation represented an entirely new aesthetic. "A tall, skinny pyramid of iron ladders," "this giant and disgraceful skeleton," "a hollow chandelier," and "a vertiginously ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black, gigantic, factory chimney"—these were among the descriptions used to denigrate the architectural plan. Other critics bemoaned the tower as pointless and nonutilitarian. Local inhabitants feared that it would collapse. Still others wondered if visitors would be able to breathe the rarefied atmosphere at the summit. The controversy hardened into formal opposition with the organization of the Committee of Three Hundred. Signatories of a petition to block construction included artistic personalities such as the architect Charles Garnier, the painter J.-L.-E. Meissonier, the poet Sully Prudhomme, and the novelist Alexandre Dumas. Most interesting was the charge that Eiffel's industrial style was "un-French," which seemed to mean that it did not draw on the national heritages of classical, Gothic, or baroque architecture. Many critics sincerely believed that the tower's construction would be an ugly commercial desecration of their beloved city.
Despite public protests, Eiffel's vision was realized; inevitably it quickly became and remained a great popular success. The tower was the principal attraction at the 1889 exposition. Admirers labeled it "the eighth wonder of the world." Many viewers quickly came to see the tower as a monument to a great French tradition of structural engineering, which had been launched by Napoleon I at the beginning of the century with the founding of the École Polytechnique. Like his contemporaries Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie, Eiffel himself became a cultural hero of science. During the 1890s, new debates ensued: Could a great work of architecture be constructed in metal? Should the tower be regarded as a work of art or science or both? Ought the building to be preserved or dismantled after the exposition, as was originally intended? Ironically, by the early twentieth century, the tower was being memorialized tenderly by avant-garde painters, such as Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, and Robert Delaunay. "Eiffelomania" set in, and all manner of memorabilia were marketed.
By the 1920s, the Eiffel Tower was being dwarfed by American skyscrapers as the preeminent symbol of architectural modernism. The tower, however, was in fact a significant inspiration for these later constructions: it was after all the first high-rise steel-frame structure, and developers and architects quickly conceived the idea of building horizontal floors on such a vertical structural frame. Eiffel's "symphony in iron" remains the symbol of the French capital across the world. During the 2000 millennium celebrations, the French government chose a fireworks display at the tower as the national image to broadcast around the world, and in the wake of the New York City terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the tower was the first nongovernmental building to be secured in France.
Barthes, Roland. "The Eiffel Tower." In his The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, 3–17. Translated by Richard Howard. New York, 1979.
Evenson, Norma. Paris: A Century of Change, 1878–1978. New Haven, Conn., 1979.
Harriss, Joseph. The Tallest Tower: Eiffel and the Belle Epoque. Boston, 1975.
Hervé, Lucien. The Eiffel Tower. New York, 2003. Includes photographs by Hervé, with an introduction by Barry Bergdoll.
Levin, Miriam R. When the Eiffel Tower Was New: French Visions of Progress at the Centennial of the Revolution. South Hadley, Mass., 1989.
Loyrette, Henri. Gustave Eiffel. Translated by Rachel and Susan Gomme. New York, 1985.
——. "The Eiffel Tower." In Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past. Vol. 3, 349–371. Edited by Pierre Nora. English-language edition edited by Lawrence D. Kritzman and translated by Arthur Goldhammer. New York, 1998.
Sagan, Françoise, and Winnie Denker. The Eiffel Tower: A Centenary Celebration, 1889–1989. New York, 1989.
Mark S. Micale
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel
The French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) is best known for the Eiffel Tower, which he built in Paris in 1889.
Born in Dijon, Gustave Eiffel studied at the École Polytechnique and the École Centrale in Paris. He designed numerous bridges, the first in 1858 in Bordeaux, viaducts, and exhibition buildings; the ultimate in exhibition architecture came in 1889, when he built his famous tower in Paris. Throughout his life he was concerned with innovative structures and especially with the effects of wind loading on plane surfaces. He built an air tunnel in his laboratory at Auteuil for experimental purposes.
Eiffel's most famous bridge, the Maria Pia over the Douro at Oporto, Portugal (1876), spans 500 feet by a single arch, 200 feet above high-water level, which with additional side pylons supports the horizontal superstructure. Also during that year Eiffel collaborated with the architect. L.A. Boileau the Younger on the Bon Marché Department Store in Paris, the first glass and cast iron department store. A glass wall along all three street facades, with circular pavilions at the corners, enclosed a store comprising open courts covered by skylights to an extent of 30,000 square feet. Slender columns supported balconies, bridges, and the glazed roof. The store still stands, although it has a masonry skin added in the 1920s.
Eiffel's Garabit viaduct over the Truyère near Ruines, France, is 1,625 feet long and 400 feet high and has a central span of 210 feet. Other works by Eiffel include a revolving cupola for the Nice Observatory, and the structure that supports F.A. Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty in New York City (1886).
An associate engineer on the Garabit viaduct, Maurice Koechlin, encouraged Eiffel in his design for the Paris exhibition tower of 1889. It was the factory-made components, fitted together on the site for the viaduct, that made the 984-foot-high Eiffel Tower possible.
Each of the 12,000 different component parts of the tower was designed to counteract wind pressures, and 2,500,000 rivets were used to create a continuous structure. Four main piers, each with a slight curve, anchored to separate foundations incorporated elevators; two acted on a combined principle of pistons and chains, and the two American Otis elevators acted on a hydraulic piston system. Other hydraulic elevator systems linked the first level to the second one and the second level to the third.
Jean Prévost, Eiffel (1929), the only monograph on Eiffel, is brief and in French. Two publications in English on the Eiffel Tower are Gaston Tissandier, The Eiffel Tower (1889), and Robert M. Vogel, Elevator Systems of the Eiffel Tower, 1889 (1961). Siegfried Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition (1941; 5th ed. 1967), connects Eiffel with the development of structural techniques of the 19th century. □