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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Eiffel Tower

Gustave's Tower, the tallest thing in Paris.
Koechlin's first conceptual drawing,
1884. Notice his stacking of other 
Paris landmarks at right for height
Did you know that Gustave Eiffel did not design the Eiffel Tower? I didn't. Although his company, was responsible for the design and the construction, the tower itself is merely named for him. The creative "head work" was done by three employees of Eiffel's engineering enterprise (below),  Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, later with the help of the firm's architectural department and  Stephen Sauvestre, who added various decorative touches, essentially, "humanizing" the engineering marvel. Built as the entrance centerpiece for the Exposition Universelle de 1889, and rising to a then record height of 1,063 feet (324 metres), it took from the Washington Monument the record as the tallest structure in the world. It was a record held for 41 years until the completion of the New York's Chrysler Building in 1930. Today over 250-million visitors have visited the most recognizable structure in the world.
Émile Nouguier,                  Maurice Koechlin,                       Stephen Sauvestre
Paris past and future,
conservatives and
progressives have always
been a fact of life in every
modern society. 
Such acceptance didn't come easily. Gustave Eiffel himself was said to have been lukewarm, at best, when presented the initial drawings (above, left), though he did sanction additional developmental work. The art intelligentsia of Paris were far less accepting. They hated the thing. Led by artists and achitects Adolphe Bouguereau, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet, they presented a petition:
“We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigour and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower…imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour de Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years…we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”
The Eiffel Tower rises, 1887-89
The Paris cartoonist were
not kind.
Tell us how you really feel, boys! The "twenty years" refers to the fact that the Eiffel tower was originally intended to be a temporary structure. Imagine the art guys' outrage if they knew it would stand against their precious Paris skyline for at least the next 125 years. What the Paris art establishment came face-to-face with was the "future" boldly confronting the past. Even in Paris today, no building is allowed to rise above seven stories without a special (and rare) zoning variance. This law dates from before the time of elevators. Thus, to conservative Parisian eyes, the tower stood out like a sore thumb. However, Parisians adjust, just as they did to I.M. Pei's big glass pyramid in the hallowed courtyard of their Louvre. Eiffel countered criticism by emphasizing the pride the city would (should?) feel in the soaring symbolism of his proposed landmark, comparing it to the Egyptian pyramids (which suggests he had something more than twenty years longevity in mind).

The 1889 Paris World's Fair (as seen from this balloon photo)
came and went. Gustave Eiffel's tower stayed.
The Eiffel Tower was the star
of the show.
Twenty years came and went. The people of Paris came to love their "soaring thumb" and by 1909, the French government came to the realization the tower would make a pretty decent base for a radio antenna so any thoughts of dismantling it were postponed indefinitely. That was fortunate in that just five years later, a jamming radio transmitter atop the tower was responsible for disrupting German military communications to such an extent it, proved to be a major factor in the Allied victory in the First Battle of the Marne. During the next war, the tower was saved only because a German officer disobeyed Hitler's order to demolish the symbol of French National pride. In more recent years, daredevils have parachuted from the tower (one to his death) planes have flown beneath its arches, diners have paid exorbitant prices to dine at its restaurants, and on Bastile Day (July 14th) the tower becomes a pyromaniac's dream come true.

Las Vegas' Paris Hotel sports a scaled-down version of the Eiffel Tower
King's Island's "amusing" Eiffel Tower
Ironically, the structure the Parisians welcomed with some reluctance has become the subject of what we might call "tower envy." In the mid-1960s, the city of Montreal secretly negotiated a deal with then French President Charles De Gaulle to dismantle and move the Eiffel Tower to Canada to become the centerpiece for that country's Expo-67 World's Fair. The plan fell thru when the company operating the tower vetoed the deal out of fear the French goverment might not allow it to be rebuilt. Today, Las Vegas has an Eiffel Tower replica. Ohio's King's Island Amusement Park has a rather "clunky" looking version. Elsewhere in the world, cities such as Seattle, Montreal, Singapore, New York, Chicago, St. Louis all have "skyscraping" Eiffel Tower wannabes, which have long since surpassed Eiffel's creation in height, if not its graceful engineering beauty.

Even in 1889, Pointillist
George Seurat found the
Eiffel tower worthy of his efforts
The Eiffel Tower design lends itself to
all manner of souvenirs.


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