Recently I have been asked in different circles about the origin and meaning of the Eiffel Tower. We may not deny the interest in such a iron colossus dominating the Champ-de-Mars by the River Seine. Quintessential symbol of Paris and a source of both artistic and architectural discussions. What now I expose is my humble opinion and therefore you can accept it or not. Truth be told.
At mid-nineteenth century a number of personalities begin to focus on the architecture that looks to the future turning away the reigning historicism in the Western world. We could describe it as "Architecture of Engineers" and among its favorite items would be the use of iron as constructive element. Previously The Industrial Revolution of the late Eighteenth Century and the early Nineteenth Century transforms the use of building materials. New technologies allow the emergence of a new aesthetic and typologies in architecture.
Regarding the iron, metallurgical industry develops such that this metal is obteined in large amounts and higher quality and it allows its extensive use as in construction of bridges:
|Iron Bridge, River Severn, Shropshire, England|
To all of this we must add the development of the use of cement and later of reinforced concrete creating structures of buildings, formwork, etc... The use of glass will also have its eruption but at the moment we will not deal with this material.
To raise the Eiffel Tower it took the development of the following changes in production (along with certain economic ups and downs, it is clear) roughly:
- Replacement of traditional techniques by industrial ones. Development of the previous design: the building is broken down into minimum modular units .
- Mass Production: Industrial production of these units through mechanized assembly lines.
- Construction and assembly process for union of these prefabricated parts.
To all these ingredients, we must add a functionalist trend in architecture and the spread of universal exhibitions, shop windows where nations showed their charms.
I can not find a more appropriate analogy. I can only think of the introduction of that series, The Powerpuff Girls, that father who strives to pour into the soup sweets, toysand and "everything nice" and "PUUUMMM" those three imps arise. More or less like this, less saturation and more chemistry came this:
|Eiffel Tower, 1887-1889|
Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889, commemoration of first centenary of French Revolution.
Designer: Maurice Koechlin. Engineer: Gustave Eiffel.
Eiffel Tower was built as a symbol of the Universal Exhibition of 1889. Other buildings were erected for that, but they were demolished after exhibition, unlucky fate that should have been shared by the tower and (Nationalist reasons? Advertising motifs? Economic reasons?) finally did not happen.
It is complete, it doesn't lack any type of covering to conceal his iron structure, precisely because the iron structure is the reason for its existence. Eiffel was a defender of using of new materials and behold his strongest argument, a tower of iron made by assembled modules in the same place of exhibition.
Its main role (although the later history gave to it complex tasks) was a symbol, gateway to the Universal Exposition, as a triumphal arch up to 320 meters high representing the majestic climax of the Nineteenth Century. To be seen and to see Paris. Pure engineering propaganda surviving to itself. Criticized and praised by each other, promoting a new aesthetic that turns away to story.
Perhaps the most daring
idea to judge Eiffel Tower is its relation with
Impressionism. Eiffel Tower is Impressionist architecture.
France was the birthplace of this more or
less revolutionary movement (everyone place the turning
point anywhere) and in 1889 Monet, Caillebotte, Renoir had already
shake bourgeois consciences with their sudden and resolute brushstrokes.
|Picture of Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889|
Impressionism advocates for "plein air". Tripod and oils go out to paint the town, trains, bustle, bars, parties, ports, smoke. Instantly captured glimpses. Eiffel Tower was built in just over two years, meaningless time compared with other contemporary buildings (eg, Victor Emmanuel II Monument, Rome, 1895-1911). In a impressionist painting the canvas weave is not hidden behind because motives expressed don't need strong and opaque colors. Similarly the viewer contemplates Eiffel Tower and his or her gaze goes through it. He or she sees the blue sky or the gray clouds. Air circulates between the structure, between iron. The light alters the view of the monument, as altered Monet vision in front of Rouen Cathedral.
And that basically was Eiffel Tower at the time of construction. Its functions have been varied throughout the twentieth century, culminating in the current economic heart of the french heritage. The Tower undergoes continuous repair works and it is repainted every seven years to prevent deterioration and we can not expect more from what originally was an ambitious project of ephemeral architecture.
John Ruskin must be turning in his grave (you have homework for this week).
|Gustave Eiffel caricature and the Tower|