The Eiffel Tower: A Critical Moment in Architectural History

Yes, the Eiffel Tower is a famous landmark in its own right, a must-see tourist destination. But the 1889 structure is also a critical moment in the history of architecture and engineering, fitting in nicely with our very own Eads Bridge and Wainwright Building.

First of all, the Eiffel Tower is actually most likely iron, not steel (we’re still trying to figure out how much actual steel is used in the Eads Bridge versus wrought iron). Gustave Eiffel was foremost a bridge builder, and he had been building bridges for years before constructing the tower that was to be the entrance to the Paris Exposition in 1889. First comes the Eads Bridge in 1876, then the Firth of Forth Bridge in 1882–which I saw in 2013–and then the Eiffel Tower.

Hey, they have all the proper permits for the renovation going on; sorry about all the netting in the way in my photos.

Eiffel’s design was so revolutionary and so strong that people at the time could not believe it, so he added the conservative arches on the first segment. If you look above and below, you can see the fan-like curves are not really doing anything structurally but are purely ornamental. The four legs, sitting on those four stout stones bases are supporting themselves.

The Eiffel Tower proves that masonry stone walls are now obsolete, and that structures are now free to rise as tall as wrought iron (well, really steel) is able to rise. Walls in buildings now exist only to keep the weather out and for the comfort of the occupants, and windows are free to become even larger, just in time for improved plate glass window production in the Nineteenth Century.

The corbels below are purely ornamental–and in fact, all ornament that once perhaps served a structural purpose is now extraneous, presaging Modernism.

The tower was meant to be temporary, like most buildings at world’s fairs, but the structure became so beloved that it has remained.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Yoji says:

    Hey Chris ~ Great work as always. Wanted to give you a dinner rec before you leave Paris. Bouillon Racine, at 3 Rue Racine (Metro Cluny/La Sorbonne). Ask to eat “en haut,” upstairs, on the second story. You’ll see why. (Rue Racine runs just north of the Jardin de Luxembourg, between the Boul St. Michel and the Rue de l’Odeon. Bouillon Racine is really close to the St. Michel end of the street, on the south side of the street. It’s one of the oldest, longest-running restaurants in Paris…)

    1. cnaffziger says:

      Thanks for the recommendation!

      1. Yoji says:

        Holler if you’d like any more. Don’t want to annoy!

        ~ Y

        1. cnaffziger says:

          I will! I am planning on going back in a few years.

  2. Yoji says:

    PS ~
    The shots of Père Lachaise are beautiful. But no Wilde?!
    ~ Y

    1. cnaffziger says:

      I wanted to visit his grave, but it started raining too hard! And I wanted to leave some things to visit next time!

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