The Radical Design of Eiffel’s Tower

People are known for their resistance to change, and most find a preference for things that have been around longer, especially in the cities they call home. The Guggenheim Museum in New York was compared to a lavatory basin by Woody Allen, the Louvre Pyramid was referred to as “a scar on the face of Paris,” and a Londoner declared that the Tower Bridge, built in 1886, was “excellently situated for our ugliest public work.” Ouch! But perhaps the loudest protests over an urban construction project unfolded after the proposed centerpiece to the 1889 World’s Fair threatened the familiar horizon of Paris.

Many Parisians didn’t want to share their skyline dominated by the dome of Les Invalides and the towers of Notre Dame with the unusual skeleton-like design of the Eiffel Tower, and hoped that the “giant eyesore” would be torn down in 20 years as originally planned. They were most likely influenced by some of France’s most famous and powerful artists and intellectuals, who in a letter to the newspaper, Les Temps, protested that this “dizzily ridiculous tower dominated Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing all beneath its barbarous mass.” French writer Guy de Maupassant was openly annoyed by the tower but still went to its restaurant every day. When asked why, he said it was because it is the only place in Paris where one cannot see the structure.

IMG_2667Happily we all know that since its completion in 1889, Gustav Eiffel and his tower won over even its most ardent critics. Paris’s beloved monument is an iconic image of modern times, an enduring symbol of Paris and a remains a great source of national pride.

Interested in the history behind the construction of the tower and the 1889 World’s Fair? Then you will love the highly praised book by Jill Jonnes, Eiffel’s Tower.

 

Also fun to read: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Eiffel Tower.

41 Comments

    1. I’m from the Maryland-Washington, D.C.area and have always enjoyed I.M. Pei’s design of the East Wing of the National Gallery, so I was immediately taken with the Pyramid in Paris. However!! I agree, everyone has their own taste. I appreciate your thoughts,
      Elisa

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      1. We spent most of our careers in DC, remember when the East Wing was built, are going back for a visit next week and were intrigued to read they are restoring it — time files when you are having fun, and even when you aren’t.

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  1. It is very interesting to read about the naysayers of some of the world’s now famous structures, and wonderful inspiration for artists to not listen to it. Beautiful photos here too, Elisa. 😀

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    1. Thanks Jet. I recently read a book about the history of the 1889 World’s Fair and the incredible opposition to Eiffel’s Tower, inspiring me to write about it. He was an incredibly successful architect with projects throughout the world – I found the Paris story so fascinating. Take care, Jet!

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  2. Very true. People resist change in all forms. But often grow to love it afterwards. Much of the world’s greatest architecture and infrastructure would not have been built if change wasn’t forced on us.

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  3. My favorite “object” on the Paris skyline is the Sacré-Cœur basilica but I like the Eiffel Tower as well. It makes a perfect counterpoint to the more traditionally beautiful churches and monuments.

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    1. I agree with you, la Sacré-Cœur is a breathtaking sight from almost every vantage point in Paris, as is le Tour. One compliments the other as do the Louvre and the Pyramid. Thank you so much for stopping by, and for the comment.
      Elisa

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  4. How shocking to think Parisians did not want this tower! It is magnificent in design and color! Great informative post, Elisa! I really thank you. I’ve never been to Paris much less see the Eiffel Tower, but perhaps one day!! 🙂 ❤

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    1. I often wonder what it would be like to live in Paris, something that in of itself would be amazing…but to live in Paris with a view of the Eiffel? Truly a dream come true. I would love to hear some Paris tales of visits with your sister!

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    1. Hi Mélanie. I just returned from your post, “Happy Independence Day US of America.” I’m always happy to read interesting pieces on U.S. history. How amazing is it that Gustav Eiffel helped design the interior skeleton of the statue?

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  5. The french are surly. Their new favourite thing to complain about are the love locks on bridges. It’s always something, but given time, it either becomes the norm, or something else comes along to complain about.

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      1. btw, what’s a “true American”?!… 😉 ALL the white Americans have had their roots(origins) over here, in “old Europe”, and identity is very important for everyone, so “the French and France bashing” is kinda bizarre, knowing that without La Fayette’s French army, the USofA would never existed, the US-constitution has been largely inspired by the French one and the architecture of DC was designed by a French architect… 🙂

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    1. Otto, thank you. I had rented the impossibly huge Nikkor 14-24 wide angle lens for this trip, and found it a bit challenging to compose a picture. When they called it a super wide angle, they weren’t kidding!

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  6. Seeing the structural underpinnings of the tower had to be startling. I would similarly equate this to the “industrial” exterior of the Pompidou Center.

    I.M. Pei designed the 16th Street Mall in Denver. It’s a pedestrian mall. Though some like it, the mall is very uninspiring and doesn’t capture the downtown lifestyle. You get a better feel for that lifestyle in LoDo (Lower Downtown in Denver).

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    1. Hello there. I just finished checking out the story behind the 16th street mall in Denver. I agree, although it looks like a nice open space, it doesn’t look as impressive as most of Pei’s work. I noticed that it was designed by Pei and “Partners.” Maybe the partners had more of a hand in this than I.M. Pei. 🙂

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      1. Hey there back. You might be right on the 16th St Mall being more partners than Pei. It opened with much fanfare. It became skid row during the overnight hours a few years later. Then it had a crime problem, which still lingers. Occasionally, there’s been talk about redeveloping the mall, but it all comes back to money.

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