A to Z of Expo Architects: Charles Girault

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Creating magnificent structures for Expos is not only a question of design, it is also one of overcoming obstacles, building under various constraints, and pushing boundaries in the use of innovative techniques and approaches. This is notably the case for Charles Girault, who took on the hefty task of coordinating three separate designs in order to build an enchanting palace of fine arts – the Grand Palais - for Expo 1900 Paris.

With its impressive glass nave rising between the Champs-Elysées and the Seine River, the Grand Palais was built following a long selection process in which it was decided to combine the three winning entries by Henri-Adolphe Deglane, Albert Louvet and Albert Thomas. Charles Girault was given the responsibility of overseeing and supervising the mammoth project – and reconciling the designs of all architects involved.

Construction of the edifice was achieved in only three years, with Girault overseeing the task of epic proportions, including over 9,000 tonnes of steel (more than the Eiffel Tower!), a one-kilometre façade and a glass roof covering 17,500m2, creating the largest nave in Europe. The effort required more than 1,500 workers on the site, aided by the latest construction technologies such as steam-powered cranes and reinforced concrete.

In addition to the impressive task of overseeing the construction of the Grand Palais, Girault also designed and built its smaller neighbour, the Petit Palais, which exhibited works from French artists.

Both of Girault’s structures went on to serve Paris following the end of Expo 1900 – the Petit Palais as a museum of art, and the Grand Palais as a multi-function exhibition hall. Set to be entirely renovated from late 2020, the new Grand Palais will restore the structure to its original state, with its lighting, walkways and décor all to reflect its initial design.

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