A to Z of Expo Architects: Gustave Eiffel

A to Z of Expo Architects: Gustave Eiffel

His most famous creation having just turned 130 years old, it is only natural that Gustave Eiffel occupies the “E” spot in the Expo Architecture series. Undoubtedly the most recognisable and the tallest Expo structure ever created, the Eiffel Tower – built for World Expo 1889 Paris – is not only an icon for Paris and France, it is also a symbol for World Expos.

The idea behind the Tower was first floated by Expo Organisers, who wanted a 300-metre tall welcome tower to greet visitors to the event which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French revolution. Among 107 proposals submitted, it was Gustave Eiffel’s innovative wrought-iron lattice design, developed by engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, that was finally selected. The structure’s final design was concluded after contributions by architect Stephen Sauvestre, who added the iconic arches to its base.

Construction of the Tower was a mammoth task, lasting 22 months and requiring up to 300 workers on site on a given day. The structure’s 15,000 pieces were prepared and partly assembled in nearby Levallois, and put together using an impressive 2.5 million rivets. For Eiffel and his team of engineers, the challenge of erecting the tallest structure in the world was compounded by the proximity to the Seine river – forcing teams to use watertight caisson in the construction of the foundations.

Inaugurated on 31 March 1889 – over a month before the opening of the Expo – the Eiffel Tower transformed the landscape of Paris, sparking amazement as well as disdain among Parisians. The critics, who included some of France’s leading cultural figures of the time, eventually fell silent as visitors queued up, day after day, to ascend the mighty structure. By the end of the Expo, almost 2 million people had visited Gustave Eiffel’s most famous creation.

Initially planned to stand for 20 years (the duration of Eiffel’s permit), the popularity of the Tower – as well as its use for meteorological observations and as a communications mast – led to the City of Paris keeping it in place. In terms of architecture and engineering, the Eiffel Tower’s impact went far beyond Paris: it symbolised the technological progress of the era, marked the pinnacle of iron architecture, and set the pace for the skyscraper frenzy that would follow in the 20th century. Its status as the world’s tallest structure lasted for 41 years, being finally overtaken by the Chrysler Building in 1930.

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