From Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia to Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s Guggenheim, criticism is known to follow every structure that was built ahead of its time, with a vision beyond people’s imagination. To sustain these strong voices that attack the very existence of the structure is what creates its legacy through time. The Eiffel Tower, built to be a temporary structure that would be dismantled within 2 decades of its completion, has now completed more than 130 years and is celebrated as one of the world’s most iconic structures. It is the perfect example of a monument that triumphed over its critics and rose to become the tallest man-made structure of its time.
The Industrial Revolution was a time of great growth and France often hosted expositions with countries from around the world showcasing its latest technologies and inventions. It was the World Fair held in 1889 that inaugurated ‘The Eiffel Tower’ as a Spectacular Symbol to celebrate 100 years of the French Revolution and to display their Industrial capabilities.
But the design and execution of this structure did not come without its adversities. Gustave Eiffel, a Railroad Engineer known for building many railroad bridges under difficult circumstances, hired Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier as chief engineers who were responsible for the initial sketches of the tower. Inspired by the Latting Observatory in New York, Gustave described his vision as a great Pylon that came together as it rose but stood on four giant lattice girders at its base that would be connected with multiple metal trusses at intervals. Unsatisfied with the initial outcome, Eiffel enlisted Architect Stephen Sauvestre to modify the design and eventually bought out the rights to the patented drawings which he approved off.
After much scrutiny from the French Government regarding the design and methods to make this massive structure possible. The proposal was accepted and signed in January 1887.
This 7000 ton Iron structure was assembled with 18,038 pieces of Iron held with 2.5 million rivets. It could be compared to a railroad bridge standing upright and this very industrial look was the reason for its varied criticism. Several French Aesthetes condemned it and wrote a petition called, “Artists against the Eiffel Tower” denouncing it to be a Useless and Monstrous tower that would cast a shadow over their sophisticated monuments like the Notre Dame, Louvre, and Arc de Triomphe.
During its early stages of construction, the tower received numerous harsh comments that were published openly to destroy and discourage its completion. It was called a “Belfry Skeleton”, “A Tragic Street Lamp” and “A deformed iron Gymnasium Apparatus”.
French Novelist and Art Critic Joris Karl Huysmans described it to be a “Half-built factory pipe, a carcass waiting to be fleshed out with freestone and brick, A funnel-shaped grill and a hole-riddled suppository”, while short story writer, Guy de Maupassant called it a “High and skinny pyramid of ladders shaped like a factory chimney”.
Gustave Eiffel was forced to come to his towers defense when the comments refused to subside. He compared its grandiose to that of the pyramids of Egypt and claimed that it would serve science greatly due to its height for observations and experiments in fields like Physics, Meteorology, and Astronomy. The defense may not have had its impact then but the Eiffel Tower is used to broadcast television throughout Paris even today. During World War 1, it helped Paris attain its first victory as the allied forces by jamming the German radio communications due to the radio transmitter installed high on the tower. It was used as the highest advertising tower in the world at that time and used to make low-resolution television transmissions using short waves transmitters.
The Criticism on the Eiffel tower reduced as it neared completion. It was easier for the French to visualize this masterpiece as it stood in front of them. While most critics changed their minds, some like De Maupassant stood firm on his opinions. He often said that he would have lunch in the tower’s restaurant every day because it was the only place in Paris where he did not see the tower.
Another reason for the tower’s criticism arose from the fear that it would fall, as railroad bridges had a history of collapsing, and building a 300m tower was then considered to be an Engineering and Architectural Marvel. The completion and smooth construction period of an astonishing 2 years, 2 months, and 5 days renewed their trust in the structure and convinced them that The Eiffel Tower would truly bring Glory to their city and country. It not only dethroned America’s Washington Monument as the world’s tallest man-made structure but also maintained its title for 41 years till the Chrysler Building in New York had been completed.
The failure of these protests against the Eiffel tower is now used to defend other eccentric buildings like I.M Pei‘s Glass Pyramid for the Louvre Museum and the Montparnasse Tower.
It reminds the critics to keep an open mind about art while encouraging artists to believe in their visions.
The Eiffel Tower that was built to be a temporary structure is now one of the most visited monuments in the world. 35 million dollars was spent to rehabilitate it with modern elevator systems and lighting technology that enhances its beauty and attracts more tourists every year. The tower that was once censured by the French for having an identity of its own now stands in glory as a symbol of France.