120th Anniversary of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower under construction, 1878

Built between 1887 and 1889 by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower has since become the most recognizable landmark (and the most visited) in the world. For its size, the tower is amazingly light — its mass is less than the mass of the air contained in a cylinder of the same size. For its time, the system for joining the metal girders together was truly innovative, and was inspired by the design ideas of a Romanian engineer named Gheorghe Panculescu.

Eiffel Tower Girders, 1889

The shape of the tower was dictated purely by mathematics, and the primary design goal was wind resistance. Eiffel and the other engineers wanted to make sure it could withstand strong winds, being at the time the tallest building in the world. Being a very tall building, made almost entirely of metal, it’s also a very large lightning rod, which attracts amazing lightning bolts, as you can see in this photo from 1902.

Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower, 1902

Also interesting is the use of the tower as a radio antenna. Over time, antennas were mounted to the tower, or the tower itself was used as a large antenna for radio communications. In 1910, the first cosmic rays were observed with the aid of the tower by Father Theodore Wulf. Nowadays, 9 radio and TV stations broadcast content with the aid of the tower.

This year, the French celebrated the tower’s 120th anniversary on Bastille Day. A concert by Johnny Hallyday was held at night, while fireworks blazed forth from the tower. It was an amazing lightshow, captured fittingly by Alta Media Productions and Toys Prophet, two Vimeo users. You can see their videos below. Taken from different vantage points, one focuses on the Paris nightscape and the tower lightshow, while the other captures the interaction of people with the evening’s events.

Eiffel Tower on Fire from Alta Media Productions on Vimeo.

-SPEED OF LIGHT- ….. ESSAI N°5.1 from toys prophet on Vimeo.

I haven’t yet visited the Eiffel Tower, and I look forward to doing it someday. It’s a structure unlike any other. When you think of it in the context of architectural design, it fits into no category. Its design is pure engineering, with no allowances for the niceties of normal architecture. Sure, it’s been adapted for human use over time, and you can even eat there now, but these are all add-ons, insignificant to the initial design goals. It didn’t fit within the times when it was made, in spite of some of the Victorial wrought iron work it faintly resembles, and it still doesn’t fit within any normal design constraints today, even in post-modernist times. And yet it has become a symbol of architectural design, of Paris, and of French culture, odd as it may be. If nothing else, Gustave Eiffel had serious guts to undertake such a work and to withstand all of the criticism leveled at him during and after the construction of the tower. He was right all along.

Eiffel Tower by briandeadly on Flickr.
Eiffel Tower by briandeadly on Flickr

Historic photos of the Eiffel Tower used here are public domain, obtained courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.