from Engineering, The Paris Exhibition, May 3, 1889 (Vol. XLVII
The problem of the Galerie des machines at the 1889 Paris International Exposition: iron or steel?
Heather Seneff, May 2008 The Galerie des machines was the largest single-span structure in the world when it was built for the Worldâ€™s Fair on the Champ de Mars in Paris in 1889. Designed by Ferdinand Dutert, a Beaux-Arts trained architect, and the engineer Victor Contamin, the building was so vast (spanning 364 ft) it made some visitors to the exhibition hall uneasy. The Galerie was entered through a Grand Vestibule, a domed structure also designed by Dutert. The Galerie was reused in the exhibition of 1900 (with its interior altered by a huge internal rotunda called the Salle des Fetes), and was destroyed in 190910. Its companion in the 1889 Exposition, the Eiffel Tower, fared better, and remains on the Paris skyline today. Controversy: iron or steel? The Galerie des machines was designed to be constructed in steel. The use of steel for construction of bridges and other large-scale spans began after Henry Bessemer patented a new means of manufacturing steel in 1855. The process made the mass-production of steel possible, and it evolved and improved through the nineteenth century, though steel remained a more expensive product than iron until the close of the century.
Construction details, from Engineering, The Paris Exhibition, May 3, 1889 (Vol. XLVII)
Iron was the metal used in large-scale construction before the development of the Bessemer process. The Eiffel Tower, for example, is constructed of iron. More specifically, it is constructed of “wrought iron,” rather than “cast iron.” (Cast iron, developed in the 15th century, is too brittle to be used in large scale construction.) A puddling iron process was developed in the late eighteenth century (one of several attempts to remove charcoal from wrought iron); bars of iron could be created from balls of puddle iron passed though a rolling mill. Architectural and engineering history books and articles give conflicting information about the construction material used for the Galerie des machines. Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman, for example, in their survey book Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism (1986) specifically mention the use of steel as reason for the disconcerting thinness of the beams in the Galerie.1 The 1987 edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s History of Architecture also describes it as steel.2
Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman, Architecture, from prehistory to post-modernism: the western tradition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall and New York: H.N. Abrams, 1986), 484. 2 John Musgrove, Sir Banister Fletcher, Sir Banister Fletcher's A history of architecture (London: Butterworths, 1987).
Stuart Durant in his monograph Palais des machines: Ferdinand Dutert (1994) consistently describes the structure as steel. He suggests that the trusses of the Galerie were hinged to compensate for expansion and contraction of the steel during temperature changes.3 An essay by Angus Low, an engineer, is included in Durant’s monograph; A Structural Appraisal claims that the 111 meter span “was made possible by the use of steel, a new material at that time….” 4 Durant’s monograph mentions no controversy about the material used in the building. However, Kenneth Frampton in his 1983 Modern Architecture: 1851-1945, describes the Galerie des machines as “…glass covering a clean space… held in place by 10-foot-deep, wrought-iron lattice arches; steel at that date being extremely expensive.”5 Leonardo Benevolo describes the Galerie’s columns as being built in iron and sheet-metal in his History of Modern Architecture, Volume I (1977). The Oxford University Press’ Oxford Art Online also describes the Galerie des machines as iron in its article about Ferdinand Dutert. The bibliography for the article cites only contemporary sources (from 1889 and 1891). Barry Bergdoll in European Architecture 1750-1890 credits the Galerie as “the broadest span yet achieved in iron construction…”6 Wolfgang Friebe describes the structure as iron in his 1985 Buildings of the World Exhibitions. He quotes from Jurgen Joedicke’s Geschichte der modernen Architektur (1958) that the Galerie was the “climax of all endeavors in the field of iron construction in the nineteenth century.”7 Friebe also cites Christian Schadlich’s 1967 work Das Eisen in der Architektur des 19. Jahrhunderts and his description of the building as iron.8 Claude Mignot describes the Galerie as “iron-and-steel architecture” 9 in his 1984 book Architecture of the Nineteenth Century in Europe, a tactful but uncommitted stance on the materials controversy that surrounds the lost building.
Stuart Durant, Palais des machines : Ferdinand Dutert (London: Phaidon, 1994), 21. Durant, 56. 5 Kenneth Frampton and Yukio Futagawa, Modern architecture, 1851-1945 (New York: Rizzoli, 1983), 58. 6 Barry Bergdoll, European Architecture: 1750-1890 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 270. 7 Wolfgang Friebe, Buildings of the World Exhibitions (Liepzig: Edition Liepzig, 1985), 92. 8 Friebe, 94. 9 Claude Mignot, Architecture of the Nineteenth Century in Europe (New York: Rizzoli, 1984), 193. 4
Volume 10 of Studies in the History of Civil Engineering: Structural Iron and Steel 1850-1900 includes a chapter by John W. Stamper, “The Galerie des Machines of the 1889 Paris world’s fair.” In it, Stamper claims that The principal material of the building’s structure was to have been steel, but the decision was made at the last minute to use iron instead. There is considerable confusion about this on the part of architectural historians, most of whom assume it was built of steel since that is what is mentioned by contemporary journalists before the opening of the fair. William Watson, an American engineer who wrote a thorough report on the fair after it closed10 states that the idea of using steel was abandoned “on the two-fold ground of expense and the necessity of hastening the execution of work.” The price of iron was about two-thirds that of steel in 1889… 11
Construction details: two methods of erecting the roof by the two construction companies, from Engineering, The Paris Exhibition, May 3, 1889 (Vol. XLVII)
Stamper cites William Watson in Paris Universal Exposition, 1889, Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture (Washington, DC, 1892), 834. 11 John W. Stamper, “The Galerie des machines of the 1889 Paris world’s fair” in Structural iron and steel, 1850-1900, edited by Robert Thorne, 261-284, (Aldershot, Hampshire, Great Britain: Ashgate/Variorum, c2000), 268.
The language problem In French, the word for iron is “fer” and the word for steel is “acier.” Steelwork is “partie métallique.” Ironwork is “ferronnerie.” “Siderurgique” is used both for “iron and steel industry” and for “steel industry.” This ambiguity of terms may have contributed to the confusion over the years about the material used in constructing the Galerie des machines.
Erection of the great truss girders. Method used by Cail & Co. (one of two methods used to erect the trusses). View of the girders and the erecting scaffolding. from Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture, 1892
The original sources The May 3, 1889 issue of Engineering (“An Illustrated Weekly Journal”) was devoted entirely to the Paris Exhibition. Published in London, the periodical gives great detail about the finances, planning, and construction of the buildings and exhibits; it refers entirely to “iron” and “ironwork” when discussing the Galerie des machines, the Fine Arts and Liberal Arts Building, the Eiffel Tower, and other exhibit halls. The cost of the “ironwork” in the Galerie is reported as 215,932 pounds.12
“The Paris Exhibition,” Engineering, (London : Office for Advertisements and Publication, May 3, 1889 [Vol. XLVII]), 460.
In 1989, a centennial exhibition celebrating the 1889 Exposition was held in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It was organized by the French Reunion des musees nationaux with the participation of the National Archives. The catalog of the exhibition 1889: La Tour Eiffel et l’exposition universelle includes a chapter on the Galerie des machines, written by Marie-Laure Crosnier-Leconte, based on documents from the national archives and on contemporary publications. Crosnier-Leconte includes quotations from the original documentation of the preparations for the 1889 Exposition. Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand (18171891), Director of Public Works of Paris, oversaw the Paris expositions of 1867, 1878, and 1889, and his correspondence is frequently quoted in the chapter. The cost of materials in constructing the exposition buildings was of great concern to Alphand.13 He judged that the cost of using steel in the construction of the Galerie would be seven times more expensive than iron, 14 and he resolved in April of 1887 that the steel would be replaced with iron in the construction. Extensive new tests and calculations were necessary for the change in material.15 William Watson’s publication of 1892, Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture, assigns a cost of 5,398,307.25 francs16 to the ironwork of the Galerie. “Chapter XLVI: The Machinery Hall” in this publication includes many references to the use of iron in the building, quoting extensively from journals of 1889, including the May 3, 1889 issue of Engineering and “Galignani’s Messenger, July 1889.”17
Marie-Laure Crosnier-Leconte, “La Galerie des machines” in 1889 La Tour Eiffel et L’Exposition Universelle, Musee d’Orsay, May 16- August 15, 1989 [exhibition catalog], 164-195 (Paris: Editions de la Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 1989). 14 Crosnier-Leconte, 195, note 31 (“Le faconnage de l'acier coutait encore environ sept fois plus cher que celui de fer, car les trous pour la pose des rivets devaient etre fores et non poinconnes…” Nouvelles Annales de la Construction aout 1889, col.119). 15 Crosnier-Leconte, 172. (“Alphand dut se resoudre a remplacer l'acier par du fer, quitte a alourdir les fermes. La nouvelle adjudication, le 25 avril 1887, fut, cette fois, publique. La substitution du fer a l'acier ne rendait guere l'enterprise plus attractive, le delai restant tres court pour un construction qui exigeait de longues etudes et un montage difficile.” 16 William Watson, Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture (Washington: Government Printing office, 1892), 833. 17 Watson, 833.
Watson quotes extensively from the latter publication, which notes Had steel been used, the framework would have been much lighter than it is, but the idea of resorting to it was abandoned on the two-fold ground of expense and the necessity of hastening the execution of the work. Those who believed that iron was ill adapted to the requirements of art as applied to industry have been agreeably surprised by the happy results achieved by M. Dutert…”18
In the acknowledgements at the end of chapter on the Machinery Hall, William Watson cites “M. Contamin, chief engineer of the building, for valuable assistance and information.”19 He continues: The original plans and descriptions of Machinery Hall were published by M. Grosclaude, M. Contamin’s assistant, but were considerably modified (iron substituted for steel) before the structure was erected. M. Grosclaude was kind enough to correct his plans and descriptions published in Le Genie Civil and also furnish me with new drawings of the main girder and its details. 20
Erection of the great truss girders. Method used by Cail & Co. (one of two methods used to erect the trusses). One of the upper platforms of the rolling scaffolding. from Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture, 1892
Conclusion 18 19 20
Watson, 834. Watson, 863.
John Stamper’s comment in Studies in the History of Civil Engineering: Structural Iron and Steel 1850-1900 is correct that there has been “considerable confusion”21 about the structural material used in the famous Galerie de machines at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Contributing to this confusion are the conflicting accounts of journalists before the construction of the building, during its planning stage, when Dutert envisioned a steel structure, and the very language used to describe the metals used in construction. Adolphe Alphand’s correspondence in his role as Director of Works of the exhibition can be considered part of the definitive answer to the question, however. Contemporary sources concur that the Galerie, like the Eiffel Tower, was constructed of iron. William Watson’s consultations with Victor Contamin himself for his extensive description of the Galerie are conclusive evidence of the material of the structure as well. If the Galerie had indeed been constructed with steel, the contemporary sources would undoubtedly have celebrated the novelty of the material, and contrasted it with the iron Eiffel Tower (which was excoriated in the contemporary press by many architects, artists, and historians of the time 22). The two 1889 exposition buildings, Galerie des machines –- spanning the broadest interior space of its time -- and the Tower – the tallest structure of its time --, can indeed be considered the “climax of all endeavors in the field of iron construction in the nineteenth century.”23
Stamper, 268. Watson, 832. “And during twenty years we shall see, stretching over the entire city, still thrilling with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see stretching out like a black blot the odious shadow of the odious column built up of riveted iron plates.” Signers of this letter included Messonier, Gounod, Garnier, Gerome, Bougeureau, and Dumas. 23 Bergdoll, 270. 22
Interior of the Galerie des machines, from Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture, 1892
Bibliography Banister Fletcher, Sir; John Musgrove. Sir Banister Fletcher's A history of architecture. London: Butterworths, 1987. Benevolo, Leonardo. History of modern architecture Vol 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977. Bergdoll, Barry. European Architecture: 1750-1890. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Crosnier-Leconte, Marie-Laure. “La Galerie des machines” in 1889 La Tour Eiffel et L’Exposition Universelle, Musee d’Orsay, May 16- August 15, 1989 [exhibition catalog], 164195. Paris: Editions de la Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 1989. Durant, Stuart. Palais des machines : Ferdinand Dutert. London: Phaidon, 1994.
Engineering. The Paris Exhibition, May 3, 1889 (Vol. XLVII). London : Office for Advertisements and Publication. Frampton, Kenneth and Yukio Futagawa. Modern architecture, 1851-1945. New York : Rizzoli, 1983. Friebe, Wolfgang. Buildings of the World Exhibitions. Liepzig: Edition Liepzig, 1985. Midant, Jean-Paul. "Dutert, Charles-Louis-Ferdinand." Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T024294 (accessed May 12, 2008). Mignot, Claude. Architecture of the Nineteenth Century in Europe. New York: Rizzoli, 1984. Stamper, John W. “The Galerie des machines of the 1889 Paris world’s fair” in Structural iron and steel, 1850-1900, edited by Robert Thorne, 261-284. Aldershot, Hampshire, Great Britain: Ashgate/Variorum, c2000. Trachtenberg, Marvin and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture, from prehistory to postmodernism : the western tradition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall and New York: H.N. Abrams, 1986. Watson, William. Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture. Washington [DC], Government Printing Office, 1892.
Essay on the construction material used in the Galerie des Machines