ARTE – SATURDAY 18 – 8:50 p.m. – DOCUMENTARY
Always higher. During the 19th centurye century, in a race for gigantism which combines artistic ambitions, technical prowess and political aims, the great industrial powers seem obsessed with the idea of building the highest monument in the world. The dream of British, French or American architects and engineers? Build a tower that would reach 1,000 feet, in other words 300 meters high.
On the occasion of the centenary of the death of Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), Mathieu Schwartz and Savin Yeatman-Eiffel, great-great-grandson of the famous engineer, have produced a fascinating documentary. Initially focused on the duel between Gustave Eiffel and the architect Jules Bourdais (1835-1915) for the construction of this 300-meter tower on the occasion of the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889, the directors broadened their field of action for the multiple European and American projects that were aborted or saw the light of day during a period of intense change.
Often, the reconstructed scenes inserted in documentaries prove ineffective. This is not the case here, thanks to the quality of the casting and the clarity of the words: Marc Citti (Gustave Eiffel) and François Rabette (Julien Bourdais) play fair and illuminate the complexity of the debates. The quality of the photographic archives, the graphic animations and the specialists interviewed (architects, historians, engineers, biographers) does the rest.
Before Paris offered the world the Eiffel Tower in 1889, many projects attempted to see the light of day. But from the Reform Tower in 1832 in London to the Centennial Tower in Philadelphia in 1876, no gigantic tower could be built, due to lack of funding or other problems. In February 1885, the tallest building on the planet was none other than the obelisk in Washington, built of stone and reaching 169 meters.
Republic and modernity
On May 31, 1884, the French government officially announced the holding of a Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889 to celebrate the centenary of the Revolution. The opportunity is ideal to assert the power of the Republic and its modernity. “We want to show with this exhibition the link between scientific and technological development of the Republic and the great principles of 1789: liberty, equality, fraternity”underlines the historian Michel Carmona.
The famous architect Jules Bourdais feels that the time has come to create the work of his life: a monumental granite tower, with a lighthouse at the top (370 meters) illuminating the capital. But Bourdais is not alone in the running. Facing him, his former friend from Centrale, the famous engineer Gustave Eiffel, author, among others, of the Budapest train station and the spectacular Dom-Luis bridge in Porto. The Eiffel “paw”? Work the iron and above all make it visible. Which is no small feat. The proof ? It was not until 1878 that the regulations of the City of Paris allowed metal frames to be visible!
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