European Architecture Series
Eiffel Tower, Paris

History, Construction of Wrought-Iron Monument.

Pin it

The Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Paris.
A masterpiece of modern architecture,
and a groundbreaking example of
public art in Europe.

Eiffel Tower (1887-89) Paris


Summary At-a-Glance
Facts About the Eiffel Tower
Construction and Architecture
Other Similar Structures
Who Was Gustave Eiffel?
More Articles about 19th-Century Architecture

Architectural Terminology
For a guide to terms used,
see: Architecture Glossary.

Evolution of Art
For a chronological guide to arts, crafts and
architecture throughout the ages, please see:
History of Art Timeline (2,500,000 BCE - Present)

Summary At-a-Glance

The Eiffel Tower (La tour Eiffel) - Paris's most iconic landmark and the most recognizable masterpiece of nineteenth century architecture - is a 324 metre-high iron lattice tower located near the Seine, on the Champ de Mars to the west of the city. It was erected in 1887-89 as part of Exposition Universelle (World Fair) of 1889, held in Paris to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution, and named after Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) whose company built it. It was co-designed by Maurice Koechlin (1856-1946), Emile Nouguier (1840-98), with the assistance of Stephen Sauvestre (1847-1919), all of whom worked for Eiffel. Although at the time the tower's aesthetics attracted a storm of controversy, today it is acknowledged to be a unique work of modern art as well as an outstanding technical achievement, and fully justifies Eiffel's claim to be one of the greatest architects of the modern era, in France. The tower remains the tallest building in Paris and receives nearly 7 million visitors per year, making it one of the most-visited monuments in the world. See also Victorian architecture (1840-1900).

For another important architectural and cultural landmark in Paris, see Notre Dame Cathedral (1163-1345).

Facts About the Eiffel Tower

Conceived in 1884, construction of the tower began in 1887 and involved some 50 engineers, 100 iron workers, and 121 construction workers. It was completed on March 31, 1889, at a cost of 7,800,000 French gold francs. The main structure of the tower is composed of wrought-iron, coated (at present) with bronze paint. It is 324 metres (1,063 ft) in height, weighs a total of 10,000 tonnes (73 percent wrought-iron), and for 41 years it remained the tallest man-made structure in the world, until superceded by New York's Chrysler Building, designed by William van Alen (1883-1954), in 1930. Ironically, the height of the tower was raised in 1957 when an aerial was added to the top of the structure, making it 5.2 metres (17 feet) taller than Chrysler. The height of the building varies by 15 centimetres (5.9 inches) due to temperature, and the structure sways a mere 7 centimetres (2–3 inches) in the wind. The tower has three levels, with restaurants on the first and second. The third level observatory is 276 metres (906 feet) above ground level. Of the 40 or so replicas of the Eiffel Tower, only two are full size: the Tokyo Tower in Japan and the Long Ta communications tower in China.


In May 1884 the Swiss structural engineer Maurice Koechlin, together with the French civil engineer and architect Emile Nouguier - both taken on by Gustave Eiffel's company to help with the tower's architecture - made the first outline drawing of the structure, which they described as a huge pylon, made up of four lattice girders set apart at the base and coming together at the top, connected by metal trusses at regular intervals. Allowed to pursue the project further by Eiffel, they consulted Stephen Sauvestre - head of company's architectural department - who suggested adding decorative arches to the base, as well as other minor embellishments. Eiffel approved and purchased the rights to the design, which he exhibited at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in the autumn of 1884.

In May 1886, following the re-election of Jules Grevy (1807-91) as President of France and Edouard Lockroy (1838-1913) as Minister of Commerce and Industry, a commission was set up to judge entries for the Exposition Universelle, which (for whatever reason) determined to choose Eiffel's architectural scheme with little or no consideration of the 100 or so alternatives. A contract was therefore signed in January 1887, which caused amazement as well as a wave of criticism, on both technical and aesthetic grounds. A committee was formed to fight the proposal, under the leadership of the renowned architect Charles Garnier (1825-98), which included a number of important figures in French arts, such as the academic painter Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) and the writer Guy de Maupassant (1850-93). Later of course opinions changed, and in 1964 the Tower was officially designated a historical monument by Minister of Cultural Affairs Andre Malraux (1901-76). In August 1944, as Allied forces were about to enter Paris, Hitler ordered the city's military governor to blow-up the tower along with several other important cultural sites. Luckily the governor disobeyed the order.

Construction and Architecture

After winning the contract to build the tower, Gustave Eiffel discovered that the Exposition Committee would only contribute about 25 percent of the finance needed to build it. They wanted Eiffel himself to pay the balance, which he agreed to do provided he was allowed complete control over the tower and its profits for twenty years. The committee agreed, the tower paid for itself in the first year, and Gustave Eiffel made a fortune.

Work on the foundations began on 28 January 1887. The open-lattice iron structure consisted of four massive arched legs, set on masonry piers, that curve inward until they meet in a single, tapered tower. Each leg rests on four concrete slabs (each 6 m thick), which required foundations of up to 22 m (72 feet) in depth. The iron base of the tower was connected to the stonework by bolts which were 10 centimetres (4 inches) in diameter and 7.5 metres (25 ft) in length. In total 18,000 pieces were used to build the tower, joined by two and a half million thermally assembled rivets. Every piece was tooled specifically for the project and manufactured in Eiffel's factory in Paris.

Amazingly the entire building project was completed in less than 2 years and 7 weeks, and despite the fact that 300 workers were employed on-site, there was only one health and safety death - thanks largely to Eiffel's strict safety precautions.

One of the key features of the Eiffel Tower was its system of elevators. The glass-cage machines selected by Eiffel were made by Otis Elevator Company in the United States - as no French company was able to meet the technical specifications laid down - who helped to establish the tower as one of Europe's major tourist attractions.

It opened to the public on May 15, 1889 and by the close of the Exposition on October 31st had received 1,896,987 visitors, including the British Prince of Wales, the inventor Thomas Edison, the actress Sarah Bernhardt, and the cowboy Buffalo Bill Cody. Since then, more than 250 million tourists have visited the tower.

Other Similar Structures

Although it was the world's tallest man-made structure when first built, the Eiffel Tower has since fallen in the rankings as the tallest lattice tower and as the tallest structure in France. Taller lattice towers include:

• Tokyo Skytree (2011) 634 metres (2,080 ft) Tokyo, Japan.
• Kiev TV Tower (1973) 385 metres (1,263 ft) Kiev, Ukraine.
• Tashkent Tower (1985) 375 metres (1,230 ft) Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
• Pylons of Zhoushan Island (2009) 370 metres (1,214 ft) China.
• Pylons of Yangtze River Crossing (2003) 347 metres (1,137 ft) China.
• Dragon Tower (2000) 336 metres (1,102 ft) Harbin, China.
• Tokyo Tower (1958) 333 metres (1,091 ft) Tokyo, Japan.
• WITI TV Tower(1962) 329 metres (1,078 ft) Wisconsin, USA.
• WSB TV Tower (1957) 328 metres (1,075 ft) Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

See also: 20th-Century Architecture.

Who Was Gustave Eiffel?

Born in Dijon, Gustave Eiffel was a French civil engineer and architect. After graduating in 1855 from the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, he specialized in metal construction, notably bridges, such as the Garabit viaduct (1884). Although best known for the Eiffel Tower, he also designed a number of other major structures including: the Budapest Nyugati Palyaudvar (Western railway station), Hungary (1877); the Ponte Dona Maria railway bridge (Douro Viaduct) (1877) Porto, Portugal. In 1881 he was contacted by Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) who needed an engineer to help him complete the Statue of Liberty, following the death of architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79). Eiffel was selected because of his expertise with iron and wind stresses. Eiffel, helped by Maurice Koechlin, a young graduate of the Zurich Polytechnikum, designed a structure made up of a four legged pylon to support the body of the statue. (The statue's pedestal was designed separately by Richard Morris Hunt: 1827-95.) The complete statue was first erected at Eiffel's works in Paris before being dismantled and shipped to America. Later in life he focused on meteorology and aerodynamics. While fortunate to be working at a time of rapid industrial growth in France, Eiffel was also highly attuned to the merits of wrought-iron in architectural design, and willing to explore new techniques of prefabrication. He also adapted new techniques invented by others, such as compressed-air caissons and hollow cast-iron piers, while all the while paying close attention to accuracy in architectural drawing and site safety.

As it was, Eiffel's preference for metal frames was widely confirmed when iron and steel rapidly replaced stone in the design and construction of tall buildings around the world. For details of this form of Skyscraper Architecture, see William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907) - leader of the Chicago School of Architecture - whose Home Insurance Building - most of which was composed of cast and wrought iron - was built in Chicago four years prior to Eiffel's tower.

More Articles about 19th Century Architecture

James Renwick (1818-95)
Gothic Revival designer noted for St Patrick's Cathedral, NY.
Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86)
Neo-Romanesque architect famous for Marshall Field Wholesale Store.
Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)
Catalan architect, famous for Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.
Cass Gilbert (1859-1934)
Pioneer of Beaux-Arts architecture.
Victor Horta (1861-1947)
Art Nouveau architect, noted for glass/cast-iron designs.
Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908)
Co-founder of Vienna Secession along with Klimt and Josef Hoffmann.


• For more about 19th-century building design, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.