Iconic Structures, Deconstructed: The Eiffel Tower

THESE WALLS CAN TALK

The world’s iconic structures are a sight to behold. The sheer size of the Burj Khalifa is matched by the glass facade that covers a majority of the 828-meter supertall. The Eiffel Tower, arguably the world’s most instantly recognizable structure, looks even more striking in the evenings thanks in part to the 20,000 light bulbs used to keep the tower visible to all throughout the night.

But behind these structures are the minutiae of facts and histories that collectively construct a fascinating narrative that not everyone may know. These structures, like Rome, were not built in a day, and in some cases it took many years—not to mention many workers and building materials—to bring them to life. In this series, Blueprint, presented by CBRE, highlights the fun facts and tidbits behind some of our favorite landmarks to give readers a new appreciation of the small details that make these structures so remarkable. This week, we start with the Iron Ladythe Eiffel Tower.

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The Eiffel Tower is perhaps Paris’ defining monument—and in a city that’s home to iconic structures like Notre Dame de Paris and the Louvre, that’s saying a lot. But when the tower was debuted in 1889, it was permitted to stand for just 20 years. 

The tower was designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, owner of the Eiffel et Compagnie, a construction and consulting firm, and a noted architect and builder himself. However, it was Maurice Koechlin, a structural engineer at the firm, along with engineer Emile Nouguier and architect Stephen Sauvestre, who refined the design of the Eiffel Tower.

Their design was among the 107 projects submitted to a competition that was created by Journal Officiel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The competition looked into the possibility “of erecting an iron tower on the Champ-de-Mars with a square base, 125 metres across and 300 metres tall.” Eiffel and his team’s design was approved, and in just a shade over two years, they were able to complete what is now considered one of the world’s greatest towers. 

Here are 10 deconstructed facts about the Eiffel Tower that show just how it became so iconic. 

1. For the actual design of the tower, Nouguier and Koechlin envisioned it to be a large pylon “with four columns of lattice work girder, separated at the base and coming together at the top, and joined to each other by more metal girders at regular intervals,” according to La Tour Eiffel’s official website.

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2. The tower is made up of 18,000 pieces of puddle iron (a type of wrought iron), joined together by 2.5 million rivets. It’s also covered in 60 tonnes of paint, and weighs in at 10,100 tonnes. 

3. Construction on the tower started on July 1, 1887 and ended on March 31, 1889. It took a total of two years, two months and five days to complete. 

4. Builders used small steam cranes and wooden scaffolding, some standing 40 meters high, to erect the tower. Upwards of 300 builders worked on the construction site, along with 50 engineers and designers. A total of 5,300 workshop designs were created throughout the tower’s conception.

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5. French writer Guy de Maupassant detested the Eiffel Tower so much that he ate lunch at the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant every day. While it may seem strange to patronize the restaurant of a tower he loathed with a passion, Maupassant’s rationale was that it was the only place where he could avoid looking at the tower itself.

6. When it opened, the tower was the tallest structure in the world, easily dwarfing the 555-foot Washington Monument (the tallest structure at the time before the tower’s debut). The Eiffel Tower would hold this honor until 1930, when the Chrysler Building, standing at 1,046 feet, was completed.

7. During Germany’s occupation of France during World War II, Adolf Hitler ordered for the Eiffel Tower to be destroyed. General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, was tasked with overseeing the destruction of the tower, along with other Parisian monuments that included the Louvre and Notre Dame de Paris. Choltitz eventually refused to follow through with the plan.

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8. There are 20,000 light bulbs used to light up the Eiffel Tower each night, for five minutes every hour on the hour, from nightfall to 1:00 a.m. The tower also has 336 lamps and 120 antennas. In 1985, Pierre Bideau, an electrician and lighting engineer, created the tower’s golden light show that projects beams of yellow-orange light from the bottom of the tower towards the top.

9. There were originally 1,710 steps to the summit platform when the tower opened in 1889. The number of steps were reduced to 1,665 after renovations in the 1980s.

10. The Eiffel Tower can change heights. During hot summers the sun can create thermal expansion, which causes the metal to grow. The tower can increase in height by 17 centimeters, or 6.75 inches. In the winter it can shrink by 4 to 8 inches.

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