Contemporary tourists may regard The Eiffel Tower as an ideal example of architecture-as-art. In fact, The Eiffel Tower is such a popular muse that there’s an official website where aficionados can purchase art it has inspired. Roughly two hundred fifty million people have visited The Eiffel Tower since engineer, Gustave Eiffel, designed it, an average of 6.8 million people per year.
Anyone who is lucky enough to see The Eiffel Tower probably can’t imagine what the Parisian skyline would look like without it. When he designed his tower, though, Eiffel didn’t expect it to be a part of the Parisian skyline for very long.
Tourists may be attracted to The Eiffel Tower due to its majesty, but Eiffel envisioned his landmark as an architectural achievement, not as an artistic one. It is an impressive example of Eiffel’s practical approach to design. All of the tower’s twelve thousand components and two million five hundred thousand rivets are designed to handle wind pressure, an important design consideration for a tower that’s one thousand sixty-three feet tall, including its broadcast antennas.
Eiffel took two years to finish the tower that bears his name. In 1889, it was the feature attraction of Universal Exposition in Paris, an exposition held to demonstrate France’s industrial prowess. Eiffel knew that, based on the terms of the construction project, his tower would be demolished in 1909. If he wanted his creation to have a lasting effect on Paris’ skyscape, he would need to make it a worldwide attraction.
In order to save The Eiffel Tower, Eiffel built a scientific purpose into its design. Eiffel built a small apartment on the third level of The Eiffel Tower, nearly one thousand feet off the ground. He offered it to any scientists who wanted to use it as a meeting place, provided they were not opposed to his company. The apartment was decorated with wallpaper in mellow colors, and it was furnished with soft chintzes, wooden cabinets, and a grand piano.
The apartment also had a small laboratory area with lab equipment, for those who wished to move their scientific theories beyond the phase of spirited discussion. Eiffel’s guests included Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Edison. The latter was so grateful for Eiffel’s hospitality that he gifted Eiffel a phonograph. Doubtless, the writer, Henry Girard, was correct when he wrote in an 1889 newspaper article that Eiffel’s apartment was, “furnished in the simple style dear to scientists.”
Socialites sought invitations to the Eiffel Tower apartment, but Eiffel always declined their requests. In its contemporary form, Eiffel’s apartment is open to tourists. Anyone who buys a ticket to the top of the tower can look through its window. Eiffel’s wallpaper and furniture are intact. Mannequins of Eiffel and Edison sit across from each other, engaged in an eternal conversation.
Eiffel’s request is still honored. No one spends the night. However, tourists whose trips won’t be complete until they’ve stayed in The Eiffel Tower shouldn’t despair. In 2016, the vacation rental website, Home Away, collaborated with French designer, Benoit Leleu, to build a hotel suite on the first level of the tower. Five contest winners were offered opportunities to stay in the suite. Perhaps others will also be offered the opportunity. Still, this hotel suite isn’t comparable to Eiffel’s apartment. While the hotel suite is a commercial venture, the apartment is a historical site where innovators shared intellectual conversations.[H/T Curiosity, Atlas Obscura][Photos: Flickr/sergemelki]