In a sense, the Eiffel Tower was created purely for the sake of making a tall tower.
The impetus for designing the tower in the first place was an upcoming world’s fair, to be held in Paris in 1889 — the centennial of the French Revolution. The tower was to be a centerpiece for the upcoming fair, and it was meant to be a temporary structure, with an intended lifespan of twenty years.
The Eiffel Tower is now a prominent national symbol for France and basically the quintessential icon of Paris as a city. The tower itself is what you might call a French cliché at this point, and more than a few prominent travel journalists such as Anthony Bourdain have remarked upon the uselessness of actually climbing the tower. One can understand why: it involves waiting in a long queue, purchasing tickets, and waiting in more queues. While it does ultimately result in a very striking view of Paris (if you choose to ride the lifts to the top), going up the tower requires appropriating at least a few hours that could’ve otherwise been spent drinking wine on the left bank or trying your best elementary French in a quaint café.
Having visited myself, I must lend my voice to the chorus that advises you not to enter the tower. But with that being said, I do highly recommend ogling it from the comfort of a patch of grass on the Champs de Mars, or from across the Seine at the Jardins du Trocadero. Because even though climbing it is overrated, the structure itself leaves an impression on one’s mind that can’t be replicated by any photograph or video. What’s missing from most iconography of the tower is the sheer size and perceived strength of the thing. It often looks quaint and unassuming in films or photos, but in person it’s actually domineering. It’s tall and massive. A number of prominent artists and architects actually protested its construction on these grounds after the project had begun.
It comes down to a matter of personal taste in the end, but one way the tower has proven its aesthetic value is simply by lasting as long as it has. The tower has, at varying points, been scheduled for deconstruction or demolition, but it has never happened. Even the Nazi commander in charge of Paris toward the end of WWII couldn’t bring himself to destroy the tower despite being ordered to do so by Hitler directly.
Even though it is a glorified lawn ornament in some ways, the tower was not designed without some functional considerations. In fact, the tower’s lead architect, Gustave Eiffel, said in an interview that wind resistance was one of his primary concerns when designing the tower. The tower virtually does not sway in the wind.
As it gets older, the tower does have to adapt to its time.
Of course it’s been repainted, repaired, and adorned with light and fireworks displays at various times throughout its history, but now it seems that France’s most identifiable icon is coming into the twenty-first century in proper form by having a number of sustainability-related improvements made. The first are wind turbines designed by Urban Green Energy. The firm has a unique turbine design that, much like the tower itself, doesn’t skimp on aesthetics. These turbines have been installed on the interior of the tower, where they’re barely noticeable to the outside viewer. They will produce about 10,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year — enough to offset the energy used by the tower’s 4,200-square-meter first level pavilion.
Next, plans are in motion to install rainwater collection cisterns, energy-efficient LED lights, and solar panels. In terms of energy consumption it must be said that these improvements represent something like a drop in a very large bucket. But it’s in keeping with the tower’s somewhat superfluous nature that it be used more as a representative icon than a radical leader of the charge toward sustainable energy. These improvements shine a conspicuous spotlight on renewable energy, and with luck others around the world will take note.
It’s admirable that the tower is getting these improvements, and it’s equally laudable that those responsible for overseeing the project are committed to the tower’s aesthetic integrity. The Eiffel Tower’s turbines prove that the energy sources of the coming age don’t have to be bland or difficult to look at. The Eiffel Tower is and remains an inspirational example for those who are hoping to marry form and function in their work.
- Have you visited the Eiffel Tower? How would you describe your experience if so? If not, would you like to someday see it?
- What do you think other famous icons around the world would look like with sustainable energy sources? Tell us what you envision or, better yet, show us your deviations that depict these structures and post a link in the comments section.
- What are your thoughts on form and function, especially where things like architecture and renewable energy are concerned? Given the grave consequences climate change may have, should we be thinking of aesthetics at all as we develop new sources of energy? Or can we always find a way to make these two walk hand-in-hand?