The History of World Expositions

The Paris World Exposition 1889
The widest span in the world – the Galerie des Machines

Year: 1889
City: Paris
Country: France
Duration: 6th May - 31st October 1889


Copyright: Revue de l'Exposition universelle de 1889, S. 61

Equalling the Eiffel Tower as an innovative and daring construction was the Galerie des Machines by the architect, Dutert and the engineer, Contamin. It stood at the end of the terraine on the Champ de Mars; the large gallery for industrial products was built in front of it. The Palace of Fine Art and the Palace of the Liberal Arts were built next to it, forming the sides of the large “U” which opened towards the Eiffel Tower. While more conventional roof constructions of glass and iron were used for these buildings, Dutert and Contamin attempted, for their Galerie des Machines, to bridge as wide a span as possible without apparent means of support. To this end, they evolved a truss system, ingenious in its simplicity, which scarcely needed further supports or side galleries to absorb the enormous load of the cupola. Three-hinge pinned arches, with moveable resting points on concrete pedestals, made it possible to roof over 110 metres with what appeared to be a floating construction. The elegant, curved arches were held together in the middle by a bolt so that any shifting of the building caused by temperature variations was taken up by the ridge-piece 43 metres above the floor of the hall. The 20 main girders were joined together by truss girders and in this way a total length of 423 metres was achieved.

A fifth of the roof was covered at the edges with sheets of corrugated metal and the wide area in the middle with “sliding” glass plates to allow for shifting. The sides and end-walls were also made entirely of glass between iron sections. As a result, the roof appeared to float weightlessly in the air and, with the light behind it, to almost dissolve. Only Joseph Paxton had previously managed to achieve a similar effect with the Crystal Palace at the 1851 London World Exhibition. As then, conventional ideas of construction in stone were turned upside down. No longer did solid walls set architectural limits and the points at which most forces and loads are taken up by the ground were, in this case, reduced to what were extremely tiny resting points compared with the hall’s colossal dimensions. The Galerie des Machines continued to be used for further exhibitions and mass events but was finally torn down – a loss for the history of architecture as great as that when the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936.

Many journalists were so carried away by the effortless “lightness” of the architecture of the Galerie des Machines that in their reports they wrote with regret about the disfiguring of the hall by the exhibits. Even the largest electro-dynamos and steam engines were dwarfed by the size of the hall. It was also possible to have a bird’s-eye view of the “puffing, stamping, clanking, vibrating, machines doing men’s work”. Up to 100,000 visitors travelled through the whole hall on an electricity-powered moving platform on tracks some 10 metres above the ground.

Most of the dynamos were driven by steam engines and they were responsible, above all, for a revolution in lighting technology. On his stand, the inventor of the electric light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison, also demonstrated the enormous potential of electricity for the advertising industry. The world’s biggest electric light bulb stood on a pedestal and all around it shone small bulbs in the national colours of the USA and France, the numbers of the year 1889 and the inventor’s name.

EXPOSEEUM - The Museum of World Exhibitions, Hanover, Expo Plaza 11
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