When Harry Confusio sent me the original of his portrait of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, he cautioned me to be aware that Eiffel’s fame does not rest on bridge design, but on, of course, his famous tower. But Eiffel’s career encompassed many disparate projects. Eiffel designed the interior structure of the Statue of Liberty and a variety of bridges including the Garabit Viaduct, pictured above. Eiffel also designed a series of locks for the Panama Canal. These designs were never used because the company Eiffel worked for had to declare bankruptcy. A huge scandal encircled the administrators of the company, and even though eiffel was a hired designer, he was implicated in the scandal. He was innocent, however, but felt to the time of his death that he had never cleared his name.
Confusio, or HC, has spent most of his lifetime as an amateur student of engineering. He admits to not knowing the mathematics of design, but he does love the “frozen music” of architecture (Goethe). HC says that one can see in Eiffel’s bridges and other work the very themes and motifs that make the Eiffel Tower so wonderful.
I sent HC an email saying not everyone quite agrees that the Eiffel Tower is so wonderful, however. Here’s the opening passage of Roland Barthes essay on the Eiffel Tower:
Maupassant often lunched at the restaurant in the tower, though he didn’t care much for the food: It’s the only place in Paris, he used to say, where I don’t have to see it. And it’s true that you must take endless precautions, in Paris, not to see the Eiffel Tower; whatever the season, through mist and cloud, on overcast days or in sunshine, in rain–wherever you are, whatever the landscape of roofs, domes, or branches separating you from it, the Tower is there; incorporated into daily life until you can no longer grant it any specific attribute, determined merely to persist, like a rock or the river, it is as literal as a phenomenon of nature whose meaning can be questioned to infinity but whose existence is incontestable. There is virtually no Parisian glance it fails to touch at some time of day; at the moment I begin writing these lines about it, the Tower is there, in front of me, framed by my window; and at the very moment the January night blurs it, apparently trying to make it invisible, to deny its presence, two little lights come on, winking gently as they revolve at its very tip: all this night, too, it will be there, connecting me above Paris to each of my friends that I know are seeing it: with it we all comprise a shifting figure of which it is the steady center: the Tower is friendly.
In any case, the Eiffel Tower is what it is, the icon of France and the spot on maps where Paris lies. And here is HC’s portrait of the man who designed it: Gustave Eiffel.
A Clerihew For Eiffel
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel,
as a boy, loved to trifle
with metal doodads by the hour.
Then, as an adult, he built a tower
Photo of Garabit Viaduct by Graeme Churchard; drawing of Statue of Liberty originally published in Scientic American, June 13, 1885.