Notes about the Palais des Machines of 1889 in Paris: space, structure and ornament
The Palais des Machines of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889, designed by the architect Charles Louis Ferdinand Dutert (1845-1906) and the engineer Victor Contamin (1840-1893), is undoubtedly an icon of the 19th century architecture: its powerful spatiality, its portentous structure and its straightforward tectonics have rightly received high praise by critics and architects from the second half of the 20th century. However, critical tradition and historiography from the end of the last century have frequently offered a biased interpretation of this work, aimed at underlining certain architectonic values for then presenting them as a direct product of the author’s will. The aim of this article is to explain, altogether and with maximum transparency, how the conjunction between certain circumstantial issues and the will/ability of both authors made possible the construction of one of the most important works of the nineteenth-century architecture. To achieve this, the three most celebrated architectural aspects of the building are analysed: the huge scale of the central space, the particular structural system chosen and the uneven usage of ornament.
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