JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
This was the handiwork—that is really too demeaning—the inspiration, the dream, of Eugene Freyssinet (1879-1962), an accomplished French engineer turned architect, and widely viewed as the “father of reinforced concrete”. Freyssinet graduated from two of the most prestigious French engineering institutions (the Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees in Paris) and was really quite an innovative engineer—beautiful even. His airship hangers at Orly airport are instantly recognizable as elemental design features of concrete—elegant, useful, practical, and huge.
I don’t know what happened exactly with his design for the Paris International Exposition of 1937. The building just isn’t right—even the timing of its underlying deification of the automobile is off by decade, at least*. His effort to construct a half-mile high reinforced concrete tower with an exterior corkscrewing road for autos climbing up the building to a parking lot is just, well, off. Setting aside the difficulties in using this building material for a structure of this magnitude, there would’ve been an astonishing amount of vibration problems from the grueling efforts of the cars on the (probably) two miles of road to the top. (The image comes from the Illustrated London News for 1 June, 1933.)
And all of this effort for what was effectively the world’s most gigantic restaurant, because outside of the parking garage, that’s all this building was meant to be. The eatery would’ve begun where the Eiffel Tower stacked on top of the Empire State building would end. The room was big enough to accommodate 2000, who after eating could repair to the hotel upstairs, or who could’ve gone upstairs from there to take the rays in the solarium.
Somehow this was all supposed to cost 500,000 pounds (about $75,000,000 in today’s currency, which might by you one or maybe two ultra-swanky pre-war condos in NYC...500k pounds was only about 2 million 1937 dollars, which would've paid for 5% of the Empire State Building), Freyssinet noting that it would cost less to build than the Eiffel Tower (which would've been true if you didn't take inflation from 1889 into account). I have no idea how that would’ve worked out, given that the Eiffel was a steel skeleton and this would’ve been concrete. All told, however, none of it made very much sense, and the structure wasn’t even very pretty.
*(Cars traveling up the outside of a building so that you can park your car in a lot 2000 feet in the air…certainly the car was king (and queen too for that matter) and that fact become new and abundantly clear, but it happened earlier, in the early 1920’s. The need to drive a car into Jove’s lap just wasn’t necessary as the world nudged its way to war in 1937.)