Yesterday, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo inaugurated the newly renovated first level of the Eiffel Tower before a crowd that included city officials, journalists, the actor Charles Berling, and his partner, Virginie Coupérie, who is none other than the great-great-granddaughter of Gustave Eiffel.
This often overlooked floor of the world-famous monument has had enclosed structures since it first opened for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, but the most recent iteration—mirror-glass-finished boxes from 1981—felt unwelcoming.
Since visitor levels to the tower have now reached saturation, at just under 7 million people annually, the city wanted to increase revenue by encouraging people to spend more time—and more tourist dollars—on the under-frequented first level, the largest of the Eiffel Tower’s three floors at 54,000 square feet. Commissioned by the City of Paris (the tower’s owner) and La Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE) (the tower’s operator) the €30-million ($37.8-million) makeover was realized by local architect Moatti-Rivière, which has demolished and rebuilt two of the three existing pavilions, re-clad the third, and rebuilt two of the four elevator shelters.
Moatti-Rivière teamed up with the contractor Bateg, a subsidiary of French building giant Vinci, for the project, which they won through a competition. From the outset, entrants were asked to address how they would build their schemes in the extremely particular conditions of the Eiffel Tower, which La SETE kept open throughout the two-year construction period. To access the first level without resorting to cranes, Moatti-Rivière and Bateg devised an elegant monte-charges comprising four slender stanchions set within the first level’s central void, on which a platform could rise the 187 feet from grade. The team also devised a system of special clips to hold their new structures in place since drilling and welding were forbidden on the tower’s historic fabric.
On the design side, the architects aimed for maximum transparency and took formal cues from the tower itself. Unlike their predecessors, the two new pavilion structures follow the obliquity of the tower’s piers. The Eiffel and Ferrié pavilions are entirely glazed on their principal elevations and face each other across the tower’s central void. The Eiffel pavilion is a dramatic single-volume space that can be hired for events, while the Ferrié pavilion comprises two levels containing a shop, a cafeteria, rest rooms, and an audiovisual space.
The renovation also includes improved accessibility and a number of sustainable-design features such as a rainwater capture for toilet flushing. But by far the most crowd-pleasing element is the new skywalk: the architects have replaced the inside perimeter of the first-level floor plate (which was not original) with all-glass flooring and safety barriers, a beautifully detailed feature that elicits squeals of joy from children, adults, and Mayor Hidalgo herself, who tweeted her praise of the vertiginous experience in French, English, German, Spanish, and Japanese. “Far from being a museified city,” she wrote, “Paris is a living museum which allows its own regeneration.”
Check back for extended coverage of the Eiffel Tower renovation in ARCHITECT.