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3/ Construction

A first setback delayed construction by 8 months: the terrain where the southern part of the Grand Palais structure was to be built was unstable. On this spot, there was evidence of, and damage by past flooding from the Ménilmontant Stream, which had also caused problems for the construction of Charles Garnier’s opera house. Interestingly, the latter was also a member of the Société des Artistes Français.

The architects :

LOUVET Louis Albert 1860-1936, member of the ARTISTES FRANÇAIS.

Studied under Louis Victor Louvet and Le Ginain at the École des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Academy). Made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 1900.

DEGLANE Henri-Adolphe 1855-1931, member of the ARTISTES FRANÇAIS.

He exhibited at the Salon from 1880 to 1888. Recipient of the Grand Prix de Rome in 1881.
He constructed the Pavilion of Central Africa at the Marseille France Colonial Expo in 1900 and the Palace of the Governor General in Dakar. Made an Officer of the French Legion of Honour in 1900.

THOMAS Albert-Théophile 1847-1907, member of the ARTISTES FRANÇAIS.

Winner of the Grand Prix de Rome in 1870. Exhibited at the Salon until 1890. Participated in an archaeological expedition to Asia Minor. Made an Officer of the French Legion of Honour in 1900.

GIRAULT Charles-Louis 1851-1932, member of the ARTISTES FRANÇAIS.

Studied under Daumet. He constructed the Pasteur Crypt, the grandstand at Longchamp, and the Petit Palais that was so admired by the Belgian King that he offered the architect a brilliant career in Belgium. Made an Officer of the French Legion of Honour in 1900.

 

The three winning architects of the competition shared the work between them. The entire project was overseen by architect Charles-Louis Girault.

Various construction companies bid for the construction of the projects and their applications (still preserved in the Grand Palais’ archives) reveal the rigorous nature of the work involved. The demolition of the Palais de l’Industrie was carried out very quickly in order to make way for the Grand Palais.

Due to the instability of the terrain, the foundations were built on piles in 1900 on a stretch of the riverbank that was still susceptible to flooding from the Seine and the old Ménilmontant Stream.

The foundations of the section of building on the Champs-Élysées side were done in a classical way. However, the drying of the foundations on the old flood zone resulted in damage that would require the closure of the Grand Palais in 1993. A tilting of the foundations due to the shifting of the foundation piles destabilized the metal structure of the large nave, causing the panes of the glass dome to shatter. A restoration project was now in order.

The company Daydee and Pille (which would later become the Eiffel Company) and whose logo can still be seen on one of the pillars of the Grand Palais, skilfully carried out construction work on the metal structure. Rails were placed on the ground to transport the metal parts from one section of the building to another, while all the scaffolding was made of wood.

 

Construction de la charpente du Grand PalaisPhotograph of the construction site
Société des Artistes Français Archive
Photographs on plates taken at regular intervals show the progress of the construction work.

The nave of the Grand Palais was the largest in Europe at the time of its construction. This vast glass canopy occupied a quarter of the building's surface. The dome reached 45m in height at its highest point and rested on 4 cut metal pillars. The nave is a fully-arched vault, supported by double columns fixed to the ground by bolted plates. The metal structure consists of large steel beams, connected by rivets that leave the floor space free of intermediate poles.

Echaffaudages pendant la construction du dome du Grand PalaisConstruction of the dome
Société des Artistes Français Archive

The dome, prefiguring a style that would become popular in the 1930s, covered the vault, adding plenty of light but was also a source of technical difficulties.

The two wings set at right angles, the facade overlooking the Seine and the Champs-Élysées were built in stone masonry, reflecting the traditional tastes of the time.

The facade facing the Petit Palais and the entrance to the nave are elegant, and the colonnades that adorn this long facade are somewhat similar in appearance to the monuments found on the Place de la Concorde, thereby preserving an overall sense of harmony within the area as a whole.

The archives of the Grand Palais preserve most of the original plans and blueprints by the architects and construction companies.

The many ‘sketches’, the successive versions, and the countless sheets of plans testify to the difficulty, labour and careful consideration behind this impressive undertaking.

 

 

The Grande Nef (large nave) has been listed by the French heritage board, the Monuments Historiques, as a historical building since 1974.
It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the Grand Palais in its entirety was listed as a historical building.

Louis Albert Louvet’s multiple sketches of the main staircase are superb. Several ‘freehand’ perspectives of the volume of the nave by Henri-Adolphe Deglane are equally impressive. The layout plans of the frescoes and mosaics are enhanced with watercolours.

Some of the plans, in extremely fragile condition, are rather moving: we can observe the hole left by the tip of a compass, the marks left by an eraser, a fingerprint, and sometimes an annotation or draftsman’s sketch in the margin.

 

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