Léon Bonnenfant
Project for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view

Project for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view
Léon Bonnenfant (1847-1938)
Project for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view
between 1894 and 1900
Pencil, watercolour and red ink on paper, cut out and glued on cardboard
H. 44; W. 80cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski


Project for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view
Project for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view (detail)

Projet pour l'Exposition universelle de 1900, vue générale [Project for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view]


The competition for the general layout of the 1900 Universal Exhibition was launched in August 1894. There were three principal areas involved: the first consisted of the Champs de Mars (site of the Eiffel Tower) and the Trocadéro; the second brought together the Esplanade des Invalides and the Palais de l'Industrie (then situated on the current site of the Petit and Grand Palais); finally the Quai d'Orsay linked these two areas. The competitors were free to preserve, modify or demolish monuments on the perimeter of the exhibition. Only the Palais du Trocadéro had to be retained. One hundred and eight projects were entered, and Charles Girault was declared the winner.

Bonnenfant's project involved replacing the Eiffel Tower with a composite building. It was to be made up of a broad square base with arcades. The small cupolas crowning each corner recalled Middle Eastern Islamic constructions. Above this, was a monument exactly like the Pantheon: a square base surmounted by a rotunda, topped with a dome, itself extended with a long spire.
At the rear of this building, on the Champs-de-Mars, a long nave was proposed, with perpendicular bays on both sides. But the jury was concerned that it might look monotonous, and could already see/anticipated that the public might get lost in the interior walkway. In a second drawing, the section of the monument highlighted the primacy of metal in its construction. The interior elevation of the rotunda contradicts this aspect by putting the emphasis on the stone walls pierced by light arched bay windows like a basilica.
On the Invalides side, Bonnenfant did not propose anything innovatory. He kept the Palais de l'Industrie, and put a bridge leading directly to the lateral wing of the Palais, on the axis of the Invalides.

Like Jean-Camille Formigé's projects for the 1900 exhibition, also kept at the Musée d'Orsay, this drawing reveals the complexity of the subject and the difficulties the architects faced in producing a plan which was both coherent and new.




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