What was Gustave Eiffel thinking when he built the tower bearing his name? You know, that metal skeleton that sits by the Seine in Paris on the Champ-de-Mars. It has stood there since 1889 visible from almost anywhere in Paris. What would happen if it disappeared for good? Would Paris still remain an iconic destination without it?
Initially Parisians hated it. At over 300 metres tall it is ridiculously out of scale with the dimensions of anything else in Paris. Stupidly the building we know does not even carry the name of its designers, Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, or the engineers Stephen Sauvestre, that built it.
These opening comments are to take nothing from the builder of the tower. Gustave Eiffel had a well deserved reputation as a clever builder in steel. His ingenuity in building seemingly light buildings in steel was well established by the time he bought the rights to construct the tower. By then he had constructed many daring bridges that seemed to defy gravity. Building the tower was his last entrepreneurial effort as, for a time he was partially blamed for the collapse of the company building the Panama Canal. Eventually he was exonerated and spent the remainder of his life on scientific study, including wind tunnels and practical uses for the tower.
Each year the tower now attracts seven million visitors a year. It is the most popular single destination in the world and it has remained so long after the twenty years it was initially licensed to stand. By the time is was due to be removed it had become a favourite of Parisians.
Such is its popularity other cities around the world thought themselves important enough to have one too. Budapest, and other European cities have replicas. America boasts several. In Melbourne the Victorian National Gallery is wearing its second tower. The first one’s engineering failed. Neither of them pretended to be a replica but a tower was chosen to indicate the presence of the gallery among the Victorian buildings of the city. That hasn’t worked because the former height restrictions were lifted and now it is dwarfed by skyscrapers.
The Eiffel Tower is an impressive landmark but it was only built when the bare, practical lines of the design were altered with simple period embellishments. Koechlin’s first drawings were rejected possibly because the lines illustrated something far too practical – like a modern electricity pylon.
That is the difficulty with design, Stripped of all but practicality like something from the Bauhaus, where form follows function, the masses are quick to condemn utilitarian design. That is why simple design lines are often embellished to the point of ridiculousness.
This brings me to the motor car design of the Austin A90. I was ten when the Austin A90 Atlantic Sports Saloon was introduced. I thought it was the most beautiful flowing form ever to grace the roads. As soon as I could I visited the local car showrooms and was given a brochure of the vehicle. The brochure pictured a blue car in a rural scene.
The years fall off me as I remember the care I took to capture the lines and the details of this beautiful car. To keep me quiet Mum suggested I draw the car while she entertained her spinster guests, Miss Philpott and Miss Lucas, in the garden. I became so absorbed in what I was doing I forgot the task to draw was set as a diversion. My obsession was to recreate, in two dimensions the beauty I saw in the brochure,
The beautiful car is lost in history. Long ago I could see the over dressed nature of the design. Having used weekends cleaning our cars In the years since, I realised the impractical nature of its chrome features. The body had insufficient rust treatment and they rusted away like many post war English cars. To a point where very few of the cars now survive.
When it comes to iconic design of status – very vehicles few pass the test of time. Some say the Jaguar E class is one such car. However I do recall a one time lover of them saying how hard it was to turn the steering wheel without power steering so I suppose even great designs miss out on practical improvements.
Cars, of all types, changed the scale of the world last century. Before the mass use of cars people travelled infrequently. My great grandparents migrated to Australia from England by brigantine ship for economic reasons the century before. They were not unique but most people rarely ventured far from their place of birth before cars. As I observe, cars allowed more people to move about freely. By the end of last century they were so ubiquitous the sheer number of them clogged the roads in all corners of the world.
Tourism became a problem everywhere. France was no exception and a century after the Eiffel Tower was built the engineering capabilities of Eiffel were called upon to build the tallest bridge in France.
The Tarn valley in France became a bottleneck for traffic in the summer holiday season around the township Millau. This little village came to a halt when the domestic traffic got caught in the through traffic on the Larzac plateau each year.
So the French government spent decades deciding on how to keep the traffic flowing and not disturb the village life in the valley. This is how the company that first built the Eiffel Tower got the job of building the longest continuous steel bridge across a two and a half kilometre gap on concrete piers taller than the Eiffel Tower itself.
The story is long and it is not my intention to retell it here.
The other day it was very hot. Cook an egg on the roadway hot. It was a day the advice was, “Make sure you get plenty to drink today, it is going to be very hot.” Locals, and their holidaying couch – surfing friends, went to the beach. So many went there it was impossible to park the car within a kilometre of the shore.
Jac asked if I would drive the car to Cosy Corner, and drop everyone off to have a swim – and collect them all in an hour. This I gladly did. I couldn’t think of becoming desiccated on the sand myself. When I returned we saw a man helping his intoxicated partner to somewhere safer to sleep off the alcohol she had consumed. She had taken the radioed message to drink plenty the wrong way.
To find a man lying in the gutter dead drunk was a common sight in the 1950s. Six o’clock closing encouraged people who had worked all day to swill down as much beer as time allowed after work and before six. War babies like me saw this too often when we walked past the overcrowded, noisy pubs. We smelled the beery odour as it filled the air outside. Additionally we heard the rowdy arguments that spilled from the houses when the men returned home.
Janice was the last born in our family and she became one of the cohort called the baby boomers. This was the generation born after the war. They filled the houses. They filled the schools. By the end of the 1960s they entered the adult world, and they filled the jobs.
Their numbers continued to grow and by the mid 1970s they were the dominant crowd.
They had political power and they used it for their own betterment. They were dissatisfied with the status quo. They tore apart the rules of work. People were once promoted on their seniority. They changed that. They argued and got the right to free tertiary education. This time of prosperity meant they pushed for and got many other social benefits and they pushed back on tax and saw that constantly reduced as government liabilities grew in their wake. They didn’t exclude alcohol but they turned to psychedelic drugs, sex and rock- n – roll as their cultural expressions.
Here we are these many years later with the problems their policies have left behind. As the influence of this retiring group reluctantly diminishes a new world order is emerging. It is more terrifying than the influence of beer, and psychedelic drugs.
Throughout the world the world is turning to fundamentalism.
Speaking, as I do, as someone who grew up in a Judea-Christian tradition I can see this drift to fundamentalism plainly. Those familiar with the bible stories of Revelations see the signs of the forecast plagues; earthquakes, floods, fire and famine and have joined churches promoting , The Rapture. Their belief that in speaking in tongues it will deliver them from the perils before the world is their release. They have no need to do anything. God will solve their problems for them.
(If your belief is different you may recognise other fundamentalist traits. I cannot speak knowledgeably about them. All I can see is that is what has happened, particularly in the last half decade, is a right turn to fundamentalism.)
In my three articles – Time to set things right – I highlighted just three areas where I see capitalism has let us down. (My socialist attitudes on how society would work better if the state provided the services it once did may jar with you. Horribly as soon as people see the world socialist they think communism. (Are you one of those?)
I do not propose that at all. If the state looks after security – military services – other services like water, energy, health, housing for the needy, are just as important. These are the social things it needs to do. To do them it needs cash in the form of taxes to fix thing up.)
Back in 1978 Rod Goode and I introduced a new program in social science to teachers in the Ballarat Region. The course of instruction lasted a week. It was a big ask to get teachers to leave their classrooms for a week of introduction to the course of study. In time we saw all teachers from about 70 schools. In one session , through the week, we touched on the work of Viktor Frankl. I have borrowed this explanation of his work from Andy Forcena quoted in “The worst of all possible worlds” he wrote
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, the Psychologist Viktor Frankl posits the necessity of meaning for survival. As a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, he has a unique and first-hand perspective on suffering, horror, and evil. He notes that many of the prisoners who died in the camps (that is, those who weren’t executed outright) had lost all sense of meaning. For them, life was suffering, because they dwelt on their past experiences in the camps rather than cultivating a sense of hope for the future. Given their experiences, who could blame them for this? Frankl claims that he survived the camps because he stayed oriented towards the future, finding meaning in hope for a better tomorrow. This future-oriented outlook is inherent in all of the world’s major religions, whether the heaven of Christianity or the Noble Eightfold Path as a means to ceasing craving in Buddhism.
In my mind we have a choice. We can remain hopeful or despairing. I think it best to remain hopeful and not to give into fundamentalism. The world certainly has some intractable problems but they will not solved by fear or hatred.
I think it is best to turn to the philosophers. Like the major religions Frankl posits, they teach us not to fear and not to hate but to reason. We also have to keep our eyes and ears open and test whether we are getting fake news.
Thank you. Please take the opportunity to comment and give me a chance to broaden my mind.