From the Eiffel Tower to the Tower Bridge: four iconic architectural marvels we used to hate

The recent death of the great British High Tech Modernist architect Richard Rogers has prompted us to ponder the pleasing fate of buildings such as his and Renzo Piano’s Centre Pompidou, which were initially reviled but went on to become icons.

Looking at Rogers’ London architecture alone — the Millenium Dome, Heathrow T5, the Lloyd’s building, the Leadenhall building aka the Cheesegrater, the list goes on — we see what an impact Rogers had on the life of just that one city.

But it was the Centre Pompidou which established his Modernist credentials. So let us start there, before looking at three more similarly badly-received edifices which however proved popular to posterity.

A child stares up at Marc Chagall's Les Maries de la tour Eiffel in the Centre Pompidou.
Camera IconA child stares up at Marc Chagall’s Les Maries de la tour Eiffel in the Centre Pompidou. Credit: William Yeoman/WA News

CENTRE GEORGES POMPIDOU (1977, Paris, France) by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano

The so-called Hi Tech flips architecture on its head, or as some commentators say, more accurately, inside-out. Rather than hiding a building’s underlying structures and services, these are deliberately revealed.

In the Pompidou’s case, pipes are picked out in primary colours and exposed elevators and escalators run across and up and down the building’s exterior. Generous interior spaces allow room for plenty of play.

It’s serious fun, but critics and various interest groups hated its seeming slap in the face of high culture. Yet it quickly became a favourite with the general public and one of Paris’s most popular cultural institutions. Power to the people! Vive la revolution!

French and kissing. A bride and groom at the base of the eiffel Tower in the City of Love. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
Camera IconA bride and groom at the base of the Eiffel Tower in the City of Love. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

TOUR EIFFEL (1889, Paris, France) by Gustave Eiffel, Stephen Sauvestre, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier

While we’re in The City of Love, we should remember that its most famous structure was in its day neither unanimously praised nor even meant to stay standing. In other words, no love lost there.

Originally built for the 1889 Universal Exposition celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution, the 324m tower was supposed to remain for just 20 years. Radio and telecommunications utility provided a permanent stay of execution.

But if early critics had had their way it would have been torn down immediately. Or not built at all.

For example, some of France’s most prominent writers, artists and composers including Guy de Maupassant and Charles Gounod referred in an open letter to “the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower, which popular ill feeling, so often an arbiter of good sense and justice, has already christened the Tower of Babel”. Ouch.

tower bridge, bridge, sunset
Camera IconTower Bridge, London. Credit: fotofan1/Pixabay (user fotofan1)

TOWER BRIDGE (1894, London, UK) by Sir Horace Jones

This Victorian Neo-Gothic masterpiece was generally praised at the time of its completion. And who doesn’t love its fairy-tale evocation of medieval order and chivalry (a fantasy, but why ruin a good story?), so close to the real thing, the Tower of London? Yet as a quick trawl online reveals, many in the coeval press were scathing. I love this one from the Pall Mall Gazette:

“…there certainly seems to be a subtle quality of ungainliness, a certain variegated ugliness, so to speak, that age can scarcely wither or custom stale, about this new bridge. It is excellently situated for our ugliest public work, straddling across out Thames, to the terror of the errant foreigner.”

Double-ouch.

new york, guggenheim museum, frank lloyd wright
Camera IconSolomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York City. Credit: itou365/Pixabay (user itou365)

SOLOMON R GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM (1959, New York City, USA) by Frank Lloyd Wright

This is form following function, the spiral ramp of the museum enforcing works of art are viewed in a predetermined sequence, one at a time, while still being able to see backwards and forwards. From the outside it looks like the sculpture, the work of art, that it is. A giant snail, maybe.

But as Emily Genauer wrote in The New York Herald Tribune at the time of the Guggenheim’s opening, the museum had been “variously derided during its three years of construction as a giant corkscrew, a washing machine and a marshmallow”.

A case of future shock for the layperson, perhaps. Fellow architects and critics thought differently, finding it, according to Genauer, “the most beautiful building in America”.


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