On the outside, the main building forms a vast parallelogram, the longest dimension of which is 252m.20; it is only 108m.20 in the transverse direction.
At the four corners, four small buildings have been placed, in which magnificent staircases have been built, leading from the ground floor to the upper gallery. These staircases, in which the stained glass windows and a number of decorative objects have been placed, are each double in number, and their number is further increased by two more important staircases in the middle of each of the longitudinal façades.
These sixteen staircases easily suffice for the largest circulation, and it is especially on this side that the present building is superior to that of 1851.
This vast complex, which covers no less than 31,632 square metres, is covered by vaults, glazed with polished glass, to which a semi-transparent cloth had to be applied to provide sufficient shelter from the sun.
The central vault is only 48 metres wide and 192 metres long, with the outer vaults, 24 metres in diameter, and the gutters around it. The staircase buildings and the administration building, which forms a forecourt on the main façade, are covered, independently of the glazing mentioned above.
The entrance doors are located at the ends of the two axes of the building, but in order to make use of the side façades in this way, it was necessary to connect the space between the two corner pavilions at each end with a canopy. These canopies provided the necessary space for marble work and other objects, which can, without too much inconvenience, be sheltered only from the rain.
The exit doors are located in the corner pavilions, between the two staircases which each of them contains, so as to provide an easy exit for visitors from the ground floor as well as from the first floor.
The central vault, the highest part of which rises 36 metres above the ground, extends over the whole of the part that has not been covered by galleries; this is what we call the main nave, a sort of neutral ground, into which all the nations have brought their monumental objects. Decorated at the top with coloured canvases which admit only the necessary light, this nave is finished at both ends by the stained glass windows of M. Maréchal, which are somewhat affected by the unfavourable position in which they are placed. At two different heights the flags and escutcheons of all the countries which took part in the Exhibition give this hall an air of festivity which is perfectly suited to its present purpose.
We have seen that special arrangements had to be made to prevent the sun's rays from penetrating the nave; the same is true of the upper galleries, which have a truly remarkable appearance, and in which the light is still very beautiful, despite the glass windows placed in front of the windows. The 4-metre long gallery which forms a balcony over the nave is also perfectly lit on all sides.
Unfortunately, the same is not true of the lower part, underneath these galleries. Although it can penetrate from both sides, through the nave and through the openings in the façade, it is understandable that the access of light is not sufficient for a width of 30 metres, such as the one found in these conditions. It was therefore necessary to make 56 large openings in the floor of the galleries themselves, allowing the light from the upper gallery to penetrate vertically or obliquely to the ground floor. This modification, made after the floor had been built, reduced the disadvantage we have just mentioned, but the necessary application of the outer fabric to the vaults has since reduced the good effect of this measure.
At the London Exhibition, the widest covered areas of the floor did not exceed seven metres, and already there was a great difference between these areas and all those directly under the roof. Here the widths of the darker parts are still much greater.
We will not go into details about the construction, which would be irrelevant here; we will only say that, on most points, it is quite satisfactory. The gap between the various floors has necessitated the use of cast iron or sheet metal beams of various sizes, but they are very well connected and the system is perfectly executed. The double upper floor, made of fir and oak, is remarkably rigid and absolutely sufficient.
As for the trusses of the different vaults, also built in cast iron and iron, they can be taken as models in all constructions where vaults of great span are necessary, with the condition of not exerting any thrust on their straight legs: their shape is substantially invariable, and it would take enormous efforts to manage to barely move their two free ends apart.
On the ground floor, the floor, made up of independent parts, simply placed on the ground, obviously leaves a lot to be desired; intended to be cut in all directions for the installation of the shop windows, it was intended to deliver to this inevitable fragmentation, only a carpentry of a very low price.
Water is drained, as in London, through the columns themselves: for this purpose there are vast ducts in all directions which lead to the city sewers. The ventilation is carried out by lanterns established, at the last moment, on the large roof and on a part of the length of the au- i very; Pair which is used for ventilation enters rather by the large J openings of the building, than by the galleries built for this purpose, under insufficient dimensions, but only possible at the time when they were dug.
It remains for us to indicate how the products were installed in the building and how the spaces were distributed among the various countries that took part in the Exhibition.
In order to save as much as possible of the limited space that had to be distributed among the exhibitors, and to reserve at the same time a large amount of vertical space, it was decided that the whole of the area under the galleries would be distributed in rectangular rooms, in the middle of which would be one or two double rows of showcases; this arrangement, in which the rooms were to be of different sizes, offered above all the advantage of bringing all similar products into the same compartment, so as to make it easier to compare them. In anticipation of a large number of visitors, the passageways were kept everywhere at a width of 2.5 metres, which experience of the arrangements made at the Exhibition of 4851 indicated was perfectly sufficient. In the original project, which was only carried out in the French part, one of these passages was to run the entire length of the building in front of each staircase, which made it possible, on the way up, to see the entire long series of showcases and thus to judge, at a glance, the importance of the Exhibition.
The 4-metre space between the columns, which exists in the first bay, all around the nave, and which could not be used, like the other spaces, by tables placed in the middle, also helps the other longitudinal passages by forming a large, completely free communication channel 3.5 metres wide.
As for the nave, whose width was too great to make a single gallery, we took from it, on each side, enough to form a series of rooms 12 metres wide, in which we were able to group the luxury industries whose products can be distinguished from the first floor according to this layout. These rooms, so to speak, are overlooked towards the nave by a series of trophy cases, all of the same size, in which each of the nations which had a place on the ground floor, was able to bring together samples of its main industries. These showcases, forty-four in number, are distributed as follows:
France, the whole of the north side and a bay on the south side
le côté sud................ ......... 23
United States............................... 1
Prussia. ................................ 4
Two passages of 4 metres 50 centimetres each have been kept in front of the main showcases, and the centre of the nave has been devoted to the monumental pieces of all the nations, arranged, as far as possible, in three parallel lines, the middle one being reserved for the largest objects. The products of each of the foreign countries were placed in the places allocated to them in the lower part of the building.
It is as a result of this arrangement that one finds successively in the central line: the small fountain of Mr. Muel Walh, very ingeniously arranged so that the same models can be used for monuments of various importance; the large untinned glass of Saint-Gobain, the surface of which reaches nearly 20 square metres; the large English candelabra of Mr. Osler, 5 metres high; the trophy of the English navy, in which one gathered models of ship and instruments, specimens of all the maritime material.
The beautiful sculptured pulpit of Mr. Veneman, of Bois-le-Duc (North Brabant), to which can only be compared another pulpit of the Dutch exhibition of Messrs. Cuypers and Stolzenberg, placed a little further; in the centre, the beautiful fountain of M. Barbezat et Cie de Paris, successors of the house of André, with its entourage of flowers and divans, which makes this main point the most pleasant resting place that can be seen; then a trophy of Austrian terracottas of an inappreciable low price, among which figures of a very satisfactory execution.
The lighthouse of the administration of public works comes next, with the beautiful figures of Gérome: then the statue in damascene bronze of King William III, coming out of the School of Arts and Crafts of Berlin; finally the zinc ornaments of M. Diebitsch, decorated in the style of the alhambra, which are of such a pleasant effect and of such a beautiful execution.
On the south side line, starting from the east end of the Palace, one meets successively: a cast iron grille from England, a beautiful piece of furniture from Graham's, London, a terracotta altar by our compatriot M. Debay, a fireplace set and a bronze group by M. Elkington. On the other side of the fountain, the great Belgian mirror of Floreffe, two very beautiful pieces of woodcarving, which are reminiscent of the Flemish school; a marble Psyche, the only shipment from the duchy of Parma; a table in Venetian aventurine, by M. Bigaglia; the beautiful vases of the Berlin porcelain factory, some zinc figures from the Prussian exhibition, and finally an immense bouquet of artificial flowers from the kingdom of Saxony.
The objects placed on the other side will be more usefully mentioned, a little later, when we speak of the French exhibition, since they all belong to our country.
In order not to spread the products of any one nation too thinly, especially those which are least favoured in terms of the number of exhibitors, only the products of the principal nations have been placed on the ground floor. France occupies the whole of the northern part, and in the south only the products of England, the United States of America, Belgium, Austria and the various states of the Zollwerein, that is to say, of all the countries we have already mentioned in connection with the large showcases in the nave. France was only called upon to fill, with a few pieces of furniture and a few musical instruments, the rooms neglected or incompletely filled by the United States.
Among the principal objects exhibited by the United Kingdom of England and Ireland, on the ground floor of the main building, and within the limits indicated by the plan, we notice the models of civil, naval and military constructions, which occupy the eastern end, towards the entrance; next to them, the cotton fabrics, particularly those of Manchester; further on, those of Wool; the steels of Shefiield, and all the products which derive from them: porcelains, glassware, hardware. The metal art objects are represented, in this part of the English exhibition, only by the small room entirely and perfectly occupied by Messrs Elkington and Co.
The United States have, in the Palais, only their rubber and precision instruments. Mr. Ringuet-Leprince has recently added a beautiful piece of furniture from his New York house.
Belgium has reserved its most elegant products for the upper gallery; it is represented here only by its arms, its cotton and woolen fabrics, its parquet floors, its cast iron and its wrought and enamelled irons. A display case, which contains only rich church ornaments, admirably worked, attracts general attention.
In Austria, we find above all woollen, thread and cotton fabrics, the magnificent products of the imperial printing works of Vienna, porcelains, crystals and fancy goods; mounted tools and safes also provide a remarkable contingent to this part of the Austrian exhibition.
The various Zollwerein states have generally reserved the ground floor for their similar products; Prussia, its porcelain, glass, jewellery, edged weapons, steel tools and hardware, linen and plain cloth, and musical instruments; the Grand Duchy of Baden and Württemberg, their Black Forest clocks; accompanied for Baden by its various fabrics and cotton velvets, and, for the Kingdom of Württemberg, by its glasses, woollen cloths and leathers and children's toys.
Bavaria has arranged the magnificent products of its crystal works near the western door of the building; its arms and children's toys in the neighbourhood. Luxembourg, Hanover and the Hanseatic towns have more or less assembled their entire exhibition here.
On the gallery the general arrangement is much the same; instead of being distributed into separate rooms, the ground is only cut by great longitudinal lines in the two north and south galleries. Two of these passages are more important, and go all the way round the galleries: one of them, which surrounds the nave, forms a wide walk of three metres, from all points of which the whole of the Exhibition can be seen; it is moreover decorated with carpets and curtains; chandeliers are hung in the centre of almost all the caissons. The small cast-iron arches which support the cheneau and which prevail throughout this gallery, give it a very remarkable perspective which is further extended by a very beautiful Monlluçon mirror, placed at the end of the northern gallery.
The second gallery around the perimeter is situated at about 2.5 metres from the outer walls, this depth having been reserved for the showcases, due to the braces that connect the first row of columns to the building. It is in the northern part of this gallery that the Empress's salon and boudoir, so gracefully decorated by Messrs Meygard and Duval, are located. On leaving the salon, one finds immediately the magnificent silks of Lyons, the ribbons of St. Etienne, the principal windows of lace, and the artificial flowers of Paris, that is to say, all that the world can offer of the most elegant and coquettish.
The various States, whose limits we have indicated on the ground floor, are also represented in the galleries immediately above this first site: arrangements have even been made for each of them to have at its disposal a special staircase; Austria is the only country for which this condition could not be fulfilled. But the space occupied on the first floor is generally much smaller than below; this difference is due to all the States which have no other place in the Palace than in the upper galleries, which are better lit and, in every respect, preferable, from the point of view of an exhibition, to the obscure rooms on the ground floor.
©Visite à l’Exposition Universelle - 1855