THE AHMED-ABAD MOSQUE.
It has been said over and over again that the English are totally devoid of taste. Our neighbours have been pricked to the quick and have walked in the path of artistic progress with seven-league boots; not twenty years ago they were our pupils, today they are our emulators. One could almost repeat, betting on them, the historical phrase: "By dint of defeating them, we have taught them to fight us. "There are exceptions, however, and in England, as elsewhere, even more than elsewhere, government has been far outstripped by private individuals.
We see marvels of grace and taste among the exhibits in the British section of the Champ de Mars, while several of the installations of the official United Kingdom commission really stand out among all the masterpieces accumulated at the Exhibition.
The electric lighthouse, for example, which is very remarkable from the scientific and technical point of view, is, as a building, the most hideous scaffold imaginable.
Next door, the building housing the boilers of the English section, which is certainly less ugly, is even more baroque. An inscription in French tells us that this building "was inspired by the Syud-Oosman mosque in Ahmedabad, built around 1458. "Is it possible to couple two things as dissimilar as the container and the content? The temple of the Afghan-Lodi era and the mechanical devices of the time of Victoria I and Napoleon III? Borrowing from the land of the sun the style of one of its sacred buildings to protect English boilers from the rain! But that was not enough of this enormous anachronism, and the architect thought he had to embellish the base of the terracotta torso columns that support the five Hindu domes with little Boucher-style loves. These columns form a double colonnade surrounding the whole building, and preceded by a small peristyle on each of the faces of this arid square like a figure of geometry.
As for the cupolas that symmetrically swell the flat roof, they look as if they were covered in white cloth, and this gives the whole the miserable air of a fairground theatre set. In the centre of each of these five large jockey caps (the domes) stands a golden spire which could also have supported the curtains of an inn room or the banners of a village paved in honour of the 15th of August.
These are only criticisms of detail, but the whole construction can be reproached for being much too crushed, too long in relation to the length of the sides, and this is all the more unjustifiable as, after having lowered the roof in this way, as the necessary height was no longer available, the boilers had to be buried in the basement in an excavation whose depth was exaggerated.
This arrangement presents a serious disadvantage to which we would like to draw the attention of the Imperial Commission. The coal bunkers, in order to be at the level of the fireplaces, have been dug under the path which leads to the above-mentioned mosque, and, for the entry of the coal, openings have been made in the middle of the path giving access to these cellars. There are trapdoors to close these holes, but, through the negligence of the drivers, they remain constantly open and gaping, and these openings constitute abominable traps where it is miraculous that some passer-by has not yet broken his arms and legs.
In the interest of public safety, a town sergeant should be appointed to see that the hatches are kept closed; and if this could be done, it would be best to padlock them. In this way, they would only be opened for the right reasons, and forgetfulness would be prevented.
Let the English console themselves for having built the dreadful lighthouse tower and the ridiculous mosque, by remembering that they had the glory of being the first to create a kind of architecture in keeping with modern genius, when they erected the Liverpool Customs House and, a few years later, the Sydenham Palace.
Moreover, the boilers in the false oriental building are worthy of the great manufacturing people. Apart from two vertical cylinder generators, the three double-fired boilers chosen by the British government to give power to all English machines are the most striking.
Let us go into the great gallery: the flywheels rumble, the belts whistle, the gears grind; the workers guide the machines, which perform the most varied, the most delicate as well as the roughest work; the crowd admires. What is the origin of all this movement, the source of this life, where the heart of this great organism lies? It is there, outside the Palace, in the small building which is the subject of this article.
There, in the furnaces, the flame of the coal gives up its caloric, that is to say its force to the steam, a power of 450 horsepower in this particular case; the fluid rushes into the channels which lead it to the eight driving machines of the English section.
The force of the steam is transmitted by means of pistons, connecting rods and belts, first to the bed-shaft, from which it is then borrowed by the machine tools, and it gives them the necessary power to carry out, under the eyes of the public, the innumerable works in which the machines, guided by human intelligence, replace the arms of the workers.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée