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Palace of Education and Material of sciences, letters and arts - Expo Paris 1900

Palace of Education and Material of sciences, letters and arts at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900
Architect(s) : M. Sortais

The Palais located at the entrance to the Champ de Mars, to the right of the Eiffel Tower, opposite the Palais des Mines et de la Métallurgie, is dedicated to the exhibition of the various objects indicated by the title above, which is as long as a chapter.
It will house the six classes of group I, which cover the whole range of human knowledge, and the eight classes of group III, which include: horography; books, newspapers and posters; maps; instruments of the precision arts (mathematics, astronomy); medical and surgical equipment; musical instruments and, finally, theatrical equipment. This is an abridged version, but take each class separately, and you will subdivide it into quite different chapters, except for the relationship. The material of the theatrical art includes, for example: the furnishing and installation of the theatrical rooms; the fire protection apparatus; the lighting; the fixed and mobile machinery; the scenery; the props, costumes, hairpieces, make-up, etc., i.e. perfumery, shoemaking, etc., are pleasantly mixed with the painting and building arts. This is one of the necessities of the classification adopted, and its advantages are considerable, for it puts before the public eye the whole of an industry. When a single industry is of such importance as to require a considerable site, a whole palace has been allotted to it (e.g. Mines and Metallurgy - Yarns, Fabrics, Clothes, etc.), but, as the teaching and processes of the sciences, letters and arts, constitute a host of industries of secondary development, they had to be brought together under the same roof.

Now, an axiom of logic, in architecture, proclaims that a building must express outwardly the use for which it is intended; one will agree that it is not very convenient to clearly indicate the destination of the Palace in question, which one could assimilate, except for the irreverence of the term, to a bazaar where one finds a little of everything and even a hundred other things.

Mr Sortais, the architect of this Palace, did not have to specialise more particularly in one of the subjects exhibited; he built a building that was wide open, with abundant circulation; the main door is a monument in itself; it is the main part of the façade; it is welcoming; it invites you to enter. As for the architectural forms, they are pure fantasy, with a touch of weirdness that is not otherwise unpleasant.

The main entrance is located on a symmetrical cutaway at the entrance to the Palais des Mines et de la Métallurgie; this is topped by a dome with a bulbous silhouette; the entrance to the Palais de l'Enseignement, forming an elliptical vestibule and a large hall on the first floor, is covered by an unusual roof, which seems to be used here for the first time, and consists of a half-roof. The torus is a surface of revolution generated by a sphere rotating in the same plane, around a centre. Take a loaf of bread in the shape of a crown, and you have a torus, roughly shaped, it is true; cut this loaf in two, and there you have the roof which covers the entrance to the Palace of Mr Sortais. Our drawing gives an exact figure of it; this roof, which is metallic, is decorated with a very cut-out crest, where ears of corn are formed of electric lamps; the surface is decorated with projecting gadroons, and the middle ends in a slender bell tower. The porch, in the form of a semicircular arch, is hollowed out into a voussure, with wide mouldings, which is cut by a console, forming a key, and supporting an Apollo, flanked by two ladies in tunics, who must be Muses, This is about the only sacrifice that M. Sortais has made to the old symbolism, of which we still make use, in our public monuments.

This Apollo is armed with his lyre, according to the formula; moreover, he is an accommodating god who touches everything, letters, arts, and even sciences, through his son the doctor Aesculapius; he was particularly appropriate in this place, especially as his presence enlivens and furnishes the middle of the arch, which would have been a little empty without the divine Musaget and his two companions.

An openwork fence closes the gigantic bay, which is intersected by a balcony at the step. The central motif is flanked by two turreted forebodies topped by domes in the shape of an elongated acorn. These turrets widen and flesh out the main motif, which takes on great importance and pushes the two facades turning to the right and left into the background.

As for the latter, they are composed of the repetition of the motif shown opposite. It should not be forgotten that the Palais, like the other buildings on the Champ de Mars, has a double circulation, in porticoes open to the outside, on the ground floor and on the first floor. It is a sacrosanct rule, in classical architecture at least, to superimpose voids on voids, and support points on support points. Here, the supporting points of the first floor bear on the voids of the ground floor; the effect produced could be compared with the desired dissonance that a musician introduces into a series of chords. The five bays of the first floor surmount the double basket-handle opening of the ground floor; this arrangement is supported, on the right and left, by pylons pierced by arched bays, crowned by a circular pediment, and surmounted by a sort of stele stamped with the monogram A.S.L. (arts, sciences, letters). Behind the stele is a metal canopy with a strong arc lamp. To the right and left are masts with their flames. The large motif is surmounted by a circular gable, with antefix, which fits into the lines of the entrance arch; the tympanum above the archivolts is occupied by an openwork fence, which also recalls the ornamentation of the large
The balconies protrude widely on the outside; they are completed by full, bulging, basket-shaped supports, reminiscent of theatre galleries. These balconies, which protrude considerably, were built in reinforced cement, as was the entire framework of the ground floor. M.Sortais resorted to this method of construction to avoid using iron, at a time when he feared that the metallurgical crisis would cause a delay in his work. These balconies have been tested with loads five times greater than those they will have to support and have not experienced the slightest deflection.

The entire facade, like that of the other Palaces, will be creamy white with highlights, but all the parts of the main entrance, especially the roofs of the domes and the half-porch, will receive brilliant colouring, with gold highlights. For the small domes, Mr. Sortais has tried applications of mica powder on bright oil tones, the curious results of which are especially appreciable when the objects thus prepared are not too far from the eye of the spectator.

The interiors of the porticoes, ceilings and walls, will be covered with ornamentation in strong tones to contrast with the very light tones of the outer walls. The interior is distributed in the same way as the other palaces of the Champ de Mars. Long naves, the widest of which are 27 metres long, run parallel to the main axis of the Champ de Mars; they are bordered and intersected by galleries, the floor of which is 7 metres above the ground.

The main entrance is on a 45° diagonal with respect to the general direction of the roofs, whose ridges are oriented along the axes of the Champ de Mars. The obliquity is necessarily repeated in the hall that follows the entrance vestibules, which does not fail to present intersections that are rather delicate to arrange. M. Sortais has given his hall, which forms a salon d'honneur, so to speak, an octagonal plan, with, on the first floor, protruding balconies in the shape of a circle. The side of the octagon opposite the entrance forms the landing of a monumental double-flight staircase.

Other staircases are arranged to the right and left of the vestibule. Movable or climbing paths complete the service on the upper floor. The characteristic feature of the steel structure, support points, gallery joists and attic framework, is its extreme gracefulness. Steel was used almost exclusively. Before the timbering and glazing had been added to the trusses, which were so thin in appearance, one could have sworn that they were a spider's web against the sky. Above the vestibule is a large room whose ceiling is formed by the half-tore of the façade. This room, which will be decorated to great effect, using the processes of theatre painting, i.e. tempera, is used for the performance of musical instruments (class 16). Its layout will give rise to some rather curious acoustic effects.

©Exposition de Paris 1900