Every architect had a folk memory of that striking photograph in Gideon - Space Time and Architecture. It's of one side of those giant three-pin arches and the three tiny figures which give it scale. The glazed far end is fogged by direct sunlight, but you can make out the 49m-high apex which looks so relatively low in comparison with the 126m span. And that turns out to be not so much when you think of the 466m length of the hall with its 20 great trusses. It was so big and the exhibition was so stuffed with wonderful machinery that they had to build a kind of elevated travelling crane to carry the 100,000 people who moved through it each day. It was the biggest exhibition building ever built. And it formed a background for the newly constructed Eiffel Tower.
The sculptor Raymond Duchamps Villon had a childhood remembrance of it as a 'hallucinatory passage down the brightness of the nave in a travelling bridge above whirlpools of twisting reptilian belts, creakings, sirens and black caverns containing circles, pyramids and cubes.'
As an architecture student in Vienna I went to see that great Paris exposition of 1937 with those extraordinary Russian and Nazi halls facing each other by the Seine and the elegant steel structure of the Czech pavilion off on one side. It was the same site as the 1889 exhibition with the Gallerie des Machines and other exhibition halls around the base of the Eiffel Tower which had just been constructed for this very show. But in a way the Galerie is just as important as Eiffel's structure. No, it didn't have the dramatic height of the tower, although it was high enough. And to our eyes it is a very straightforward three-pin arch structure, a normal bit of engineering. But at what an extraordinary scale. You think of the task of producing all those thousands of panes of exactly sized glass and of prefabricating those enormous arches and the riveting and the joining together and getting the pieces to the site using horse and perhaps steam power. And devising the strange machine which took people through and over the exhibits. It's hardly believable.
But more than that is the exceptional daring. The daring to desire to produce such an extraordinary structure. They tore it down in 1910. It was an act, as Frantz Jourdain said, of 'artistic sadism'.