Blog 3
L’Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile

L’Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile

  1. Structure Information 

The Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile was commissioned in 1806  by the French emperor Napoleon to commemorate the Grande Armee, the French army at the time. He wanted it to symbolize victory and the invincibility of the French army. He wanted his soldiers to walk victoriously through the arc on their way back to Paris. Construction began on Napoleon’s birthday on August 15the 1806 and ended in 1836, and it officially opened on  July 29th(1).

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Figure 1: Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile [3]

It is located in Paris at the end of the Champs Elysees, at Place Charles de Gaulle,  and is encircled by a huge traffic circle called l’etoile, meaning the star. This is where it gets its name from. It was designed by the French architect Jean Francois Therese Chalgrin (2) but he died in 1811.  Jean Nicholas Huyot continued the job of architect after his death (5). At the time of its completion, it cost 9.3 million francs(5). This was paid for by the autonomous amortization fund. Funds were disbursed from the “Grande Armee” at the beginning of each month for the erection of the monument.


  1. Historical Significance 

The design of the arc is based on the Roman Forum and is an example of Neoclassical architecture(1). The design was modernized by adding archways on each side and hollowing out the pillars to allow people to climb to the top (2). There is nothing structurally innovative in the design and did not employ any particular construction technique.  The inspiration for this arch was the  Arch of Titus, constructed in Rome is 81 AD. It is the best existing example of a victory arch. Arch of Titus. All the other victory arches have been inspired by the arch of Titus. The arch of Triomphe popularized the designed and brought it to the public eye. The arch of General Staff Building in Russia was built to mock the French and commemorate their defeat over Napoleon and took its inspiration from this arch.

Figure 2: Arch of Titus [6]


  1. Cultural Significance (10% of grade)

The Arc of Triumph is one of the most historical monuments in France. It has been the site of many historic moments. The arch was highly anticipated. At the time of its commissioning, France had gone through a series of major victories with Napoleon. The arch is one of three monuments commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate the French victories after his spectacular win at Austerlitz in 1805 (11). The other two are the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the Vendôme Column. It was to be a symbol of their supremacy and invincibility to the world.  Its large scale and intricate designs were to be used to boast about their military strength and celebrate their winning strike. Fortunately, no one died during the construction of the arch. After Napoleon lost to the Russians and abdicated in 1814, work on the arch stopped. It wasn’t until 1830 that the citizen king Louis Phillipe, wanting to honor the revolution, ordered the arch to be completed.


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Figure 3: Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel


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Figure 4: Column Vendome


Today its used to honor those fallen for France. It is used to commemorate the French soldiers that died during world war one. In fact, buried underneath it is the tomb of the unknown soldier who died during the war. He was buried there on November 10th 1920 and on top of the tomb lies the inscription: “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918” (10).  Since 1923, an eternal flame burns at the center of the tomb. Each night at 6:30pm the flame is rekindled, this too in memory of fallen soldiers.


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Figure 5: Fallen soldier tomb with inscription and eternal flame

At its location,  Charles de Gaulle survived an assassination attempt and so did President of the time Jacques Chirac in 2002 (10).


  1. Structural Art 

In order to access if this is structural art, I will be looking at the E’s: economy, efficiency, and elegance.

First, let us take a look at the economy. The arch cost 9.3million french franc, which equals to 76.6 million dollars in 2015 (7). This is a lot of money, even back then the cost of the arch was seen to be astronomical. This is because the arch was not designed with economy in mind. It uses stone from Beaune in burgundy South of France (8) instead of cheaper materials like concrete.

Second, let us look at efficiency. First of all, there was no real need for this arch, it is purely decorative and commemorative.  Besides that, it has no other purpose. The arch itself is very thick, with large legs and is very heavy in decorations. Here again,  the arch was not designed to be efficient but to be beautiful and meaningful. It is important to note that it is hollowed out in the center, allowmg to save material.

Third, let us look at elegance. The arch is beautiful. It has intricate designs all around. I highly doubt that Billington would consider it elegant though. It does not really blend well with its surroundings and sticks out like a sore thumb. It is situated in the center on one of Paris’s largest roundabouts and its different architectural style, as well as massive size and thickness, does not allow it to merge with the distinct look of the city around it. In my opinion, the contrast between its surroundings and the arch adds to its beauty but does not do much for elegance.

This arch is in no way an example of structural art as it does not satisfy any of the three E’s.

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Figure 6: Arch of Triumph sticking out [9]


  1. Structural Analysis (50% of grade)

The arch of triumph is a triumphal arch, meaning it is an archway structure characterized by one or more arched passages with large piers on its sides and a flat entablature and commemorative decorations or inscriptions. The Arch of Triumph has two vaults going through it: a large one and a smaller one. The piers are hollowed out to allow people to climb stairs to the top where there is an attic.

The initial design which was done in collaboration with a man named Jean Arnaud Raymond continued columns which was then discarded (as was Raymond). Columns would have had no structural purpose anyway. Foundations were started in 1806 (7) and took two years to be completed. Then they worked on the four piers. In 1811 when the main architect died, the piers were only 33ft above ground. By 1812, they rose all the way to the vaults but construction stopped due to the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Construction resumed in 1832 and finally ended in 1836.

The structure is made of stone from Burgundy, France: limestone, and cobblestone. It is 164ft high and 148ft wide and 72ft deep with a foundation 27.5ft deep(2). Its large vault is 95.8ft high and 48ft wide. The smaller vault is 61.3ft high and 27.7ft wide. The entablature is supported by the four massive piers. The thickness of the piers allows to diminish the thrust forces from the arch. A similar principle to corbelling is applied here in a way. The thick walls on either side of the arch allow it to remain stable against all loading, preventing collapse.

For this structure, there are live loads associated with people visiting and climbing the structure.  The other loads we are dealing with are self-weight, and environmental loads such as snow and rain. The load travels from the crown to the arches then the arches distribute the forces to the piers and the piers to the ground. This is shown in figure 4 below. The crown is in tension, the piers and the arch are in compression.


Figure 7: Load Paths


I order to analyze this structure I will solely use self-weight and determine if it is safe to have people on the structure as they have been allowing tourists to the top these past years. The monument weighs 50 000 tons, and 100 000tons if you include the foundations. From this information, we can infer the tributary areas’ weight, calculate the load on each pier as well as the maximum force on the arches.




The maximum force on the arches is as shown. In case of a load larger than calculate the arches might fail under the weight. Now I will calculate the actual force on the and the maximum force on the piers in order to prevent buckling.

Based on these results we can conclude that it is safe to allow tourists to climb the structure as the load on the piers is very small compared to the critical buckling load.


The main stakeholder for this arch was Napoleon Bonaparte as he had ordered the construction of the arch by imperial decree. He wanted victorious soldiers to walk underneath the arch on their way home. Even though it was completed long after his death, he got the opportunity to live that experience in a way. A wooden model was erected for him and his new wife to cross after their wedding(1). This allowed him to see what the arc would look like once it was finished and to actually interact with the design since it was life-sized.

  1. Personal Response   

The arch is a lot larger in real life than I had realized. It is incredibly big, very large and high. Standing next to it made me feel like an ant or a shrunken person. It is definitely an imposing piece of architecture. Before visiting it I had assumed the car passed underneath the arch but they actually do not It is situated in the center of the roundabout and every car that passes by has a great view of the structure.

After visiting the structure I better understand how important of a role it plays in France’s history. You can not see it easily on pictures but the whole arch is decorated with very beautiful sculptures and inscriptions all around. It gives it a more solemn air and tugged a little at my heartstrings. It is a beautiful piece of culture with a beautiful message.