The Structural Engineer > Archive > Volume 63 (1985) > Issues > Issue 8 > The Crossing Piers of the French Panthéon
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The Crossing Piers of the French Panthéon

Building work on the French Panthéon (the Church of Sainte-Geneviève) was started in 1756, and there was a celebrated dispute, in 1770, as to whether or not the crossing piers would be strong enough to carry the projected dome. In the event, the piers were indeed found to be defective, but not for the reasons originally suggested. The technical history of this building is presented in this paper; the form of construction led effectively to a thin skin of each pier carrying the entire load. Local stress concentrations then produced the splitting and spalling observed in the piers. Similar defects may be seen in some crossing piers of medieval cathedrals; although the details of construction are different, medieval piers, as those of the Panthéon, can have weak central cores. Professor J. Heyman