The Exposition Universelle in Paris, at the turn of the century, celebrated the arrival of a new century. Countries from around the world were invited to present their achievements and lifestyles, their similarities and differences. Despite showcasing many pioneering inventions, such as moving walkways, numerous events and entertainment facilities, the fair did not reach the financial targets, as not enough tickets were sold. The price of the entrance ticket was said to be too high.
Many of the buildings constructed for the exhibition were demolished after the fair was over. Unlike most pavilions, the Grand Palais had not been planned to be demolished. The iconic building was dedicated "by the French Republic to the glory of French art" and designed as a magnificent temple for the most important artistic events in Paris. It was conceived as the architectural centrepiece of the 1900 fair.
After controversial irregularities in the competition that was intended to select the best design for the palace, the plans were made by three architects: Henri Deglane, Louis-Albert Louvet and Albert Thomas. Charles Girault, the architect of the nearby Petit Palace supervised them to make sure the overall concept was followed. Deglane designed the anterior part of the palace, while Louvet and Thomas planned the central and posterior parts, respectively. The Grand Palais was an innovative combination of a massive classical stone facade with art nouveau cast-iron structures of the interior and glass barrel-vaulted roof inspired by the The Crystal Palace of London.
Two magnificent bronze quadrigas (four-horse chariots) created by sculptor Georges Recipon decorate the tops of each wing of the main stone facade. The Seine-facing side presents Harmony triumphing over Discord and the one on the opposite side depicts Immortality prevailing over Time. Other important sculptors, Paul Gasq, Camille Lefevre, Alfred Boucher, Alphonse-Amedee Cordonnier and Raoul Verlet, contributed monumental statue allegories for the facade of the palace. The interior of the Grand Palais consists of an immense anterior nave, which is 200 m long and 45 m wide, with a maximum height of 43 m under the central glass dome, an infinite number of rooms, rotundas, vestibules and a majestic cast iron staircase in floral forms of Art Nouveau style designed by Louvet.
Many technical difficulties appeared even before the grand inauguration of the building. The construction began in 1897. Its foundations had to be reinforced and sunk down up to 12 meters deep to firmer soil because of subsidence caused by a drop in the water level. The building stands on 3,400 oak piles and has a metal roof structure, which weighs 8,500 tonnes (the Eiffel Tower weighs 8,000 tonnes). Additional problems occurred due to excessive force applied to the load-bearing structure during the Exposition Internationale de la Locomotion Aerienne and acid runoff from one of the shows.
Over time, due to differential rates of expansion and contraction between construction elements and different materials water entered, leading to corrosion and weakening of the glass dome iron structure. After one of the glass roof panels fell down fell in front of a visitor in 1993, the main exhibition space was closed for complete overhaul. After a series of engineering surveys, the refurbishment started in 2000 and the palace was fully reopened to the public in 2007.