The plot is in a rhomboid form, and comprises two different, but connected schools. The schools are linked by a surprisingly bucolic playground in which a copse of mature trees can be seen reaching above the buildings. What is of most interest however is the external skin of the buildings. The school is contained within a continuous brick wall which runs around four streets, but for most of its length, this is no standard brick wall.
Before examining this particular school further, a word about education in general at the time. Whilst the hygienists had ensured a revolution in social housing at the end of the 19th century, reformers had also succeeded in making major changes in the world of education. The most important advance was the Ferry law of 1882 which made schools secular, free and obligatory for all children between the ages of 6 and 13. It also insisted on military exercises for boys and needlework for girls, but this aspect has largely been forgotten today!
The crucial element of the law was the separation of church and state, something which still provokes debate today but of which the French are on the whole intensely proud. As the church had previously been the major provider of education to the young in Paris and France as a whole, it meant that the state now had to undertake a large building project for new schools. They were now to become the major driving force of social mobility, an equal chance for both sexes and all social classes to improve themselves and the means by which the poorest members of society could dream of a different future. Was it to inspire this nascent generation that so many of the new schools incorporated triumphant, decorative touches?
The principal features of the twin Rouanet Infant and Junior schools are the curved, art deco style facade of the infant school, the large layered chimney that sprouts up behind this and the intricate brickwork design along the majority of the walls. It is this brickwork though which is the most striking and unusual, with the large three-story street facing walls being covered in a diamond criss-cross pattern. If this pattern seems familiar, it is because it is seemingly based on a medieval design known as the Diapper style. Traditionally, as can be seen on Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, this design was created using different coloured bricks, but the twist on this school building is that the effect is three-dimensional, with the diamond forms jutting out from the flat wall.
The Diapper pattern, Rue Championnet, Paris 18eme
The newly educated young were being taught to think for themselves, but this also meant that they could learn to get organised and protest. Seemingly to push them further still, a zone was created for the display of posters and messages on one side of this school unit. This space is still in use today, offering a thick, colourful noise of mixed messages - a new album, an upcoming concert, a meeting to discuss the crisis, Asian furniture bargains and a celebration of 10 years of revolution in Venezuela. It's a chaotic collage, where the voices mirror the muddled unintelligable din of the children in the playground behind.
Note: The three items in this series of posts are in the same district of Paris and easily visited in one go.
A: The school buildings are near Rue Championnet
B: The collection of HBMs are near Rue André Messager
C: Sauvage's interesting HBM is on Rue des Amiraux