Sunday 8 February 2009

Another Brick in the School

At the dawning of the 20th century Paris was waking up to a changed landscape. As the new social housing arrived in previously sparsely populated parts of the city, more infrastructure became essential to serve the new communities, in particular schools. As was the case with the HBMs (Habitations à Bon Marché), it is interesting once again to note that they often incorporated original and decorative designs. One of the most unusual and fascinating of all such structures in Paris can be seen near Sauvage's appartment block.

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.

A Diapper pattern wall at Hampton Court, England

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
The collection of HBMs are near Rue André Messager
C: Sauvage's interesting HBM is on Rue des Amiraux


David Thompson said...

Great post Adam. The comparison of the paterned walls is excellent.

PeterParis said...

There are some 900 schools in Paris. Walking around, I have always been impressed by the number of schools built at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th! Must have been an enormous effort! There are some newer ones also of course, but many of the older schools are in a rather similar architecture; you have found a very nice exception! Do you have the year of construction?

Adam said...

Hi David and Peter. In answer to your question Peter, perhaps David can help. I found nothing online or in books about the school, but one of the entrances is definitely in an art deco style. David is something of an art deco expert, so perhaps he'd be able to give us a rough construction date. Was this style of decorative brickwork common in art deco buildings?

Squirrel said...

I love the patterns in the brickwork. I hope to do a brick related post in your honor-- and have been going around looking for interesting brickwork ever since you mentioned liking brick.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Starman said...

This is interesting. I used to pass a building with a brick façade on rue Leon Frot (11e) which may or may not have been part of a school. There is a school at 87, rue Leon Frot and I can't tell if the brick bulding is part of it or not. The brick is not patterned like those you have shown, but it is an interesting pattern and it does stand away from the rest of the wall. I hope this link works correctly so you can see it for yourself on Google maps street view:,+Paris&sll=48.856667,2.350987&sspn=0.120398,0.237579&g=Paris,+France&ie=UTF8&ll=48.857819,2.384409&spn=0.003762,0.010986&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=48.857904,2.384321&panoid=awKX8GBKT1mr_BlkuNqwLA&cbp=12,275.2788621298077,,0,-20.38215031222369

Adam said...

Hi Squirrel - I look forward to it immensely!

Starman - The link does work. From what I can see, the building seems to be housing. The brickwork is very unusual though, being purely decorative.

David Thompson said...

Adam, thanks for your kind comments.
It is difficult to answer Peter's question without some secondary sources but elements such as the stacked rectangles, the vertical panel of windows and the tower arrangement remind me of Dudok's Hilversum Town Hall which was designed in 1924 and constructed from 1928-31.

Squirrel said...

I'm working on my brick post--we have mostly wooden houses, but the main downtown businesses are mostly brick. couple days and I should have it together.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Twitter Instagram Write Bookmark this page More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Premium Wordpress Themes