The Cité Universitaire in the extreme south of Paris (RER line B to Cité Universitaire) is, ostensibly, a collection of student dormitories, and it is true that it still serves its prime purpose of... Read More
The Cité Universitaire in the extreme south of Paris (RER line B to Cité Universitaire) is, ostensibly, a collection of student dormitories, and it is true that it still serves its prime purpose of accommodating foreign undergraduates, 5600 from 141 countries at the latest count. What the place really feels like, however, is a United Nations of Architecture – one that provides a fascinating insight into the way nations from all over the world have coped with the twin challenges of modernity and modernism.
The Cité was established by a group of pacifist French politicians and industrialists in the 1920s who wanted to create a space where young people from all over the world could get to know and, presumably, befriend each other. Soon, this initiative attracted the attention of Patrician do-gooders from all over the world (including John D. Rockefeller who paid for the central admin building), but also of foreign governments: every nation wanted to be represented on the campus with its own residence, and it is this rivalry that has made the Cité Universitaire what it is today. For one, it guaranteed the high quality of the buildings – some famous architects were commissioned including Le Corbusier who constructed the building for the Fondation Suisse (and later the Brazilian mission, too). While for another, it obliged each country to come up with an architectural vision of itself and it is fascinating to see how the different countries rose up to the challenge of combining their vernacular traditions with the new concepts of modernist architecture. Just walk through the streets of the Cité and try to guess where each building comes from – surprises guaranteed!