The first fruits of the Cité internationale are located on the old Thiers fortifications. What was then referred to as the “zone” was a mosaic of market garden plots, trailers and poorly-constructed buildings.
In 1921 André Honnorat, the minister of public education, appointed Paul Appell as The University of Paris’s chancellor. The famous mathematician and president of the French Academy of Sciences, Paul Appell, had been the president of the Secours national during the war where he strived to rally generosities. The two men, concerned about the difficult living conditions for Parisian students, sought to create an estate to accommodate deserving students. They found the benefactor to realise this ideal in Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe.
As a prosperous industrialist at the head of Pétroles Jupiter, which would later become Shell France, Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe was loyal to his family’s philanthropic tradition. He was already the benefactor for several charitable associations. He wanted to create “a lasting work” and offered ten million gold francs to build a house to accommodate students under the best conditions. The site for this ambitious project was in the south of Paris on the belt of Thiers fortifications built in 1845. Their demotion, passed in 1919, allowed for the expansion of the city: the right of way for the housing development on the fortification and the development of a green belt around the city (parks, gardens, sports grounds etc.).
Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe’s donation came with a restrictive clause: that the agreement be signed within one year or the funds would be withdrawn. It was then a race to complete an administrative obstacle course before the deadline. On the 28th of June 1921, 24 hours before the deadline of the ultimatum, the Journal Officiel published the law authorising the creation of the Cité universitaire on the 28 hectares of land facing Parc Montsouris. According to this convention only the land where the ancient bastions 81, 82 and 83 stood could be built on, meaning 9 hectares. The former military “zone” was to remain non aedificandi and would make room for a large park as part of the “green belt” called for by the hygienists.
From 1921 Lucien Bechmann (architect) and Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier (landscape architect) were charged with designing the park for this “Garden City” which would have to harmoniously blend landscape and buildings, walkways and sports grounds. Influenced by the planning principles of American campuses that they had visited, Bechmann and Forestier (then Léon Azéma) designed a park according to a regular grid, compartmentalised into distinct spaces: a large mall lined with lime trees, a vast central lawn and sports facilities in the far east, west and south of the park. The extensive construction spanned almost ten years. To the north of the space dedicated to the park the right of way for future construction was conformed to two rows along boulevard Jourdan. La Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, inaugurated in 1925, was the first house built at the Cité internationale. Then, after several years, is was followed by those of Canada, Belgium, Argentina, Agroparistech and Japan.
State councillor, he collaborated with André Honnorat on the creation and management of the Cité internationale. He was particularly involved in the administrative and legal creation of the Fondation nationale for the development of the Cité universitaire de Paris for which he drafted the statutes.
Banker and financier, he donated several million gold francs to the Cité internationale. He was the first treasurer and vice-president from its creation until his passing. An avenue crossing the Cité internationale bears his name in homage.
Architect-consultant for the Cité internationale, Lucien Bechmann was charged with designing the overall campus plan alongside Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, then Léon Azéma, and to give it a “City-garden” character by combining built-up areas, walkways and sports grounds.
As of 1925 construction picked up pace. Foreign governments, benefactors and schools rallied to fund the construction of the first buildings. In less than 15 years, 19 buildings were constructed on the campus.
To find out more about the history of the Cité internationale, its architecture, houses and its development, visit the Heritage Center: a permanent exhibition, themed tours and innovative digital media will transport you through time and space to discover this exceptional place.