Large international benefactors allowed the founders’ dream to become reality. The first, Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe, encouraged the movement with the Fondation that bore his name and which was inaugurated in 1925. The architect Lucien Bechmann was chosen to construct an ensemble of pavilions that were equipped with all of the modern comforts of the time, unveiling the founders’ ambitions for the Cité universitaire.
The Cité internationale’s project recruited the generosity of benefactors who made their contribution to the construction of the first houses: the Canadian senator Joseph-Marcellin Wilson, at the beginning of the Maison des étudiants canadiens, Jean-Hubert Biermans and Berthe Lapôtre for the Fondation belge and luxembourgeoise, John D. Rockefeller Jr for the Maison internationale and many others…
Between 1925 and 1938, the construction pace didn’t falter. Despite the economic crisis, foreign governments, benefactors and schools continued to associate themselves with the Cité’s work by funding the construction of a building to house students from all over the world together. In less than 15 years, 19 buildings were constructed by the greatest architects in styles that were indicative of the architectural eclecticism of the interwar period and the blended politics that led to the Cité internationale. On the eve of the war, the number of residents stood at 2400, representing 52 nationalities.
President of the Cité internationale until 1948, he racked up meetings and conferences to find the necessary funds and to convince foreign representatives. A tireless traveller, he travelled the world for decades, from Europe to the Americas, from the Middle East to Asia. His travels allowed him to gather important subscriptions and 19 buildings were constructed before the Second World War.
The houses were decorated with details that were the pride of the represented country. The Fondation hellénique was built in 1932 with columns and a pediment and represents the neoclassical elements of architecture whilst employing more modern construction techniques. The Maison des étudiants arméniens-Fondation Marie Nubar, constructed in 1930, continues the Armenian architectural traditions by borrowing the main features of sculpted decorations that adorn the pavilion’s façades from religious architecture. In the Maison internationale, built entirely thanks to a donation made by the American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Junior, a self-service, worthy of more modern American campuses, was inaugurated in 1936.
It’s an age of gold. The expansion of the Cité internationale benefitted from the prevailing international spirit. But this development had to face new world realities. The relationships between countries became tense and the Second World War bought this period to a close. The departure of students in 1938, after the Munich agreement, was followed by the requisition by German troupes and then by the Allies. Although largely deteriorated and partially emptied of furniture, the Cité internationale embarked on its second phase of expansion within a very short period of time.
In 1927, Jirohachi Satsuma, the grandson of a wealthy Japanese spinning merchant, agreed with the University of Paris to fund the construction of a house at the Cité internationale. The first stone was laid in 1927 in the presence of Prince Ri, the brother-in-law of Emperor Hirohito. The house was inspired by Japanese buildings and has a nuanced and refined decor that reflects traditional Japanese architecture.
In 1926, the Dutch ambassador to Paris created a committee to source funding for the construction of a house for Dutch students in Paris. Abraham Preyer, an American originally from the Netherlands, made a very generous donation in memory of his son Arthur who was killed on the French front in 1918. The house, inaugurated in 1938 and realised by Willem Marinus Dudok, is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Cité internationale.
Inaugurated in 1933, it was the first modern building constructed at the Cité universitaire. Private funds and a federal grant were used to finance its construction. A real “machine for living”, it illustrated the “five points of modern architecture” according to the architect Le Corbusier: pilotis, open plan, free design of the facade, horizontal windows and roof gardens. The finishing touch was the furniture that was designed in collaboration with Charlotte Perriand.
In spite of the severe blow of the Second World War, pacifist ideals had not lost their relevance and guided the Cité universitaire towards a new boom. A refurbished estate and 17 new architectural masterpieces houses can accommodate up to 5500 students. It’s the time of the Cité universitaire’s expansion.
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.