Nature, Architecture, National Regeneration: The Airing Out of French Youth in Open-Air Schools 1918-1939
Working Paper #45, Fall 2011
Abstract: This talk examines the écoles de plein air, or open-air schools, as they developed during the interwar years in France. Troubled by visions of ‘race enfeeblement’ which seemed to be evidenced by the low French birth-rate, high child mortality rate, and high tuberculosis rate, physicians, educators, and politicians promoted open-air schools with an unabashedly utopian zeal. It was believed that such schools could achieve the eugenic project of rehabilitating scores of feeble, anemic, and ‘pre-tubercular’ working-class children by removing them from cities and exposing them to nature, fresh air, and heliotherapy. The universal establishment of such schools, claimed one promoter, would be a first step towards ensuring healthy and vigorous future generations of children imbued with “the joy of living, the strength to work and, later, to fight." This talk will seek to explain why such utopian aspirations were brought to what was a dubious and ill-defined project and how architects in France strove to give concrete form to these aspirations. Their challenge: to create structures that increased rather than hindered the access to the fresh air and sunlight that, it was believed, would ‘save the race.’
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