Beneath the Canopy
Located in Aincourt, Île-de-France France
Photo © 2013 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Sanatorium d'Aincourt History
In 1929, the Tuberculosis epidemic raged throughout France, affecting over 700,000 people in the country and killing about 10,000, with many located in industrial and urban centers such as Paris. In 1930 the General Council decided to found a "Maison de la Cure" (House of Curing) in the village of Aincourt. Located only 35 miles (55 km) northwest of Paris and in the Vexin region, the site of the new hospital provided rolling hills with much flora, isolation, and fresh country air, all of which were thought to have been curative at the time.
An architectural competition was launched to design the hospital buildings, and was won by the joint venture of Edouard Crevel and Paul-Jean Decaux. In 1931, the construction of three large pavilions commenced; their long terraces used for soaking in the sun's rays and breathing the fresh air were strategically oriented towards the southeast for maximum light. Designed to accommodate 150 patients each, they were spaced rather far apart (about a quarter of a mile, or 400 meters) to prevent the risk of spreading an outbreak. One building treated women (Pavillon du Docteur-Vian), one was for men (Pavillon Adrien-Bonnefoy-Sibour), and the center pavilion (Pavillon des Enfants) was used to treat children.
Completed in 1933, each pavilion contained three floors of rooms, which were separated by frosted glass to provide maximum sunlight and also retain privacy. The ends of the building which contained stairwells were rounded to also maximize sunlight and appear aesthetically pleasing. Although the cement and plaster construction may appear somewhat Brutalist in contemporary times, this style was internationally popular during the 1920s, and is rare to find in such a large complex.
Surrounding the three massive pavilions were support buildings, such as a laundry, school, mortuary, staff residence, and administrative buildings. The entire campus was also carefully landscaped in an effort to recreate the alpine forests that were thought to have been so curative in improving the air quality; here, the people of Paris could enjoy this setting without having to travel to the distant Vosges Mountain range, where these trees naturally flourish. The plantings were so integral to the hospital that the pavilions were even nicknamed after various species (Poplar, Tamarix, and Cedar).
The sanatorium reached it height in 1936 with 450 Tuberculosis patients, however this would not last long. Under Nazi occupation in 1940, all patients were relocated into different treatment centers, and the sanatorium was converted into an internment camp. The sanatorium buildings watched carefully by German police, quickly became prisons as French people who were suspected of resistance activity began filing in on October 5th. Originally meant to hold 150 prisoners, the campus swelled to 667 inmates by May of 1941. Hundreds were deported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen, never to return. A memorial stone was placed on the site in 1994.
The hospital resumed treating TB in 1946, and in 1975, the children's pavilion was renovated to become a rehabilitation hospital. The decline of TB due of the advent of the vaccine reduced patient population during this time however, and in 1987, Pavilion Adrien-Bonnefoy-Sibour, which was only using its first floor for some time, was permanently closed. Pavilion Docteur-Vian followed suit and was shuttered one year later.
Despite decades of looting, vandalism, and intentional fires used in firefighter training, the windswept reinforced concrete buildings still stand strong. Pavilion Docteur-Vian holds hope in being re-purposed into senior housing, however Pavilion Adrien-Bonnefoy-Sibour may be too far gone to save due to the fires and resulting water intrusion. The buildings have been registered historic monuments since February 1992.