The Parisian Life
Culture and language intertwine as students study the architectural history of Paris.
At the beginning of the year in French 2A, a second-year Upper School course that integrates French culture, comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills, students do a week-long unit that focuses on Paris’ transformation from a medieval to a modern city during Napoleon III’s reign. From 1853 - 1870, Georges Haussmann was commissioned by Napoleon III to redesign the city, demolishing overcrowded and cramped buildings and streets and replacing them with the wide boulevards, squares, fountains, and the distinctive limestone facades and mansard roofs that we associate with Paris today. Students are tasked with creating a character that lives in a typical Haussmann-style apartment building and writing a self-portrait complete with a visual portrait to accompany their essay.
The Haussmann Apartment project is conducted entirely in French. World languages teacher Erin Overstreet provides students with a survey of Parisian architecture showing a slideshow of the redesign, during which some 20,000 city buildings were razed or transformed. They study the characteristics of a typical Parisian apartment building often known as “un immeuble haussmanien” or Haussmann-style building. Students are then tasked with creating their own fictional contemporary resident of a Parisian apartment building and to write an “autoportrait” or self-portrait from their perspective. By way of example, Erin presents her own self-portrait of Annie Pipelette, the concierge of a fictional apartment building, describing herself, her family, her likes and dislikes, and her relationship with the other residents of the building. As students begin the year by reviewing family and professional vocabulary and adjective agreement, the Haussmann Apartment project provides a creative and challenging way for them to dust off their French vocabulary after summer vacation. Students revise their essays correcting grammar and organization before presenting the final project to the class along with the visual portrait of their character.
This project reflects the belief that world languages can be more than just the study of the language and culture of another country. They can be a lens through which students can study fields that might otherwise seems separate like history, literature, music, and even cooking, notes Erin. “Through projects like this, I hope my students will realize that language class can be a vehicle for developing an interest in topics like social history, city planning, and how people live today in major cities while also developing their language skills.”