Unity in Identity, Disunity in Execution: Expressions of French National Identity at the 1937 Paris World's Fair

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France, the world would eagerly await the latest rendition of the annual World’s Fair, a massive celebration which basked in the rapid advancements that signaled the transition into modernity. The event would tout the cultural, national, and technological advents of each participating country, but would importantly While each visiting country was commissioned a limited space to construct its own national pavilion, France, as the host country, was not limited to a single expression or parcel of real estate. Instead, French fair planners constructed multiple pavilions not only for every region, but also for “every conceivable French trade and industry,”1 thereby raising an important question: how could France project a single, unified image of national identity amidst the seemingly infinite number of possibilities? By examining three examples of French architecture at the Fair—the Palais de Chaillot, the Regional Pavilions, and the Pavilion de Temps Nouveaux—a consistent theme emerges: the idealized intentions of the architects and planners were significantly undermined by the execution of each building. As a result, France projected an image of itself that was far more authentic: a scattered, diverse country still unsure of its identity during the inter-war period.

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Fall 2007
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