The Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (literally, House of the Sciences of Man Foundation) was created in the early 1960s by Gaston Berger upon a proposal by Fernand Braudel.  It had nine founding members: André Aymard, Marcel Bataillon, Fernand Braudel, Julien Cain, Jacques Chapsal, Gabriel Le Bras, Charles Morazé, Pierre Renouvin, and Jean Sarrailh.

A Forward-Looking Vision
Gaston Berger, then director of Higher Learning, had just succeeded Lucien Febvre as president of the dynamic VIth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE).  Although this section, which is devoted to the human and social sciences, was undergoing massive expansion, its various centers were scattered throughout Paris. 

Following Fernand Braudel’s proposal, Gaston Berger brought together the directors of the major French scientific institutions to discuss creating a common location where the various institutions could set up their research centers in the human and social sciences.  The overarching goal was to create a highly flexible institutional framework where each center would remain independent, a condition for any type of intellectual creativity. 

The idea was that by bringing together researchers specialized in various disciplines and geographical areas the site would become a privileged place of cross-disciplinary dialogue.  

This original institution needed an original status that allowed it to have flexible governance while still being affiliated with the Ministry of National Education.  The Association loi 1901 (French term designating a non-profit associative entity) created in 1962 by the founding members was rapidly transformed into a Foundation recognized as being of public utility (January 4, 1963 decree, modified by the decrees of July 19, 1966 and of February 23, 1973).  The FMSH shares this status with the Fondation Nationale de Sciences Politiques (FNSP – National Political Science Foundation), which served as a model for its creation.     

In 1968, the FMSH moved into the building called “Maison des Sciences de l’Homme” at 54 boulevard Raspail.  This was the former site of the Cherche-Midi military prison.  The building’s construction was even a showcase of some of the major advances in building techniques.  Today, the FMSH shares the building with the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). 

In 2011, the FMSH moved into the building France, near the French National Library (BNF), for a few years.


- Fernand Braudel ran the FMSH until his death in 1985.
- Clemens Heller [see testimonials], who had supported Braudel from the outset, succeeded him (1985-1992) and continued the same policies,
- Maurice Aymard (1992-2005) [see video], one of Braudel’s students and Director of the EHESS, gave priority to increasing the FMSH’s international dimension. 
- Alain d'Iribarne (since 2005) [see video] maintained the Foundation’s “modern” spirit in a period of major turning points for research in the social and human sciences.
- Michel Wieviorka (since 2009)is the current administrator of the FMSH, he was reelected in 2013.

  • Cherche-Midi Prison

    Since 1968, the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme has occupied the building on the angle of boulevard Raspail and the rue du Cherche-Midi at the site of Paris’ former “Cherche-Midi” military prison (picture on right). 
    The site dates back to the Ancien Régime.  

    In 1688, Louis XIV handed over a building on the rue du Cherche-Midi, taken from Calvanist Léonard Laudouin, to the Good Sheppard’s girls’ community.  Secularized during the Revolution, the Good Sheppard’s home was then passed on to the Minister of War who used the location as a base camp for outfitting the Paris garrison.  It was then used as a warehouse for the army’s living supplies.  In 1847, the convent was torn down to make way for Paris’ new military prison, replacing the Abbey Prison. 

    From 1800 to 1907, War Councils were based at 37 rue du Cherche-Midi while the military prison and correctional facility were located across the street at number 38, the current site of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.  Largely inspired by the American Auburnian prison system (Auburn prison, New York), this cellular prison could hold two hundred military detainees.  The correctional regime consisted of collective work in silence during the day and cell isolation at night.   

    On June 10 and 12, 1940, as the German troops were preparing to take the capital, the Santé and Cherche-Midi prisons were evacuated.  The prison population composed of military officials with ordinary sentences, deserters, draft dodgers and political detainees, was moved south of the Loire to the Gurs internment camp (Pyrénées-Atlantiques).  Following the retreat and the installation of Paris’ military tribunals in Périgueux (Dordogne), a new military prison was created in November 1940.  It was called the “Prison Militaire de Paris Repliée à Mauzac” (Fall Back Military Prison of Paris in Mauzac).  

    During the entire occupation period, Paris’ Cherche-Midi Prison was entirely under German control.  After the liberation of Paris, the prison was used to hold German prisoners of war. 

    The site was a military prison from December 30, 1851 until December 1, 1947.  Once it finished holding prisoners, the site became the headquarters of the military tribunal.  From December 1, 1947 until March 18, 1950, the Cherche-Midi was controlled by the Ministry of Justice and became a simple detention center.  Dirty and dilapidated, the building was torn down in 1966.   

    Since 1976, the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme has been sharing its home with the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. The building, with a modern allure, is the work of architects Henri Beauclair, Serge Capelle, Paul Depondt, Marcel Lods, and André Malizard.

  • 54 Raspail building

    A Plot of Land, a History…

    The Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (literally: House of the Sciences of Man) was built on a site rich in human history.  In fact, it is here that was located the Good Sheppard’s girls community founded in 1686 to help girls having strayed from the path of righteousness redeem themselves!  After the French Revolution, the site was temporarily used for charity work aimed at providing the basic provisions.   In 1847, the location then served as the Cherche Midi Prison until its demolition in 1966.     

    At that time, there were already many human sciences, but they were scattered throughout various sites all over Paris.  The idea was to bring them together in one location in order to promote exchange between researchers.  With the demolition of the prison, a real opportunity presented itself for creating a center for research in the social sciences in the heart of Paris.  Hence, the project supported by the Ford Foundation was finally born.

    The building specifications raised unique technological and architectural questions that pushed construction even further.

    The building’s architects, Mr. Lods, Depondt, Beauclair, and Malizard, sought to ensure an environment adapted to the researcher’s work by creating ideal working conditions, namely a calm place for concentrating isolated from the continual noise coming from Boulevard Raspail.  This goal led to creating completely soundproof façades, which also ensured that the entire building was completely insulated.    

    In an attempt to respect the site and to give pedestrians a better perspective, the buildings were constructed a bit further from the street than the other buildings on Rue du Cherche Midi.  In addition, to embody the essence of the MSH Foundation, the building had to be open to the world, which explains the choice of the glass façades and the complete transparence of the main lobby with its very “modern” view on the interior garden.

    A Prestressed Metal Structure Enclosed With Concrete Slabs Forming the Flooring. 

    In the allocated budget, meeting the building’s needs meant abandoning traditional solutions that were too costly in favor of a structure, which while not a recent concept, is still rather modern.  It is a construction system that uses prestressed metal to support reinforced concrete slabs that form the flooring, a system perfected by Léon K. Wilenko.  

    This approach was significantly cheaper.  It allowed saving 20% in comparison with other traditional metal structures, and at least 50% in steel costs since the beams are fitted with welded joints in the supporting columns that continue supporting weight after the initial construction is finished.  

    The computer played a key role in the calculations used for adopting this structure, which was the first in the world of this size. 

    A Façade Made Adjustable by the Play on Light and the Shutters

    With the structure in place, the façades could be added.  Their originality came from the need to have a calm location for readers and researchers with a maximum amount of light.

    Installing the Façades with Only Three Men

    Making the building aesthetically pleasing while maintaining a maximum amount of calm in a place that is in constant motion was made possible thanks to the choice of aluminum and glazing materials:  the setting reflects the surrounding environment like a giant mirror!

    Installing the Metal Shutters

    As for the play on light, it is created by the occupants themselves by the lighting in their offices and by playing with their shutters!  “In some respects, it was a logical test of a spontaneous architecture.

    From “Inflexible Buildings” to “Flexible” Buildings:  Adjustable Partitions.

    According to Marcel Lods, one of the architects, it was time to leave “inflexible buildings” that dictate the organization of work in the past and move towards “flexible buildings” that can be put together and taken apart depending on the occupants’ changing needs.  

    From the building’s conception, adjustable partitions were foreseen, which allowed leaving the breakdown of interior space to the last minute.

    Wood and Particleboard Partitions: Quick and Easy to Put up or Take Down.

    A Technical Approach that Meets the FMSH’s Essential Needs

    In effect, this technical approach was crucial to the Foundation’s key goal, which was to adapt its physical space to constantly changing research programs in order to host teams of various sizes for set periods of time.  

    The Foundation is therefore able to fulfill one of its essential goals:  host researchers and offer them working conditions that are tailored to their needs.