Building Used by Marie Curie Saved From Demolition

Cultural heritage supporters are hoping to see the facility listed as a protected site

Black and white photo of a woman sitting in a chair in a laboratory
Marie Curie was the first individual to win two Nobel Prizes. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis via Getty Images

A building once used by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie has been spared the wrecking ball—at least for now.

The Pavillon des Sources building, located on the grounds of the Curie Institute in Paris, had been scheduled for demolition on Monday. Rima Abdul Malak, France’s culture minister, announced the suspension of those plans on Friday.

In March, city leaders had approved the removal of the facility to make way for a new five-story biological chemistry and cancer research center. But their decision prompted backlash from cultural heritage supporters, who launched a petition to preserve the site. Now, they want to see it listed as a protected historic monument.

“This is world heritage,” says Claudine Monteil, a historian and author who has written books about Curie, to the Observer’s Kim Willsher. “I think they don’t realize what it means symbolically. Marie Curie is the most famous woman scientist in the world and is a reference and inspiration. The Curie Institute does not need to destroy these historic buildings. It has space elsewhere.”

French officials appear to have gotten the message. In her last-minute intervention, Abdul Malak said she would like the institute to consider “alternative solutions” to tearing down the historic building, reports the Art Newspaper’s Vincent Noce.

The structure in question was designed by Henri-Paul Nénot and built in 1914. Curie—the Polish-born French scientist who became the first person to win two Nobel Prizes—used the building while conducting research on radioactivity. In it, she stored and prepared radioactive materials, which likely contributed to her death in 1934.

Because of its former use, the building is purportedly inaccessible to researchers because of its radioactivity, according to Raphaël Rodriguez, a researcher at the Curie Institute who is in favor of demolition.

“It is barricaded because it is radioactive and therefore unusable,” he tells Radio France Info, per Google Translate. “No one goes there; no one is even allowed to walk too close to this building. No one can do experiments. … Do we want to treat suffering patients? Or do we want to protect an unsanitary building at the expense of the French taxpayer?"

The structure’s safety appears to be the subject of debate, as does its connection to Curie’s legacy. Claims that the building is polluted with radioactive waste are being disputed by a “source close to the Curie Institute,” per the Art Newspaper. Meanwhile, Thierry Phillip, president of the Curie Institute, tells Chemistry World’s Julia Robinson that Pavillon des Sources was not Curie’s laboratory but, rather, simply a place where she stored materials. The building that did house her laboratory is now a public museum called the Pavillon Curie.

Phillip says the institute’s leaders remain “totally committed” to preserving and honoring Curie’s memory.

“We just fight for science, and I am absolutely convinced that Marie Curie [would] fight not for a … building, but for science,” he tells the publication.

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