Barricades and Boulevards: Material transformations of Paris, 1795-1871

by Carl Douglas

“Destroying and constructing are equal in importance, and we must have souls for the one and the other”.1

Large-scale urban violence is a tumultuous, messy and distressing affair. Materials and patterns of everyday life are blown apart. Amongst death and disarray, important spatial operations that take place in urban conflict are easily overlooked. However, the construction of street barricades and boulevards in Paris between 1795 and 1871 transformed the city. The struggles over these transformations can be described as both the disruption and the policing of what Rancière calls the “distribution of the sensible”. 2

The barricades built in the streets of Paris in the revolutionary years that followed the Great Revolution of 1789, and closed with the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871, were not the first or the last artefacts of urban insurgency. Nor was Paris the only city in history – even European history – to be barricaded. However, in Paris, barricading became a revolutionary technique, the development and decline of which can be traced with some precision. Barricading served complex social purposes, of which defense was only one, and not always the most significant. Thus, barricades are also an ephemeral city-scale architecture occasioned by, and changing, the social.3

History and Tectonics of a Rubbish Heap

At first, the Parisian barricades were temporary barriers, or walls erected quickly across streets. They were built by anonymous groups of insurgents from whatever loose materials could be found nearby: carts, furniture, barrels and, most typically, paving stones torn up from the roadway. They were constructed en masse. In July 1830 there were over 4,000 barricades; in June 1848 there were as many as 6,000.

The first recorded instance of barricading in Paris occurred in 1588, when the popular Comte Cossé de Brissac lead Parisians in a rebellion in response to the posting of soldiers in the streets of the city. Chains were sometimes used to close streets to traffic, and these points of closure were reinforced with barrels (barriques) filled with stones to restrict military movement. In 1648, the arrest of a popular politician lead to the erection of over a thousand barricades in the city. Thereafter, barricades did not recur for nearly 150 years, playing no part in the Revolution of 1789. When they did reappear, with the Jacobin uprising of 1795, it was in a different context. While civil disobedience had previously been used as a way of gaining leverage over political leaders, the intention was now the complete overthrow of the state. Between 1795 and 1871, historian Mark Traugott records twenty-one instances of barricading (1993: 315). The most famous of these incidents were the July Days of 1830 (portrayed by Delacroix in his 1830 painting La Liberté guidant le peuple), and the revolutions of February and June 1848. According to Traugott (316), while barricading, by 1848, had achieved ”a genuinely international status as a tactic of revolt”, it was already losing effect in the face of mobile artillery and improving military tactics.4
In the streets of Paris, the last time barricades were used in a major way was during the Paris Commune of 1871, when the socialist government of the city declared itself independent of Versailles. Although barricades continued to be used in other cities in Europe, including Barcelona and Berlin, and reappeared in Paris in 1945 and 1968, barricading as a technique had ceased to be decisive in urban insurgency.

1. Paul Valéry, quoted in Pallasmaa (200: 6).
2. For Rancière’s political philosophy, see Disagreement:Politics and Philosophy (998), and The Politics of Aesthetics (2004), which contains a useful glossary of  Ranciére’s terms.
3. The barricades’ history is in some ways distinct from the history of ad-hoc fortifications (trenches, seige works, emplacements) in general. For the barricades, see Corbin and Mayeur (997) and Mark Traugott (99). In addition, nearly all historical accounts of the French revolutionary period mention the barricades, but few consider their significance in a sustained manner. For the general historical context, see Hobsbawm (962) and (975).                         3. The French uprising of 848 sparked others in cities across Europe, incluing Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Milan, Naples, Budapest, Frankfurt, Prague and Dresden.
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Taken from

El Seed – Perception

El Seed

In my new project ‘Perception’ I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences.
In the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level. Still, the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated.
To bring light on this community, with my team and the help of the local community, I created an anamorphic piece that covers almost 50 buildings only visible from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’
‘إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه’

The Zaraeeb community welcomed my team and I as we were family. It was one of the most amazing human experience I have ever had. They are generous, honest and strong people. They have been given the name of Zabaleen (the garbage people), but this is not how they call themselves. They don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage; and not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city. They are the one who clean the city of Cairo.

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Hypothetical Development Organization

“The Hypothetical Development Organization” identifys neglected-looking buildings and then dreams up “hypothetical” (absurd) futures for them. The idea is then rendered by a contributing artist, printed out on a sign and then placed on the original building — exactly like a real “developers” sign, only more interesting.

(Rendering By Humberto Padillo)

“The Radtke Reading Room.”

“Radtke Reading Room And Archive. New Orleans anti-graffiti zealot Fred Radtke is (in)famous for paint-rolling gray splotches over street art, and if you spend any time in New Orleans you will see his work everywhere. Even Banksy has referenced him. (And Radkte himself has been arrested at least once — for obliterating a legal mural). On some level Radkte’s splotches are his de facto “tag.” Indeed, one could argue that he is the all-out king of New Orleans; he’s tagged up the entire parish. In tribute, this building could serve as the new center of his operations. It is time to recognize Radkte’s role as a citywide bomber: When he goes up over your tag, he really goes up over your tag. Respect.”

(Renderings by Kirsten Hively)

“Boutiques and artisinal products signal exclusivity, and thus economic vitality. Hypothetically, this building could be the workshop and boutique of the maker of artisanal velvet ropes. If you need a velvet rope, you don’t want just any old mass-produced velvet rope; you want a handmade, custom velvet rope, from a recognized velvet rope artisan. This classy and cutting-edge-looking business isn’t a fusty old velvet rope “shoppe,” it’s the place to get velvet ropes, as impressive and forward-thinking as those handmade by the trendiest velvet rope makers in Los Angeles, London, and Hong Kong.”

This Saturday, “The Hypothetical Development Organization” officially kicks off in New Orleans with an opening at the Du Mois Gallery.

Saturday, April 9 · 5:00pm – 8:00pm
Du Mois Gallery
4921 Freret
New Orleans, LA

Click here to RSVP

Taken from

The Murder of Creativity in Rotterdam


From Total Creative Environments to Gentripunctural Injections

This essay deals with Rotterdam’s recent attempts to win the title of ‘Creative Capital of the Netherlands’. (1) In particular, it focuses on two recent housing developments in Rotterdam in which the ‘creative class’ features as a central referent: the Lloyd Quarter development in Delfshaven and The Poetic Freedom housing project in Spangen. The main argument of this essay is that if creativity is as bad off as it is often claimed today – instrumentalised as it is through perverted schemes by city-managers – the only option left for creative forces is to perform a similar act as the Greek mythological figure Medea: to stop what is most dear to her, her children, from being the object of a cruel manipulation by her unfaithful husband, Jason; instead of trying to protect them at all costs, she killed them out of love. In a similar vein, we plead for creative agents to tactically act uncreatively in the face of the aggressive usurpation of creativity by government and market forces.

read the whole essay…