The Berlage


Selling Paris

Alexia Yates

This lecture discusses the transformative effects that a phenomenal building boom and bust in Paris in the 1880s had on both the city’s built landscape and the market life of its real property. Part of a number of real estate bubbles that transpired around the globe in this period, the boom generated both new buildings and new ways of understanding real estate as a merchandise. Tracing how real property came to act as a commercial object in the spaces of the city and the portfolios of investors involves opening up the business networks, financial arrangements, and political and social ambitions that structured the production, distribution, and consumption of Parisian property. It requires reading the commonplace—from boulevards to apartment buildings—in unconventional ways, and adding new sources to our pantheon of urban texts: the publicity journals and advertising columns of real estate developers and agents; the rental contracts of property owners; the annual reports of property management companies; the shares and bonds of limited-liability companies and mortgage institutions. The payoff is not only a new account of the political and economic stakes (as well as social experience) of city-building during a crucial period of urbanization; it is also an account of real estate as a social product and terrain of contestation that helps trace the changing regulatory environment of state capitalism at the turn of the twentieth century.

This lecture is part of The Berlage Sessions, a thematic Friday afternoon seminar series entitled “Architectures of Speculation,” which considers architecture’s historical and contemporary relationship to real estate speculation, from urban developments associated with nineteenth-century London, fin-de-siècle Paris, and postwar Rome; to land ownership, the spatial ordering of property, and buildings as financial instruments. Lecturers will include Gabriel Cuéllar, Patrice Derrington, Florian Hertweck, Forbes Massie, Andrew Saint, Davide Spina, and Alexia Yates.

Alexia Yates is lecturer in modern history at the University of Manchester, where she researches urban history and the history of economic life in Europe. Dr. Yates obtained her PhD from the University of Chicago and previously held postdoctoral fellowships as a Prize Fellow in Economics, History, and Politics at the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University and a Mellon/Newton Interdisciplinary Fellow at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at Cambridge. Her book Selling Paris: Property and Commercial Culture in the Fin-de-siècle Capital traces the emergence of a commercial Parisian housing market, as private property owners, architects, speculative developers, and credit-lending institutions combined to finance, build, and sell apartments and buildings.