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FAIRE 2022

Oral histories of labor in Paris in the 2020s

Océane Ragoucy

Highlighting many unusual trades (contraceptive pigeon house managers, mobile cartographers…) that reflect highly specific uses of the city and tells volumes about our times.

Highlighting many unusual trades (contraceptive pigeon house managers, mobile cartographers…) that reflect highly specific uses of the city and tells volumes about our times.


“We know about the ‘small trades’ of the late nineteenth century, particularly through Eugène Atget’s photographs, which have left their imprint of the imaginary of Paris. Though they gradually disappeared at the turn of the twentieth century as the city industrialized, they offer a valuable insight into the practices of the times. Certain professions, such as that of couriers, first disappeared before reappearing a few years ago in a transformed form, with the bicycle courier fleets that have proliferated due to the home delivery boom.

But did you know that Paris currently employs contraceptive pigeon house managers? That a caretaker winds all the clocks in the various town halls of the city’s arrondissements by hand? That Parisians can get the electromagnetic fields in their homes measured free of charge? What do you know about the daily routine of graffiti removers or police drone operators? Did you know that there were people mapping out parking places in Paris at street level on foot with 360° cameras?

Since 2016, Océane Ragoucy has been researching people working behind the scenes in invisible, hidden, or strange trades related to the city’s operation. ‘Oral histories of labor in Paris in the 2020s’ takes this investigation to the next level.

It aims to interview thirty or so individuals working in Paris in professions that inform us on highly specific uses of the city and the urban space and how they contribute to its operation. The idea is to investigate, document, and archive the practices, techniques, and the daily existence of various trades, both old and new, related to new mobilities and transport, care, maintenance, and infrastructure. In short, urban trades involved in its transformations, servicing, and maintenance.

As they are not widely recognized by the general public, these jobs can seem quaint, amusing, or colorful, just as the ‘small trades’ of the nineteenth century appear to us today. They are out of the ordinary and yet they rely on specific know-how, techniques, and uses.

What does this have to do with architecture? This project concurrently raises the overarching question of the history of the transformation of the city and the architectural profession. The ecological crisis is leading to the transformation of the profession and the role of architects, as it tends to become centered on mediation, environments, or deconstruction. The project is concerned with this line of inquiry and aims to further expand the description and the material, sociological, and historical analysis of the city, building on numerous references, in particular, on American journalist Studs Terkel’s work on oral microhistories.”

Océane Ragoucy is an architect, curator and editor. Her strategic and engaged work falls within the fields of architecture, art and ecology and particularly explores the forms of production of architecture, the margins, the behind-the-scenes of the city and the narration of ecological issues.

Since 2016, she has been writing columns and conducting interviews on the "invisible" professions of the city that have been published in the press. In 2017, she co-curated SOL! an exhibition and sound installation at the Lyon Architecture Biennale. In 2021-2022, she is associate curator of the exhibition La Beauté d'une ville at the Pavillon de l'Arsenal, where she conducts thirty filmed interviews of personalities on aesthetic controversies and the ecological transition in Paris. Co-author of La Terre est une architecture (TVK, Spector Books, 2021), she writes articles and catalog texts, conducts interviews and is an independent consultant. Since 2021, she is also associate editor of the online daily AOC on the subjects of architecture, urbanism, city and ecology.

Associate lecturer at the École d'Architecture de Paris-Malaquais since 2022, where she participates in two courses: "Climate emergency and responsibility of architects" and "Learning from Paris, a documentary adventure", she also supervises end-of-study theses at ENSCI-Les Ateliers.