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The Boulevard Périphérique, anonymous oeuvre of the Parisian technocracy: dissecting a design process at the crossroad of technical reason, social imagination and politics

Tribillon, Justinien; (2022) The Boulevard Périphérique, anonymous oeuvre of the Parisian technocracy: dissecting a design process at the crossroad of technical reason, social imagination and politics. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The Boulevard Périphérique of Paris, a 35km ring road built around the city between 1956 and 1973, is a politically-loaded infrastructure whose omnipresence in the landscape is inversely proportional to the amount of critical literature dedicated to it. Was its design process the expression of an ‘apolitical’ professional expertise seeking to maximise efficiency? What role did political, social and aesthetical considerations, often reframed as ‘technical reason,’ play in its construction? To address these questions, based on archival work this thesis analyses the ‘social imagination’ of the technocrats who designed the ring road, focusing on the administrative correspondence of civil servants working at the Paris prefecture as they communicated internally, with elected officials and with citizens. I recontextualise their design choices within their professional and cultural discourses, practices and imaginaries to analyse the Boulevard Périphérique as socially produced. First, I challenge the assumption that the ring road was built in an empty ‘zone’ by demonstrating how specific actors managed to re-route the Boulevard Périphérique, sometimes leading to evictions in suburban towns. Second, focusing on the socio-political construction of noise from road traffic as a nuisance, I argue that the shift from a technocratic governement to a democratically-elected mayor in Paris in 1977 impacted engineers’ evaluation of the technical feasibility of retroffiting the ring road with noiseproof walls. Third, I uncover evidence about the correlation between the social status of the ring road’s neighbours and their capacity to impact on its design, demonstrating the ability of social elites to push for its concealment in their vicinity. Altogether, this thesis dissects the ring road as a ‘design entanglement’ by challenging the notion of technical reason as the guiding force of technocrats involved in its construction, throwing light on their biases, the political pressures they faced and hierarchies they were entwined in.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Boulevard Périphérique, anonymous oeuvre of the Parisian technocracy: dissecting a design process at the crossroad of technical reason, social imagination and politics
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > The Bartlett School of Planning
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10161970
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