The Contemporary Urban Heritage Through the History of its Residents


 The suburbs have already been the subject of museum exhibitions. For many years, urban popular culture, in its different forms, has been appreciated and historical institutions have even tied themselves to the suburbs, just like the Museum of History and Art of Saint-Denis. From 1937, the Museum of the Living History of Montreuil has explored how the working classes have been at the heart of the major political and social changes since the middle of the nineteenth century. AMuLoP and our partners seek to build and complement this approach, through a museum which is even more in touch with the everyday experience of past and present residents.


 In recent years, several initiatives have emphasised the architectural dimensions of the suburban heritage. Organisations such as l’Association régionale des cités-jardins d'Ile-de-France or the Musée d’histoire urbaine et sociale de Suresnes highlight the importance of certain aspects of the social housing stock and assist the public in gaining a greater understanding of their history. Moreover, within the framework of urban regeneration, temporary exhibitions are increasingly common, prioritising the experience of the residents of these buildings or districts. AMuLoP strives to present this urban heritage within a large social, cultural and political history of the surburbs.


 And it is for this reason that our association, through the prism of housing, seeks to bring to light the history of working-class suburbs throughout the twentieth century and to do so by recentring the narrative on these areas and their residents. Such an approach will enrich our understanding of the social questions that confronted these inhabitants. These included changes in working conditions, access to political and social rights, changes in the regulation of accommodation, health problems, alterations to diet and leisure time, gender relations, segregation and mobility, solidarity and conflict between neighbours. Such a complex history cannot be understood, however, without an awareness of the long history of different migrations which shaped the development of these working-class areas: migrations from Paris, from other French regions, from other nations and from colonial territories.

Residents of the Émile-Dubois Cité in Aubervilliers in the 1980s  (© Patrice Lutier)

An ambitious museum experience: the immersion in the lived experience of the residents though an immeuble-témoin


 To address this history in both a rigorous and accessible way, living and embodied, our project will recount the history of the different generations of residents through an ordinary building. Importantly, this will not involve investing in a unique architectural building: this museum of working-class housing must install itself within an everyday heritage and it is, indeed, the history of these people and families, more than the building itself, which gives life to this project. It is in following their path, as workers, merchants, soldiers, parents, migrants or simply neighbours, that the different aspects of the history of the suburbs in the twentieth century can be comprehensively addressed. Centred on their lives in this building, the museum will nevertheless offer a perspective on their past and future residential prospects.


 Far from the classic formula of an exhibition, our museum will offer an immersive experience in the lives of those who occupied these places, joining the reconstitution of these physical spaces to the restoration of a tangible sense of the life of these individuals; following the lead of New York’s Tenement Museum, this will be done through written, visual and aural archival material. Researchers and guides will help mediate this experience, enabling an active participation by members of the public. For this, we envisage recruiting guides open to sharing the stories of individual and familial itineraries, while also questioning the public, creating exchanges around the social and urban issues of the Greater Paris Area. There are multiple advantages to this type of visit, not least its ability to integrate dramatic approaches, or the use of digital technology – offering, for instance, access directly to archival documents, or access to the backstage work of the museum and its research activities.

A Sitting-room in the Grosperrin Low-Rise Building, Émile-Dubois Cité in Aubervilliers in the 1980s (© Patrice Lutier)