Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Agents of Change in the Domestic Built Environment

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Abstract:  As our cities age, a large number of spatial structures experience physical change. A better understanding of what this process may entail and the agents involved in it can extend the knowledge of practitioners, activists, and policy experts regarding the resilience of our domestic building stock and cities. Awan et al. (2013) explain that agents are not entirely free from societal and spatial constraints; instead, they are characterised by intent, shaped by their own visions and actions, and context, the spatial and social structures of which they are part and which they negotiate. This article discusses the intent and context of the agents involved in the construction and transformation of the Cité Ouvrière in Mulhouse in Eastern France from the mid-19th century to date. With 1,253 houses built for the workers of the Dollfus-Mieg et Compagnie (DMC) textile factory between 1853 and 1897, Cité Ouvrière was the largest and most successful employer-constructed housing scheme of its time, setting an example for many other European company towns. Through this exceptional case study, the article identifies the levels at which spatial agents operate, the means they use to instigate change, their dynamic relations, and the ways these are influenced by the wider historical context while influencing the making and evolution of the built form. Using historical and archival documents, it amounts to recognise an interplay of individuals and public and private groups, who have been responsible for taking decisions at different scales—the city, the neighbourhood, and the houses—and have instigated changes of different effect—from more localised to more aggregate.

Keywords:  actor-network; built environment; Cité Ouvrière; historical longitudinal study; Mulhouse; spatial agency; urban change



© Fani Kostourou. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.