Grey Room

Order for Profit: On the Architecture of a Nineteenth-Century French Agency

Cristóbal Amunátegui

James Hill, Pari Mutuel Betting, The Information Needed for Conservative Successful Betting (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1955).


Since the 1850s, private agencies began to capitalize at reduced scale on an imperial politics of economic and technical integration. Riddled with controversy, the Agence Pari Mutuel offers a rewarding case to reexamine the interlocking histories of buildings, crowds, and speculation in nineteenth-century France. By bringing into focus architecture, mechanical calculation, crowds, and the dangers and possibilities their joint operations implied for the state, in this essay my purpose is to expand on the work of historians engaged in writing the “concrete history of social abstraction,” as Francesca Trivellato and others before her have put it. Under review will be the ways in which the tasks conventionally assigned to architecture—the spatial ordering of natural, social, and technical relations; the visualization of these relations by means of form, matter, and symbol—were instrumentalized by a coterie of entrepreneurs, inventors, and speculators to make the mass public amenable to impersonal markets.