The social inequalities and its repercussion on living standards


Money, the main driver of our economy, choices and lives. Expressed on a human scale by social classes, it is and has always been the main reason for wars, massacres, misery and social gaps. The social class determines where and how we live or at least start leaving before and if a change in that social gap occurs. Housing, one of the most notable sign of success, failure or even worse in someone’s life is what is going to verify or not the hypothesis advanced in this research that claim that Architecture expresses the social status of its occupants through different choices of materials and construction. The first part will take a look at Versailles Palace its construction and materials then compare it to the rest of the population lifestyle, then the second part will focus on the slave trade and Plantation facilities in America in the 18th and 19th century and compare the master’s “Manor” to the slave’s “Cabana”. Finally, the final part will zoom at the ‘Chambre de Bonne’ or Maid Room in France. With that diversity of topics through different time frames it will be possible to trace the advanced hypothesis from the 16th through the end of the 20th century, covering a major part of the hierarchical modern Society.    


Areal photograph of the Palais de Versailles
Areal photograph of the Palais de Versailles

      Versailles Palace, one of the most heard about monument, and probably one of the most magnificent was built at the image of the ruler, the ‘Roi Soleil’ or Sun King. 

State deficit in grey compared to its earnings in Blue

Despite the rise of the deficit in the absolute kingdom’s finances, Louis XIV still builds the palace, through wars and hunger, the inequalities spike and more than 80% of the population consists of Villagers working hard and living in precarious conditions.

House 17eme plan
Section and details of a house of the 17th century in France

Their houses usually made out of stacked stone and wood burn when the invader attacks and burn again when the invader is repelled. On the other hand the extravagant Sun King lives in a luxury never seen before, and his wife even redecorates her apartments often.

Versailles’s Palace first floor plan

 Built by two of the biggest architects over more than 50 years but not continually, Louis Le Veau and Jules Hardoin-Mansart meet the demanding needs of their kings. The most notable room is the Hall of Mirrors, decorated with an exquisite set of silver furnishing. 

Was the Palace built as an expression of his absolutism? Illustrating his famous phrase “L’Etat c’est moi” ‘I am The State’ or was it just an attempt to centralize the government to maintain a higher control over it? But the biggest question is how did the majority of the people lived their lives working hard to survive and living in precarious conditions while knowing that on the other side of the country their ruler was living in the most luxurious palace ever built on a 36,000 Acre Lot? Can the French Revolution of 1789 be traced directly to this event? And if it can, would we ever see an other revolution based on equality and liberty?

        Even after the protestation of Germantown, a petition made against Slavery, Racism was still at its highest in America. Mostly expressed in rural areas where Slaves imported from Africa through the Triangular trade were treated as merchandise and forced to work for the rest of their lives usually in plantations.

Slave Ship capacity diagram

     Estimates say that between 12 and 15 Million African were enslaved between the 16th and the 19th century in America. 15% of them died during their transportation and an other 6 Million were killed while other African tribes were trying to capture them. 

Typical plantation complex. On the back right of the picture are the ‘Negro quarters’ or Slave quarters

Although the largest amount of slaves was shipped to South America, a big part of the slaves were forced to work in labor-intensified plantations in Virginia, like sugar or Tabaco plantations. Virginia, where one out of four families owned at least a slave, and over 100 plantations owners owned more than a 100 slaves, making the slaves an asset more important than the land itself.

slave house
slave house

          Slaves and masters had two completely different lifestyle and houses. Living in the ‘Manor House’ or ‘Great House’, the masters were at the top of the luxury with huge gardens and house, having their private maids (specially selected from the other slaves to serve the master directly). The slaves lived in the Negro quarters, in small houses, around 9ft high and 10 to 12 ft in diameter, with a door and a small window. The house was made essentially out of bamboos and waste material from the Plantation.

The inspection and sale of a ‘Negro’

           Such Racism and Segregation on all levels between these races would never even be imaginable nowadays, but how was it so widely speeded? How could the biggest slave trade last for more than 300 years without any or minimal protest? Condemning it is not the only solution, the roots of such a genocide and crime, even bigger than the Holocaust would always remain a mystery because we all want to think that an explanation was behind it, weather right or wrong.

Hassmanian BUilding
Typical Haussmannien building

             Inequalities are even more accentuated at the end of the 20th century within cities. In France, the “Chambre de Bonne” or ‘Maid room’ is a perfect example that illustrates it. 

schema Immeuble Haussmanien
Diagram of a Haussmannien Building. The segregation is clearly observed by the separation of stairs: in red the service stairs used to access the Maid Rooms and in green the prestige stairs used to access the apartments

               The Maid Room finds its origins at the start of the reconstruction of the city of Paris by the Baron Haussmann during the second republic, between 1852 and 1870, under the reign of Napoleon III, where Maids (function was to help a family usually rich in any task they wanted), almost non existent today used to live. The room, separated from the main house was justified by the start of a hierarchized society that putted a barrier between the domestics and their masters. To get to the Maid Rooms floor, a separate entrance is used, then the ‘service stairs’, small, hard to access must be climbed, going from 3 to 7 stories depending on the buildings height because it is always on the last floor under the roof of the buildings. 

            In the start of the 20th century, shocked by their living conditions, many famous doctors denounce these practices, adding that it is on of the biggest hygiene scandals of our civilization and even compared it to a prison cell and concluded that the cell was more livable than the Maid Room.

Service Stairs

 In recent days, after recent regulations, a maid room cant be smaller than 9m2 or 98f2, usually sharing a common bathroom with several other rooms. Officially 48700 of these rooms are rented in France yearly, with almost half of it just in Paris. Usually rented to students or poor workers, in some occasions, poor families can share it while paying high rent prices due to a high demand and a lack of social housing in these areas.

Interior of a Maid Room not exceeding 100 square feet

In conclusion, most of the topic studied approved the hypotheses, and even added an other major point to the understanding of human segregation on a higher level, where your financial status makes who you are, and where architecture is ruthless towards the most miserable, usually making the rich richer and in consequent the poor poorer compared to the rich, widening the social gaps. Is the future of architecture with green and reusable materials a new way of getting the classes together towards a common goal of energy reduction? Or is that segregation unstoppable as long as the notion of social classes still exists?

Rana Plaza Building Collapses



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