Praise for the arcade – De Groene Amsterdammer

Praise for the arcade – De Groene Amsterdammer

Unforgiving heat waves turn our streets into ovens, traffic roars through our concrete veins, and the specter of social isolation hangs over our cities like a pale fog. Cities are crying out for change. The answer lies in the fabric of our urban architecture, in an almost forgotten piece of heritage.

Corridors have a special meaning for us, as the German cultural philosopher Walter Benjamin pointed out. The arcades are more than just historic buildings. They connect us to our urban identity. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in Benjamin’s ideas, especially his views on porticoes and corridors. Corridors are once again valued not only as memories, but also as a glimpse into the future of our cities.

These buildings respond to our desire for beauty, connection and tranquility in the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s more than just functional; They reflect our experiences and desires. Despite our modern technologies, we are still essentially urban creatures seeking protection and community. We seek connection with each other, with the places we are and where we come from. The trails show us the value of art and culture in our environment. As a resident of Brussels, I see that there are crowds around the Royal St. Hubertus Galleries in our European capital. It is a city sign.

Sustainability and quality of life also play an important role in modern city planning. Arcades connect individuals to communities, are unique to each city and reflect local culture and identity. City planners and policy makers are well aware of this. In some cities, the restoration of the arcades is done (as recently in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan), in others it is carried out under scaffolding (such as Broadmarsh in Nottingham).

Consider also the world’s famous markets from Casablanca to Damascus, which through their roofs are places of protection, commerce and community.

Or take Bologna, famous for its miles of arcades. Rich in history and culture, these covered walkways have provided shelter from the elements for centuries, creating a unique public space that strengthens the social fabric of the city. Bologna’s arcades are not only beautiful and interesting, they are also practical, allowing pedestrians to easily move around the city without having to rely on cars. It has been recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site since 2021.

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When you talk about arcade projects, we must of course talk about the Parisian “arcades”. They form a unique and distinctive element in the urban landscape of Paris. I’m talking about Le pass du Bourg-l’Abbé, Jouffrey or Verdeau. Mostly dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it is a fine example of the city’s architectural and cultural history.

Bourg-Laby Pass, Paris

© Caroline Bloomberg/Australian News Agency

Originally built as sheltered shopping streets, these covered walkways served as an elegant and convenient alternative to the crowded and often dirty streets of Paris. It features glass roofs that allow natural light in and offers a variety of shops, cafes and other entertainment options. Arcades quickly became fashionable places to see and be seen. They are still in the French capital.

There in it Traffic work By Walter Benjamin Very incredibly important. In this monumental yet unfinished work, the German thinker draws our attention to the rich complexity of these arcade buildings. He did not consider them merely as architectural constructions, but as breathing symbols of transformation, and as bridges between time periods, in which time and experience merge. For Benjamin, nineteenth-century Parisian arcades were platforms where society’s dreams and fears came to life. It reflected the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the rise of the modern industrial world.

Benjamin places the figure of the wanderer at the center of this group of ideas. A flâneur is someone who wanders carefree and without a specific goal through the city, through the covered arcades and along the streets of 19th-century Paris. The wanderer takes the role of participant observer, without actively intervening. He or she enjoys the freedom to roam and absorb the urban atmosphere. This figure is thus linked to the rise of modernity and urban consumer culture.

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Summer 2023 shows that this consumer culture must change. Heavy rain fell, while the Mediterranean Sea was subjected to an intense heat wave. Europe and other parts of the world were hit by mudslides, hail and floods. As a result, we are forced to take a closer look at the problems and consequences of climate change in our cities.

Do the arcades give us an idea of ​​what the city could really be like? For Benjamin, arcades were microcosms in which society of the time reflected its obsession with products and commodities. They were not simple markets, but temples of consumerism, where people were drawn to the mystique of ownership. The abundance of luxury goods, magnificent architecture, and the play of light and shadow made the arcades places where people not only marveled at objects, but also lost themselves in the charm of commerce.

In contemporary society, consumerism has taken new forms. What are the value of shopping fairs if you can consult Bol.com or Amazon on your smartphone within seconds? Our increasing obsession with goods has made online shopping the dominant form of purchasing. So arcades have to partially reinvent themselves. The corridors of Paris witnessed not only the transformation of the obsession with goods, but also the changing needs and ethical considerations of our society.

When we stare at window displays, we are forced to think seriously about what kind of relationship we want to maintain with our environment. The question of whether our current consumer behavior can continue becomes acute and unavoidable when we face coastal erosion in the UK and France, the loss of Dutch lives due to mudslides, and the devastating impact of hailstones the size of tennis balls. . The corridors invite us to pause and reflect on these global challenges and reconsider our role in a fragile and interconnected world.

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In this day and age, arcades are once again emerging as meaningful solutions. In a world starved for authenticity and meaning, arcades can serve as a physical metaphor for the human need for protection and cohesion. But in the elegance of arcades we also find an invitation to think about how to build with beauty and function in mind: arcades can enhance the use of public transportation, reduce the need for air conditioning, encourage social interaction, and improve the overall mood. Increase quality of life. They can transform our cities into more humane, sustainable and beautiful places to live.

The past century, driven by technological innovations and a shift toward hyper-individualism, has pushed these distinct structures to the background. The replacement of pedestrian arcades with parking lots and shopping malls symbolizes not only a changing cityscape crowded with a variety of simulations, but also a changing society where personal convenience trumps community spirit.

Benjamin’s “Arcade Project” not only offers a multi-layered exploration of modernity, but also addresses the pressing issues of our time. It makes us think about the authenticity and humanity of our cities. We must treat cities not as mere collections of buildings, but as vital networks that breathe, grow and develop with us. Corridors provide a path to a sustainable and humane future; A world where beauty and practicality unite, where the urban and the natural dance in harmony, where ecology and economics are aligned, and where our buildings are not mere structures, but the embodiment of our values, our visions and our shared human journey through it. A complicated century.

We have a collective responsibility as urban climate experts to build cities that inspire and support everyone who lives in them. The Arcade Project challenges us to transform the city into an arcade for everything and everyone.

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