The Arcades Project has been sitting on my to-read shelf for a year or so. (I’ve finally started reading it, about which more later.) One thing that’s been bothering me since I heard about the book, though: I’ve been to Paris several times, and I don’t recall ever seeing an arcade there! Have they all disappeared, were there only a few to begin with, am I blind, or what? I have fond memories of arcades in Cleveland (though the terminology {a,be}mused me when I was younger), I bought a copy of The Wombles at a store in an arcade in London (why are those books out of print? Legions of loyal British readers, have the wombles passed out of the country’s imagination, were they ever popular?), but in Paris, nada.

It’s certainly possible that I’m forgetting having seen arcades in past trips to Paris; we did walk through one on this trip. Cour du Commerce St. Andre, the map suggests. Right near Le Procope, a centuries-old restaurant famous to us for a pasta recipe named after it (I should post that one of these months), where we had a quite nice meal, with quite good mozzarella (not as good at at La Ferme des Mathurins, but that’s hardly a pan) and a lovely muscat wine.

Anyways, fairly early on in the book there’s a quote on the matter saying

The most important of them are grouped in an area bounded by the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs to the south, the Rue de la Grange Bateliere to the north, the Boulevard de Sebastopol to the east, and the Rue Ventadour to the west.

So I pulled out my best-beloved map, and looked it up. After some amount of puzzlement (starting from the fact that Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs runs north-south, so listing it as the southern boundary seems a bit quixotic), I found the area in question; and right there on the map, running through Rue de la Grange Bateliere, we see some streets bounded by dotted lines: arcades! Looking around, there are, in fact, several “streets” on the map that either are bounded by dotted lines or a sort of dashed lines; the legend says the former are tunnels while the latter are arches (“Passages sous voute”, which doesn’t mean anything to me); the next time I go back, I’ll have to figure out what the distinction is. Maybe the tunnels don’t have glass ceilings, and hence aren’t true arcades? (The one I did see in person is marked as an arch, and it did have a glass ceiling.)

Actually, it turns out that there’s more to be learned from that map, even though I’ve looked at it hundreds of times. A little further southeast, for example, I found some streets outlined in red, between the Forum des Halles and the Pompidou center; the legend confirms the obvious guess, that they are pedestrian streets. With another clump in the Quartier Latin near the river, near where we stayed this time and home to lots of indifferent restaurants and a lovely little artistic knick-knack/sculpture/toy store called Pays de Poche, at 73 Rue Galande. Are there any other clumps that I don’t know about? I didn’t see any after a cursory glimpse.

Returning to that clump of arcades on the map, my first reaction was that it’s in an area I’m not that familiar with, so no surprise that I wasn’t aware of Parisian arcades. Except that even that isn’t true: the time before last, we stayed in a hotel right near (maybe even on? I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember) Rue de la Grange Bateliere, so we must have walked right past these arcades (/tunnels) dozens of times. Sigh.

And it must be true that some of the arcades have disappeared: apparently the Passage de l’Opera was destroyed to make way for Boulevard Haussmann, and just north of that are some department stores which may be located where arcades once were. (Or may not; maybe I’ll learn that later in the book.)

I should look and see what Christopher Alexander has to say on the subject. Arcades bring together a few nice ideas: pedestrian thoroughfares through buildings, that (like streets) have destinations (e.g. shops) on them, and that have glass ceilings. All of which are fine ideas. In the building where my father works (Kettering, at Oberlin College), there’s a pedestrian thoroughfare cutting right through it, but it really does serve just as a tunnel, with a normal ceiling and only a few doors on the sides. In Harvard Square, there’s a building I used to walk through quite frequently (Holyoke Center? I can’t quite remember what it’s called) that does have many useful doors (including shops) adjoining it. I don’t think it had a glass ceiling, though (which Google satellite maps seems to confirm), but it had a high enough ceiling that it gave much the same effect. For that matter, the Science Center also fits those criteria fairly well (and it does have a glass ceiling); it opens up in a way a street doesn’t, however, so there are fewer doors opening off of its main thoroughfare.

And Paris has adopted the “glass ceiling” idea to stunning effect the last few decades. (Side note: Google maps doesn’t cover France! How lame!) The Musee d’Orsay is one of my favorite buildings in the whole world. I can’t say that I’m all that thrilled by either the Louvre’s pyramids or the architecture of the area underneath it, but the glass ceiling does make it a wonderfully open area, and it’s a lot nicer than the courtyard above it. And the enclosed sculpture garden on the north side of the Louvre is my favorite part of the museum (at least architecturally speaking, though I enjoy it artistically speaking as well).

I should start noticing courtyards more, and figuring out what differentiates ones I like from ones I don’t like.

Post Revisions:

There are no revisions for this post.