While we were in Manchester, Graeme took us to the beautiful Barton Arcade. I took some candid shots as we reflected on the days of Baudellaire and the flâneur, a literary type from nineteenth-century France portrayed in Baudellaire’s poetry as a man of leisure, an idler, an urban explorer and a connoisseur of the street. Allen lamented that the Barton Arcade seemed less grand than the arcades he imagines from Walter Benjamin’s beloved and unfinished Arcades Project (which is largely responsible for giving the meta concept of the flâneur scholarly importance). I guess this gives us an excuse to go searching, like modern day flâneurs, through the streets of Paris for something that resembles what Allen has in his imagination about Benjamin’s arcades – an impossible feat to be sure, but a journey that must be undertaken one day!
Barton Arcade in Deansgate Manchester is a beautifully restored piece of Victorian architecture originally built of iron and glass in 1871. The arcade was restored in the 1980s and now showcases high-end shops, and numerous office suites. There are three tiers of balconies inside with ornamental balustrades adorning the U-shaped shopping arcade and two octagonal domes rising from glass pendentives. It is said to be the best example of this type of cast-iron and glass-roofed arcade anywhere in England.
Benjamin writes about the creation of arcades in the city of Paris as an architectural change rooted in the rise of capitalism. Arcades consisted of passageways through neighborhoods, which were covered with a glass roof and braced by marble panels resulting in a kind of interior-exterior for vending purposes.
These passages were “lined with the most elegant shops, so that such an arcade is a city, even a world in miniature. Within these arcades, the flâneur is capable of finding a remedy for the ever-threatening ennui. He is able to stroll at leisure; one might even go to the extreme of allowing a pet turtle to set his pace, observing the people, the building facades, the objects for sale–entertaining and enriching his mind with the secret language of the city (Baudelaire). I can hear Paris calling for us.