What is an arcade? In its classic sense, the term denotes a pedestrian passage or gallery, open at both ends and roofed in glass and iron, typically linking two parallel streets and consisting of two facing rows of shops and other commercial establishments – restaurants, cafés, hairdressers, etc. “Arcade” is the English name: in French the arcades are known as “passages”, and in German as “Passagen”.
The modern arcade was invented in Paris, and, while the concept was imitated in other cities – there are particularly fine mid-nineteenth century examples in Brussels – the Parisian arcades remain the type of the phenomenon. Benjamin quotes a passage from the Illustrated Guide to Paris, a German publication of 1852, which sums up the arcades’ essence:
“These arcades, a recent invention of industrial luxury, are glass-roofed, marble- panelled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises. Lining both sides of the corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need”.
– Christopher Rollason, The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West as found at: http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/BenjaminPassagesYatraversion.pdf as accessed on 22 September 2017.