Most of the Paris arcades came into being during the decade and a half which followed 1822. The first condition for their emergence was the boom in the textile trade. The magasins de nouveauté, the first establishments that kept large stocks of goods on the premises, began to appear. They were the forerunners of the department stores. It was the time of which Balzac wrote: ‘Le grand poème de l’étalage chante ses strophes de couleur depuis la Madeleine jusqu’`la porte Saint-Denis.’footnote2 The arcades were centres of the luxury-goods trade. The manner in which they were fitted out displayed Art in the service of the salesman. Contemporaries never tired of admiring them. For long afterwards they remained a point of attraction for foreigners. An ‘Illustrated Paris Guide’ said: ‘These arcades, a new contrivance of industrial luxury, are glass-covered, marble-floored passages through entire blocks of houses, whose proprietors have joined forces in the venture. On both sides of these passages, which obtain their light from above, there are arrayed the most elegant shops, so that such an arcade is a city, indeed a world, in miniature.’ The arcades were the setting for the first gas-lighting.

The beginnings of construction in iron constituted the second condition for the appearance of the arcades. The Empire had seen in this technique a contribution to the renewal of architecture along ancient Greek lines. The architectural theorist Bötticher expressed the general conviction when he said that ‘with regard to the art-forms of the new system, the formal principle of the Hellenic mode’ must come into force. Empire was the style of revolutionary terrorism, for which the State was an end in itself. Just as Napoleon little realized the functional nature of the State as instrument of the rule of the bourgeois class, so the master-builders of his time equally little realized the functional nature of iron, with which the constructional principle entered upon its rule in architecture. These master-builders fashioned supports in the style of the Pompeian column, factories in the style of dwelling-houses, just as later the first railway stations were modelled on chalets. ‘Construction occupies the role of the sub-conscious.’ Nevertheless, the concept of the engineer, which came originally from the Revolutionary Wars, began to gain ground, and the struggles between builder and decorator, Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole des Beaux Arts, began.

With iron, an artificial building material appeared for the first time in the history of architecture. It went through a development whose tempo accelerated during the course of the century. This received its decisive impulse when it turned out that the locomotive, with which experiments had been made since the end of the ’twenties, could only be utilized on iron rails. The rail was the first iron unit of construction, the forerunner of the girder. Iron was avoided for dwelling-houses, and made use of for arcades, exhibition halls, railway stations—buildings which served transitory purposes. Simultaneously, the architectonic areas in which glass was employed were extended. But the social conditions for its increased utilization as a building material only came into being a hundred years later. In Scheerbart’s Glass Architecture (1914) it still appeared in the context of the Utopia.

Chaque époque rêve la suivante

Michelet: Avenir! Avenir!footnote3