July 13th, 2015

The Porticoes of Bologna


Bologna has extraordinary light. This is thanks not only to buildings painted in rich hues of red and orange, but to the city’s 45 kilometres of sidewalk arcades, which filter the sun into geometric shadows and turn sidewalks into softly glowing chambers. These arcades are not simply beautiful: they are a profoundly democratic innovation that enshrine the notion that streets should be comfortable, accessible gathering places.

Sidewalk arcades are better known in Bologna as porticoes. They first emerged more than 1,000 years ago, but their construction was made mandatory in 1288, when civic leaders recognized their usefulness to the public. Bologna is hardly unique in this regard, as sidewalk arcades became common, either by law or by habit, in cities around the world. In prewar Hong Kong, virtually every sidewalk was sheltered by porticoes — as was the case in Guangzhou, Taipei, Singapore and every other hot, rainy southeast Asian city.

What is curious is why they disappeared so quickly in the 20th century. Even in Bologna, they grow thin on the outskirts of the city – a building here or there, but nothing on the scale of the historic centre. At least they’ve been well preserved in the core.


August 30th, 2014

Asia at the Venice Biennale

It was a hot afternoon as a crowd gathered in the courtyard of Hong Kong’s pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture, the world’s largest and arguably most important architectural event. They were there to discuss Asia’s role in the exhibition – and it didn’t take long for someone to say what was on everyone’s mind. “I counted the number of countries from Asia participating in the biennale, and there are six countries out of sixty-five,” said Dongwoo Yim, one of the contributors to Korea’s pavilion. “It’s not a lot.”

Of course, the picture is more complicated than that. Asia might be underrepresented in some ways, but it has certainly not been ignored. Korea, under the curatorship of Minsuk Cho, won the Golden Lion for best national exhibition, with a thoughtful examination of modernism on both sides of the 38th parallel – and how North and South resemble each other more than one might think. That followed Japan’s award for best pavilion in the 2012 biennale, for an exhibition curated by Toyo Ito that documented reconstruction efforts after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Still, it is hard to deny that Asia’s presence at the biennale is felt much less strongly than its demographic and economic weight would suggest. “The pendulum has swung from West to East,” says architect Ivan Fu, who curated the Hong Kong exhibition along with Alvin Yip and Doreen Liu. “Asia is emerging. It’s the way forward. But the Asian participation [in the biennale] is quite scattered.”

This latest edition of the biennale, which opened in early July and runs until November 22, is the most anticipated in years. Iconoclastic architect Rem Koolhaas agreed to curate the show on the condition that he be given two years to prepare, instead of the usual six months, and he vowed to shift the focus away from individual “starchitects” to the fundamentals of architecture. 65 countries are participating and there are dozens of satellite exhibitions and other events, including film screenings and dance performances.


December 27th, 2012

Palermo Pastoral

Posted in Europe, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf


On the morning of my single day in Palermo — a city that left a real impression on me, despite the short amount of time I spent there — I came across a vacant lot near the harbour that was overgrown with vegetation. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize it was a vacant lot at first, because it didn’t look particularly weedy or ratty. Under the bright May sun, grass gone to seed, flowers blooming, it looked a lot like the fields I had encountered the day before on the south coast of Sicily. An unintentional incursion of the countryside into the city, I guess.



October 26th, 2012

Vie napolitani

Posted in Europe by Daniel Corbeil


Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, au coeur du dédale du vieux coeur greco-romain napoliain.

Assis à la terrasse du Gran Caffè Napolis, un mouvement soudain de vie me surprend par son intensité. C’est vrai que les cloches sonnent l’arrivée de la longue pause de la mi-journée.

De nombreux ménestrels nouveau genre envahissent un bon cinquième de la place et chantent une sorte de trame sonore vaguement inspirée par les différentes cultures qui ont tour à tour choisies de faire de Napoli leur capitale. Et ils sont nombreux à avoir rêver de posséder la baie légendaire, des grecs aux bourdons d’Espagne, en passant par les romains et les normands. Même Napoléon a savourer les lumières de Campanie. De toutes ces cultures, je crois que la cité est demeurer la Neapolis héllénistique de ses origines.


October 26th, 2012

Séjourner à Napoli

Posted in Europe by Daniel Corbeil



Il est très tôt encore, le matin du septième jour, alors que j’écris à la hâte ces quelques lignes trop diffuses sur cette cité si complexe. Pourtant, j’en suis à mon cinquième séjour en autant d’années.

Napoli, le nom évoque la mer, le volcan, les mioches qui trainent la rue dans Montecalvario. Une cité qu’on apprend, au fur que les jours passent et que les découvertes s’accumulent, à désirer. Et puis, alors que l’on quitte une des nombreuses ruines de la baie, au détour d’une falaise qui projette le regard loin dans cette mer turquoise, l’on se prend de nostalgie pour ces visiteurs des siècles derniers. Le concept même du voyage n’est-il pas ce qui à survécu du Grand tour que ces nobles anglais et allemands accomplissaient afin de parfaire leur éducation intellectuelle et sexuelle ?


October 20th, 2012

Torino, nebbia e luce

Posted in Europe by Daniel Corbeil



For a few days, I walked all around Turin, talking to locals, enjoying the unique light you find there.

Most people asked me why I came to Turin. I couldn’t say. I told them I came without purpose, except perhaps to spend some time doing nothing else than having a caffè, eating well and observing people so that I could write about how they live in this northern Italian metropolis.

Turin strikes you less for its individual monuments than with the overall impression it gives you. There’s nothing special to say about its architecture, other than realizing how perfectly built the streets and public spaces were back in the old days.


October 19th, 2012

Morning Coffee: Caffè Elena, Torino

Posted in Europe, Interior Space by Daniel Corbeil



Marchant dans les pas de Mark Twain, Nietzsche et bien d’autres, je parcours Turin, longeant d’un rythme paresseux ces rues longues et rectilignes, encadrées d’arcades si émouvantes de par leur charme démodés et franchement surannées.

Je trouve quelques chemises, dans une de ces nouvelles boutiques qui pullulent de plus en plus, jouxtant de vieilles échoppes aux façades noircies.

J’entends les pas qui résonnent, amplifiés mille fois par ces voutes qui me surplombent : l’Italie est une patrie où l’élégance est digne d’une dramaturgie grecque.

La perspective bute soudainement sur une vaste place qui forme une sorte de demi-lune étirée sur la longueur. Puis je devine le serpent d’eau que forme la Po, écrasée sous la masse informe des collines alpines. Un pont et une église ronde un peu pompeuse.


September 13th, 2012

Cicchetti veneziani


There’s always a disconnect between the way a city is portrayed on screen and the day-to-day reality of its existence. New York isn’t actually surly taxi drivers and whistling construction workers; you can’t see the Eiffel Tower from every street in Paris.

But Venice is the exception. There is nowhere else like it. What’s more, it never changes, at least in the physical sense, except to gain a few more layers of patina, a few more cracks in the bricks of its foundations, the water of the canals lapping a little bit higher with every passing year. The evening I arrived in Venice, after taking shelter from a momentous thunderstorm, I walked along a canal in Cannaregio, past polished wood motorboats and old women watching from the windows, and thought: is this place for real?

Of course, even if the Venice of our imaginations coincides uncannily with the Venice of real life, there is far more to it than meets the eye. The biggest surprise was how few tourists stray from the beaten path. Here is a place with a small and dwindling population, where visitors far outnumber locals, and it never takes long to venture into a quiet street where kids are playing soccer and some old timers are taking their first spritz of the day. One evening, walking through Santa Croce, I stumbled across a neighbourhood block party sponsored by the local Communist Party. Hundreds of people — families, mostly — sat on long wood tables, munching on fried seafood and zucchini flowers while they drank beer from plastic cups. A few tourists wandered by, looking a bit mystified, before opening their maps and wandering away.

You can’t be rushed in Venice. Unless you own a motorboat, the fastest way to get around is to walk — it takes less than an hour to walk from one end of the city to the other, and about the same time if you go by water bus. Many streets are silent but for the sound of sloshing canal water and footsteps. It takes awhile to get used to the pace, but once you do, it’s hard to go back to normal life.


September 13th, 2012

As The Romans Do

Posted in Europe by Christopher Szabla


July 16th, 2012

The Faded Glory of Not-So-Ancient Rome

Posted in Architecture, Europe by Christopher Szabla


June 30th, 2012

In Front of the Theatre

Posted in Europe by Christopher DeWolf


It’s always a pleasure to wander around an unfamiliar city and come across a corner where the entire place seems to come together. In Palermo, that would be the plaza in front of the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, a robust circular structure built in the 1870s. The theatre sits at the point where the Belle Époque neighbourhood around the via della Libertà gives way to the gritter, duskier confines of the old city.




May 28th, 2012

Parking in Palermo

Posted in Europe, History, Public Space, Society and Culture, Transportation by Christopher DeWolf

Lucky Luciano

Palermo was a surprise. I didn’t know what to expect, because the only images I had in my head were the Sicilian gangsters of early 20th century America and the assassination of Mary Corleone in The Godfather Part III, which took place on the steps of the Teatro Massimo, Italy’s biggest opera house and one of Palermo’s greatest landmarks. In other words, I pictured the Mafia and little else. What I encountered was a city with great coffee, back alley markets and bustling streets relatively untouched by tourism and gentrification. Compared to the earnest orderliness of Munich, where I had spent a couple of days before going to Italy, Palermo has a certain grimy insouciance that I find endearing.

Palermo is Sicily’s largest city and also one of its oldest, having been founded by the Phoenicians more than 2,700 years ago. It sits in the island’s northeast, on a stretch of coastline punctuated by limestone mountains. They guard the city in every direction, their watchful stare visible from every major street. Palermo’s population nearly doubled in the 1950s and 60s, and much of the city is dominated by hastily-built apartment blocks that give it a shoddy, crowded appearance. The so-called “Sack of Palermo” obliterated much of the nearby countryside and led to the neglect of its historic centre, but it also gave the city a noisy vitality.



October 31st, 2011

New Art, Old Wall

Posted in Art and Design, Europe by Daniel Corbeil

If you walk through San Lorenzo, currently one of Rome’s most “trendy” neighborhoods (even if it’s also said to be “underground”) you will probably come upon this very old wall while jumping off of Tram no. 19.


October 16th, 2011

Rome, cité envoutante…

Posted in Europe, Public Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

Erasmus, Giardino degli aranci, Roma

Les matins se succèdent à un rythme soutenu et déjà depuis une semaine je suis ici sans pouvoir prétendre comprendre ni saisir l’essentiel d’une ville tentaculaire. J’ai parcouru, à la marche, en métro, en tram, en voiture et en bus ces milliers de kilomètres de rues parfois monumentales, parfois disparates, sans trouver le fil conducteur d’une cité devenue immense par son histoire plusieurs fois millénaire.

Et toujours, le véritable essence de Rome se défile alors que je pensais la saisir, pointer le réel, stabiliser une lecture de cette métropole folle et amoureuse. Et pourtant les adjectifs se multiplies : Rome l’éternelle, la ville aux milles églises, la cité antique autour d’une chaotique mégapole du 21e siècle. Le beau, le laid. La ruine d’Auguste, le fascisme de Mussolini, l’avenir présenté par Odile Decq.

Et rien n’est jamais vrai ni si juste dans mes mots que le portrait que je dresse de Rome est balayé par le vent de la mer.