Architects have their own language. They use words that have different “everyday” meanings and words that sound completely made up. As a non-architect at my firm, I find it difficult to understand what everyone is talking about, so I decided to go from A to Z, researching, discovering, and learning the lingo.


[n.] a series of arches supported on piers or columns. an arched, roofed-in gallery. an arched or covered passageway, usually with shops on each side. an ornamental carving, as on a piece of furniture, in the form of a row of arches. an establishment containing games of a mechanical and electronic type.

An arcade, to a non-architect, is a fun establishment with pinball machines and video games. To an architect, it’s more. An architect will hear arcade and think arches. Arches are the main element that creates an arcade. Arches allow for stronger support; a series of them can hold up large roofs and span long distances. Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, the Red Keep Courtyard (the room with the map on the floor) in Game of Thrones, and the Coliseum in Rome are examples of what an arcade can look like.

When researching arcades – what is and is not an arcade – I started to lose interest after several searches and image scavenging. An arcade seemed to be only featured in older buildings and architecture, nothing I would see in my every day life. I started to wonder if an arcade was outdated for a reason. Maybe the appeal and beauty isn’t as strong as it used to be. Perhaps it was a failed trend like so many others. So, I took to the city to try to find my own examples. Could I identify an arcade used in practice?

My first stop was Lake Street, where our office is located. After driving up and down, searching for arcades, I finally found an apartment complex that had an arcade-style entrance. It featured several arches that supported an overhead entrance barrier. It stood out against the surrounding buildings, and I found that its uniqueness made it so beautiful.

Apartment complex with an arcade

Next, I crossed the river into Saint Paul. Saint Paul has historical buildings with unique architecture, so I figured I’d have to find an arcade. Heading east, I eventually I stumbled upon Blair Arcade on Cathedral Hill. The Blair Arcade is a Victorian-style apartment and business complex that has a breath-taking arcade-style interior. When you walk inside, there are a series of large archways that support the skylights overhead. Walking further, you find more archways that continue to support the old brick walls and skylights above, providing a romantic feeling to this semi underground building.

Inside the Blair Arcade

I continued my search, but found just those two examples in my neighborhood. Maybe arcades are outdated due to technology advances or design trends, but they’re still beautiful and have a wow factor. Just as fashion trends cycle around, maybe arcades and arches will make a comeback to compliment the straight lines of modern architecture.