In a global world commercial architectures have for some time taken on a uniform character, a fate some have tried to elude through stylistic ploys, celebrity architects and aesthetic experiments. Awareness of this state of affairs has been influenced essentially by two original definitions. The first is the “non-place” coined by Marc Augé. In contrast to what Augé calls anthropological places, non-places are all those spaces - including commercial areas - with no identity, devoid of human engagement or history. Non-places are spaces where the paths of individuals cross but do not meet. They are the product of a society of excess, where historic places are not embraced but rather placed on the sidelines and dubbed as “curiosities” or “objects of interest”. Non-places focus exclusively on the present. They are synonymous of our era; everything about them is precarious, improvised and transitory. They are characteristic of our solitary individualism: people pass through non-places but do not live there. The second definition is by Rem Koolhaas. His term “junkspaces” describes the architecture of commercial spaces as little more than gypsum board incubators containing moving staircases and air conditioning plant: spaces that destroy the very significance of buildings. In support, however, of those of us who see opportunities when commerce and culture inter-relate, places can also be defined in light of the relationships they trigger within their particular geographical and social context and not just by their specific individual or aesthetic features. This is what is behind Kengo Kuma’s seminal essay “Anti-object” where he comes out against self-referential, “coercive” architecture that seeks to stand out from its natural context. “Buildings that deliberately seek distinction from their environment - says Kuma - are very different from those that try and mitigate their isolation. The difference is perceptible to all those who use them”. The Ambasciatori Bookshop is a multiple-function building, a hybrid combining several different genetic codes. It stands where once there was a street, which then became a market and later a cinema (at one stage showing adult movies). The Ambasciatori and its past invite us to consider architecture not so much in terms of fascinating outstanding objects - that on closer inspective are perhaps not so innovative and fail to trigger anything deeper than immediate aesthetic gratification - but rather in terms of how the city organises itself creating new spatial entities, in answer to physical relations and behavioural systems. In a process of constant flux, the city originates innovative systems and spatial configurations that have a deep bearing on everyday life. These places will be imbued with great symbolic significance that set themselves apart from their context. Right from the outset the Ambasciatori seemed just the right place in the vibrant city centre for a cultural project reflecting the spirit of the times and a new collective imagination. Concern to comply fully with LEED environmental protocol requirements led to consideration of broader issues like quality of life and lifestyle choices. All this underpinned the programme for a new type of man-made environment affording deeper, more stable qualities. It reflects a mindset, echoed recently by the Institute for Urban Design in The New York 2030 Notebook, when it exhorted city administrations around the world to see existing building stock as a means of securing a sustainable future. In the words of the report: “… new ideas need old buildings. The greenest homes for New Yorkers are the ones already built…”. During the Eighties, the Ambasciatori’s interior layout was radically changed with the addition of a stand-alone weight-bearing frame comprising two intermediate floors detached from the perimeter walls. The work was never completed, however. The new programme finished the job and at the same time removed all the “modern” additions, returning the outer building to its original historic shell. This included preserving and putting on view the bricks that have supported the roof since it was put up to create a covered market. The size, shades and shapes of bricks are indicative of the firing methods used and hence the date of fabrication. Our stated aim was to intervene as little as possible to free up the largest surface area for the display of goods while making the environment suitable for activities that entailed culture, food and public events. This meant achieving a balance between renovating and leaving things as they were. Despite their dilapidated appearance, some walls were structurally sound. They were left untouched to testify to the long history behind the building. The later concrete structure was completed, as already mentioned, and left distinct from the older part of the building. Concrete floors and surfaces were left their natural light grey colour with the odd flaw, showing that concrete is a living material, aptly called the marble of the 20th century. The building plan for this independent construction was accepted and supported by the city cultural heritage authorities. The physical gap left between the historic architecture and the concrete addition underlines how new architectural programmes can blend to great advantage with vestiges from the past. The choice of technologies and interior layout were all made with this aim in mind. Bookshelves and containers have no back panels. This highlights the brick texture of the building that becomes the real backdrop for the books, gastronomic products and cultural events offered inside. The moving staircase, a commercial accessory par excellence (maximum circulation = maximum volume of sales), is the key vertical circulation route. It stands devoid of any exterior cladding, its essential structure on full display. The Ambasciatori concept is truly innovative for Italy and perhaps for the rest of Europe as a new type and design of commercial space. The original bid proposed by Coop Adriatica in response to the call for tenders by the Bologna City Council combined books, gastronomy and cultural events. To do this Coop Bookstores joined forces with fine food purveyor Eataly and so devised a new formula for tasting, purchasing and learning. The partnership with Eataly, a brand grouping several small fine food and wine businesses, was intended from the outset as a top-quality operation, for both food for the mind and body. The format is conducive to customer engagement on several levels - emotional, sensory and experiential - providing a significant consumer experience. US farmer Wendell Berry’s famous statement that “eating is an agricultural act” is one that Eataly fully endorses. It tallies with their stated objective of educating consumers to choose what they eat, demand quality product and value for money and so in turn influence what the market offers. Eataly’s three environments - café, trattoria and osteria, or tavern - are deployed each on a separate level. They are matched by corresponding bookstore sections - current affairs, literature, local and specific cultures. On the first floor, one area is furnished with the original displays retrieved from the premises of the Palmaverde bookstore, famous for its antique books, bought by Coop Adriatica from former owner Roberto Roversi. Using the furniture from this historic store testifies to the city’s aim to preserve traces of its past as it renovates and keeps abreast with the times in the extraordinary selection of books circulated and read. As to the rest of the layout, book-display units and visual communication supports are designed to facilitate reader understanding of the spatial distribution. Graphic elements give the first phrases of literary works, publishers are highlighting, authors arranged in alphabetical order and blackboards indicate bookseller tips. In the words of Romano Montroni, consultant of the whole project and the driving force behind the bookstore: “the idea was to offer quality-class service that would facilitate cultural choices and the free movement of ideas, making people feel less overawed before the publishing product. The place is conceived like a cultural map of changing taste, fashions and ideas in a huge interplay with customer-readers. Here space is subordinated to the bookseller, who uses it carefully. Nor are current public tastes exclusively pandered to. In a society geared increasingly to standardization and dumbing down, the true bookseller gives ample space alongside the bestsellers, to the product of small and medium size publishers. Book offerings include first time editions and new avenues, to inspire emotions, trigger more than a passing interest and perhaps create lasting reading habits. Since the bookstore, is and will remain for a long time to come, the main purveyor of culture, our objective in both store layout and management was to whet and maintain readers’ appetites for a wide assortment of books”. The Ambasciatori experience has many encouraging aspects. There are many buildings and spaces in our city waiting to be put to new, not necessarily commercial, use. The Ambasciatori could be called a place for culture and food, a place where you can buy books but also taste and learn about the fine foods of this and other regions of Italy. Whether we like it or not, commercial outlets are a major driver of urban renewal. In its most positive form, commercial endeavours are the source of constantly innovative ways of occupying space. We see this in the way retail shops have been transformed and are today part of a general collective and social renewal of the urban setting bringing new spaces and new forms of urban mobility. It has also helped to give new kudos to crucial professions in our day and age like the bookseller. Understanding what’s new in the European urban context and how our urban environments are changing means understanding a series of phenomena underlying these changes, which although not sweeping, have had an extraordinarily powerful effect on whole swathes of the urban scene. Space is in fact one of the most pointed metaphors of how a society lives. As always, our future is bound up with an awareness of where we have come from. Our concept of space is the symbol of tomorrow’s city, an urban utopia that will reconcile the component parts of our society. In the words of Marc Augé, the way we use space shapes a world of images and desires. Architects do not just have the task of building buildings but rather of creating free spaces that preserve a salutary, restorative emptiness to prevent the super-abundance around us from blinding us.