Poché is the term for the black lines in an architectural drawing that indicate the thickness of the floors and walls. Or on a city plan: the black that indicates buildings in contrast to the white that designates public space 1. But there is also open space hidden in the black. It is the space that for whatever reason is obscured: technical space, cavity space, cellars and attics. It is the space that we don’t want to see, but that we also can’t erase. The more closely built the Baroque city was, the more difficult it was to eliminate the residual spaces. This also applied to Modernism where there was no room for dust collectors like attics and cellars. Nor for the ugly back sides and silted-up inner courtyards. Because these came to light with the opening of the closed blocks, they were set up as viewing and ornamental gardens.
Nowadays courtyards in cities are set up as closed patios, belonging to a cafe or restaurant or to an art institution, and often accessible only through the institution. And suddenly the ugly back sides of the surrounding buildings turn out to be an extra attraction. We see this in Arnhem in an area that—typical for the poché—doesn’t have a name (yet), and that I just call the bartok space 2. From trash space to terrace space: it seems like a big step but on closer inspection that is not the case.
Certainly, the bartok space is changing from a residual space surrounded by back sides to a square with front sides. The back side of an old theatre building has been transformed into a glassed front side with a homely pointed roof. But the transformation is not complete. Behind the glass facade the full extent of the stairwell is clearly visible. The staircase has been promoted from residual space to theatre of movement. The white and black of the city plan have become grey. It is characteristic of the present time that what had always remained hidden now insists on coming into the light. This development is encouraged by the Internet that ensures that the private and the public are increasingly intertwined. The contemporary poché develops into pure virtuality, in the words of Frans Sturkenboom: the underground and the background building that insists on actualization.
We see this not only in the buildings but also on the ground surface. The Theatre and the Arthouse next door create small patios and stage performances among gravelly sand, mugwort and pigweed. This process of going from poché to square is interesting. Because now you see that bringing things to light produces a new black along with greyness.
First the grey. I once explored the farmyard of my youth looking for the intimate relationship between the yard and its inhabitants, including the chickens and the pigs. But I overlooked one of the residents, the pigweed, which had spread flat over the yard. A case of plant blindness. Pigweed is an ugly ‘tredplant’, which, because of its name, I thought grew only in farmyards. Now it strikes my eye in the city spaces halfway between poché and square, where it forms ornamental stars in the sand. And where I fear it will one day end up as mosaic tile on a square.
Now we turn to the black. The messy back sides of the building appear to consist of two houses that are equally enigmatic in their differences. The shape of the tile roofs, the placement of the windows: it seems as if the back sides without intervention of a designer are transformed into front sides. Spooky and poignant. I do not know where their front door is and I also don’t need to know. They are inspiration for the dreamer, like Dostoevsky, who on his wanderings through Saint Petersburg saw in that one house with the ‘shutters closed in broad daylight’ immediately an adventure.
1. I have borrowed my information about the poché from the recently published book by Frans Sturkenboom, De gestiek van de architectuur, special chapter 6, Bergen/verbergen/ontbergen. 2017, Artez Press Arnhem, p. 127-153.
2. referring to the Bartokhall formerly situated here.
Crossroads and Bifurcations
I look, or rather used to look, from four storeys up out over the roofs of the city with behind them the green hills of the park and a few towers. A new cinema near the railwaystation took the first bite out of this panorama. The second followed with the renovation of a grey concrete office building closer by. For a moment it seemed as if two gleaming white towers rose behind the hills of the park. I jumped on my bike to look for these wondrous towers. But they turned out to be piles of snow-white stones on the roof undergoing renovation. A block of flats under construction, even closer and soon six storeys high, will rob me completely of the panoramic view. It will also take away the intimate world at my feet of crooked houses, an art house and a theatre around an undefined open space adorned with gravel and pigweed. I can still see the tall pointed roof of the theatre, but it will soon disappear behind the two missing storeys.
But, the pointed roof of the theatre miraculously reappears in the pointed-roof form of the windows of the new block. It is a reference? To the pointed roof of the theatre? Or to The Triangle? Oh no, not Plato and Architekton again, the First Carpenter. I turn to the four storeys on the front side of my apartment.
To the plane trees.
Four massive plane trees block my view. Or so I thought at first. But no, the plane trees are my view.
The farm of my childhood was full of disturbing bifurcations. The slanted hatch to the basement was at the same time the stairs to the upstairs room. A second ‘fork’ was that of the fireplace and the smokehouse in the attic. The height of homeliness was linked to the darkest dark imaginable, the smokehouse in the attic. I could not understand all these bifurcations but could only follow them again and again. They set off my imagination, running up and down over and over again. So I finally folded the two together.
And now: my performance of inside and outside, between house and plane trees. Their leaves cast soft, waving shadows on the inside walls. Crows, the blackest imaginable inhabitants of the trees, whirl through the leaves and fly in and out through the open window. Everything in motion. Birds, leaves, blue sky, triangular beaks and triangular leafs, window frame, branch, window sill and me. In turn we form each other’s fore- and background and fold far and near together into a shallow space.
Re:Poché and Crossraods and Bifurcation
From: A AndhisachiveArchitect
Dear Mr. Verstegen, my dear Ton,
It’s been a while since we last saw each other at the launch party for the
most recent book by our mutual friend W.
I’m so bold as to continue from where we left off and to address you
familiarly as ‘je’. It was a real pleasure to finally get to speak with you
at length and with this letter I will gladly respond to the texts that you
sent in connection with our meeting there.
However, after all that travelling between the Netherlands and
Vancouver Island my confused head is not yet clear so please forgive
me if my writings seem undefined or disorderly. My son has advised
me not to be so strict and to react more spontaneously instead of always endlessly writing, trying to slide and shift with words and texts.
After reading your Poché text I first had in the back of my mind the
following word that finally worked its way to the front: Touché.
I must smile to myself because I know that you play billiards from time
to time and that Touché is what is called out when a player touches a
billiard ball with his hands. In my imagination I saw you in a stuffy old
men’s cellar touch the smooth, round ball by accident and react in
annoyance by trying to overcome your own stupidity.
Just as an open space lies hidden in the black (of the architectural
drawing) a word can in the same way contain many meanings in the
dark space of the letters themselves:
Touché: touch, fanfare, hit, contact, fingering, abutment (‘raakligging’),
trumpet blast, not to mention the brush stroke. Well, you see how my
brain keeps spitting out associations.
Recently I have been struggling over metonymy, continually trying to
retrieve one typifying word, yet I don’t want to say directly what I
mean but to make myself clear in a roundabout way.
You write that ‘It is characteristic of the present time that what had
always remained hidden now insists on coming into the light.’ That
touches a sore point for me, even though I don’t often stumble over
personal sores in public: to put it crudely and without any imagination
involved, I must suddenly relate to another man’s—or is it now another
woman’s—love and sorrow…
As you say, ‘I do not know where their front door is and I also don’t
need to know.’
I admire your subtle interweaving of texts of a lightly personal nature
with those that portray and describe, and your subject touches my
architectural soul, or am I now being too personal?
I think that people need to employ the detour of the ‘other’ or the
‘there’ in order to be themselves. For me the other could also be a
building that I can appropriate in two ways as Walter Benjamin said:
‘through use and perception, or rather through touching and seeing’.
Or as you write in ‘Crossroads’: ‘I could not understand all these forks
but could only follow them again and again. They set off my
imagination, running up and down over and over again. So I finally
folded the two together. [...] In turn we form each other’s fore- and
background and fold far and near together into a shallow space.’
I notice that I freely and unconcernedly shift and try to catch my Probe
prey through disguises, displacements and deceptions.
Often desperate but also persevering I try to set aside my ‘Möbius
Glasses’ and as an Eigenheimer--as my son always jokingly calls me—I
try to tackle the problem of how to explain the properties of my own
Probe studio as Eigenheim.
With warmest greetings, A.
Re:Re:Poché and Crossraods and Bifurcation
From: Ton Verstegen
My dear A.
Thanks for your letter.
But I did not know what to do and then I clung to your touché
because my billiards knowledge could help me with that. and it was
Sunday afternoon, the fine rain lured me out
Mistakes must be cherished, such as ‘raakligging’. Touching is a
better word than perceiving: the ability to touch and be touched. I
am a bit hesitant about correspondence. Don’t want to fill the poché
between text and image.
PS. I am going to buy a washing machine from Van Hunen. My
Bauknecht stopped after 35 years. I always washed on 35 degrees.
When I set it one time at 65 degrees, the machine died. I like that.
German things: they are creatures of habit. If you offer a German
cat meat after 35 years of kibble, he/she would also die, I think.
PPS. I look again at that ‘raakligging’. And fear now to be a victim
of your double scissor movement. If you do not know what that is,
just ask your footballing son. I was so full of the poché that I
assumed that there should be ‘braakligging’ (from braakland,
brackish land). Not so: raakligging: Touché!