History and validity of poché

POCHÉ: HISTORIA Y VIGENCIA DE UNA IDEA

2018 CRITICALL_PochéIssue number 7 of the journal Matières (2005), published by the EPFL Laboratory of Theory and History, contains Jacques Lucan’s article “Généalogie du poché : de l’espace au vide”, which soon became a landmark in both the history of the term poché itself and its applications in modern and contemporary architecture. This article spans the period from the classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris to the theoretical concerns of Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs. Their inclusion in this anthology of essays serves to confirm – and even intensify – the scope of the author’s intent, i.e. the search for a common denominator amongst the stances adopted by the foremost figures of Western architecture at the turn of the last century. Lucan lists several generations of architects, professors, critics and historians who did not, a priori, belong to the same school or whose works did not belong to the same tradition. The genealogy he proposes does not tally with the main trends in the history of architecture, nor does it always run parallel with other lines of development characteristic of the life of forms. It is more of a cross section that interweaves separate episodes whose similarity is not obvious at first sight.

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In short, Lucan’s “Généalogie du poché” is a dual exercise in translation. Firstly because he translates (in the figurative sense) the main meaning of poché in order to adapt it to the premises of contemporary architecture: from residue to support, and from shading to matter. He thus enlarges the applications of the term and, in a way, rids it of academic baggage. And because he also translates (in the strict sense) his sources and revises those translated from other cultural contexts in order to reveal terms lost due to a lack of understanding. Is this not the critic’s real function? Reading between the lines is the only way to appreciate non-explicit notions. In this way, Lucan explains how important it is to read the sources whose concepts are obscured when translated into other languages. Poché is a fragile concept: unassuming on both the architectural plan and in texts on the printed page. It is interesting to note, for example, how Anglo-Saxon writings retain the French term and yet it is absent from later translations into its language of origin. Against this backdrop, Lucan has a privileged position: although his most wholehearted contribution is in keeping with the foreign interpretations of Venturi and Rowe, he also benefits from his thorough knowledge of his own French tradition.

The greatest merit of Lucan’s essay is surely the attention he pays to the accessory facets that go unnoticed in architectural works and writings and yet reflect the essential and manifest factors therein. His contribution is a modern take on the saying, “the study of poché, then, is very nearly the study of everything else in architecture” for it is only from behind the scenes that the true nature of a scenario, the mystery of artistic creation can be glimpsed.


Poché: historia y vigencia de una idea / History and validity of poché.” Paper presented at the III International Conference on Architectural Design and Criticism (III Critic|all), Madrid School of Architecture, Spain, April 26-27, 2018.

Conference proceedings →