• Quadraat Invest b.v.
  • Haarlem
  • NL
  • 2006

Travelling from Amsterdam and entering the city of Haarlem by car or train, one passes a modest, anonymous, quasi-modern and white office building. A building no one would ever notice, wasn’t it for its prominent location on the crossing of two important city roads (where traffic lights always seem to turn red on arrival), for the illegally advertised used-cars on the parking lot in front or for the apparently popular Chinese restaurant that is situated on the ground floor. Or so it seems. Ask anyone in and around the city of Haarlem and almost everyone will know this particular building, despite its modest architectural appearance or its specific location or program. The relative notoriety of the building and its resulting position and significance within the urban structure of Haarlem both depend on something else. The building, from the day it was conceived, was officially named ‘Handelspoort’ but hardly anyone knows it by its official name. During the years it was and still is commonly referred to as ‘the Boschbuilding’ and its public name reveals the origins of its significance on the public mental map of the city of Haarlem.

The German firm Bosch itself never had anything to do with the building. It was the former owner and occupant of the building, a professional workshop and dealer of Bosch equipment called Metzelaar, who almost forty years ago and for reasons unknown decided to erect a large and beautiful neon sign on top of the building, showing a sparkling plug and five huge red letters spelling their supplier’s name. For years it stood there, brightly shining on the roof, leaving a lasting imprint on the minds and memories of the people passing by and assigning a certain significance to the building and its location that went way beyond its actual programmatical and architectural quality. In fact, one could say, it was this sign alone that made a modest and poorly designed building into architecture.

Time went by, the neon sign deteriorated and finally broke down, the building was sold. The new owners renovated the building but hesitated what to do with the broken sign. The advertised firm wasn’t interested at all, so they started by taking off the five letter word, leaving the bare sign on its now too large, derelict steel construction. Then they searched for an idea that would enhance the identity and spatial presence of their building. And we suggested them it was allready there.

So the neon sign was renewed and liberated from its former commercial intentions. And there it is again, the bright and beautifully shining spark plug: just a sign, visible for all and open to any possible individual interpretation. Optimistically symbolizing creative progress and future ideas, while simultaneously and nostalgically reminding of other times; an individual and autonomous urban beacon, representing the specific and precious potential of architecture to allude to something that could be regarded as collective memory.