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Beauty is sustainable

Scala Architecten are an architectural firm from the Netherlands based in The Hague led by Mieke Bosse and Peter Drijver. Focused on traditional building, they have finished many projects throughout the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam and The Hague.

Their path to traditional building began with the renovation of an old factory building in The Hague which they had squatted. In order to properly restore parts of the building, they had to learn and understand how it was constructed. This first project became a succes, and they began to restore several other old buildings, to then later on construct their own, new buildings in traditional style.

Not so much interested in the difficult, big discussions about how everything used to be better in the old days, or that traditional methods of building are old-fashioned or even kitsch, they have taken a rather pragmatic approach to the whole subject. First of all they see themselves not so much as ‘artists’ who need to express their own artistic vision in architecture, but rather as being in service of the people, working with the method of evidence based design. You look at what the evidence suggests, what people want, how they like to live and you try to realize that for them. So if for example it appears that people prefer to live in two-to three story stone or brick buildings to high-rise concrete towers, you stop building concrete towers. If people feel estranged by abstract, industrial materials and methods, you take a step back and try to give it a more human, artisanal twist - whilst of course never losing track of modern necessities. And there’s beauty.

Beauty has been a topic of debate in all the arts, but maybe most drastically in architecture. For the longest time now, beauty has been perceived by many as being inferior to functionality. Therefore ornamentations are viewed as an unnecessary luxury that distracts from the purpose of a building. However, at Scala Architecten they approach the idea of beauty in a more practical manner. Many traditional buildings were erected to stand the test of time, while modernist architecture more often than not isn’t. On the one hand, this has to do with the materials, - natural stone and clay bricks are much more durable than glass or cement concrete - but this can also be traced back to beauty. When we find something to be beautiful, we are more inclined to take good care of it. We wish to preserve it, for it has value to us. And if we actively preserve something, it will be more durable. Therefore beauty is a sustainable concept and has a very functional and important purpose. The lovability of a building will largely determine its life span.

One of the incarnations of beauty is that of harmony. Their idea of architectural harmony is that of a language. If we for example take a typical well-preserved traditional street in Amsterdam, there is a certain architectural language being spoken. Not every building is completely the same, but there is a continuity in the materials and colors that are used, the height of the buildings, the general composition etc. So if you would add to this street, or replace some cheaply-constructed buildings from let’s say the 70’s, it is important not to deviate too far from this language.

We should not construct new buildings in a completely separate, unfitting language. Instead, we should restore and form places with an architecture that is human, beautiful and therefore durable.

Scala Architecten looks both to the future and the past. Their buildings and new neighbourhoods combine the comfort, the good sense and the humanity of traditional architecture into a truly durable way of living.



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