I am so very excited to start on this journey – and man, I’ve got so much planned I can’t wait to share with you.
In this first blog post, I will outline why I started this journey and my views.
Following a calling
It took me some time to start realising that I am currently in the best disposition to start a new chapter in life. I am working at an engineering firm, but I am going to create the time to work full time on the issue of improving our built environment.
Since I was in high school, I have been doodling city plans – fantasising about the ultimate urban form. My fascination for skyscrapers started even earlier, although I must admit I now have strong doubts surrounding these structures – they aren’t necessary in most cases and (if incorrectly implemented) often detrimental to the experience of urban life at street level.
This fascination culminated in me studying Urban Planning in Amsterdam and then Urbanism in Delft, the Netherlands. Although I never really felt a strong desire to ‘become a designer’, I do love to think about how to improve our cities on a higher level. The moment to focus on this calling has now come.
At this very moment, our cities are in danger. They are being ruined by greed, ego, shortsightedness and architectural dogma. Developers and speculators profit from housing shortages by building quickly and cheaply, leading to appalling structures. Shabby contractors create ‘McMansions’ out of literal cardboard, styrofoam and the cheapest plywood. Even the better construction firms have the habit of building only with concrete, glass and steel, following the latest trends in design but ignoring local context, wherever they are. Developers greenwash projects by installing complex installations and solar panels to offset for CO2 emissions, even though these systems rely on the existence of a worldwide, complex network of supply chains. Resources are shipped all over the planet with polluting ships and trucks to create these so-called ‘green’ structures, while the on-site resources are being ignored.
Instead of using concrete, we could be using stone, brick, wood or even stamped earth instead. Rather than building shabby constructions, we could build eternally with thick, strong walls. Instead of generic curtain wall facades, we could return to well proportioned classical facades, or build in styles like Art Nouveau or Art Deco. We could build ‘beautiful’ again.
A War on Beauty
However, there are many challenges ahead. Modernism still reigns supreme in architecture schools all over the world. The modernists have turned from visionary mavericks into members of the mainstream; little what they do is actually innovative. They deem themselves gods, ignoring the cries of public polls and the horrid effects of their creations on an endless number of places. Everything traditional or classical is decried as being pastiche, ’Disney-architecture’, outdated, or even fascist. This class of architects fails to see how modern design principles are often used as an excuse for lazy or even sloppy architecture. Developers embraced these developments however, as the simplification of designs meant increasing profits and an endless repetition of construction and renovation or demolition.
It gets even worse: universities continue to educate architects that lack skills that once were seen as vital for the profession. Students never had to learn the art of sketching by hand, investigating how buildings truly work, drawing the classical orders, investigating local styles and history or the use of local materials. Concrete, steel and glass are the standard ingredients of their repertoire; if these students do not verge of the ‘common’ path, they do not know any better. Le Corbusier is still venerated as a god; many young and promising architects aspire to work for firms like OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), BIG (Björke Ingels Group) or Foster & Partners. Close to none try or dare to study and practice traditional designs; if they do, their teachers and co-students often openly criticise and mock them. How could a young, still impressionable student ever continue on the path of their choosing in this case? How can we expect change in such a dogmatic educational climate?
Apart from the war on traditional and classical styles, large scale economical & residential development is devastating ourr natural landscapes – the setting for our cities. Deforestation, suburban sprawl, windturbines, highways, oil pipelines, electricity masts, data centers… Infrastructure, energy production and blank boxes consume our world, while biodiversity drops. For this we must also find alternatives; we must find ways to let our grandchildren inherit a future with some beauty and wonder.
My calling is to support the cause for beauty and a focus on humans in cities and buildings. I feel this is a noble cause, as I think our environment greatly impacts our quality of life, our dreams and our hopes for the future. By writing this very blog post and all the content that follows, I hope to set in motion a series of events that might have far reaching consequences in the future – for good, I hope.
This platform, The Aesthetic City, is only just the beginning. It can grow into all sorts of things; a YouTube channel, podcast, book, startup – who knows. Soon I will be working full time on it. For now, this newsletter, the Twitter and Instagram accounts are the main focus.
If you want to support, following @_Aesthetic_City on Twitter would be hugely welcome. Following on Instagram and YouTube will help as well; I plan on investing a lot of time in this venture. Subscribe to this newsletter and I will update you with more views on various subjects, updates and new projects.
I hope you are as excited as I am – it is time to slowly steer the direction of history away from a dreary, monotonic, dystopian world and towards the aesthetic city.