Designed by the young Buenos Aires-based collective BAAG (Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal), Casa Scout, completed in 2014 is a 360 square metre building that makes clever use of its generic urban plot in the centre of Buenos Aires, to provide the flexible airy spaces needed by an Armenian Scout group for its activities. As Florencia Rodríguez and her colleagues at PLOT – the Buenos Aires-based architecture magazine – report, it’s a building that makes the sophisticated local modernist architectural tradition seem like child’s play.
Casa Scout is a building designed for the activities of the Armenian scout-group General Antranik. Located on a typical Buenos Aires downtown plot, 8.66 metre wide, on Niceto Vega Street, the project responds to what is a recognisably local modern and contemporary tradition of embedding new buildings in the city, while at the same time re-working some of its aspects. Buenos Aires is a city defined by a nearly-regular field of blocks that stretches endlessly across its territory, and how a piece of architecture sits within this typology is always a good starting point for an analysis.
The architecture-collective BAAG (Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal), led by Gabriel Monteleone, Griselda Balian, María Emilia Porcelli and Gastón Noriega, designed the project so that it complies with the planning regulations of the plot and restrictions on height imposed by neighbouring buildings (a restriction subsequently ignored by a new corner building which has since been built). But the singularity of Casa Scout doesn’t lie so much in how it looks on the outside: it's the way its interior space is conceived as a triple-height void that makes the project so distinctive. This void is generated on the horizontal by overlapping of concrete slabs of different shapes and sizes, and in the vertical by massive wooden cabinets, which provide a porous interior lining that can be opened up and moved according to the needs of the users. The accumulation of these furniture-cabinet-walls gives a ludic lego-like character to the interior, appropriate to the playfulness of the scouts’ activities. As the architects have commented, “When limits are blurred, play, participation and social articulation begins to take place.”
In section Casa Scout has an echo of Le Corbusier’s subtle design at his Curuchet House in the neighbouring city of La Plata, 60 kilometres south of Buenos Aires – where the entrance to the promenade architecturale through the house, embraces a tree sitting in an inner courtyard behind the façade: an open space that creates a double height void visually connecting the different interior spaces. Even though at Casa Scout, the equivalent central vertical space is covered by a pitched roof, its three by three metre skylight allows natural light to flood through the building all day long, exposing similar spatial interactions across it.
The project is clearly laid out around this central space: the higher floors hosting the different scout branches, organised by age, with the ground floor left mostly empty, in order to maximise room for team-activities and make a seamless relationship out to the building's backyard. The basement meanwhile contains the changing rooms, but is otherwise dedicated to storage.
On the exterior, the architects also present a twist on the typical concrete façades seen in the contemporary architecture of the region, so while there are the usual wall-to-wall beams and floor-to-ceiling openings, the beams have 30-cm wide flower containers cast inside them, and wrapping around it all is an envelope of iron-mesh envelope that gives the building a distinctive, original look. During construction, the young scouts teamed up with the architects and the construction workers and helped plant six different species of flowers in the flower containers, each plant chosen according to the orientation of the two façades and the type of visual filter desired as they grow up the enveloping iron mesh grill. This activity helped to develop a sense of belonging for the young users of the building that continues to exist today.
It is the element of the iron mesh grill, now rusted, sprouting from the first floor up and over the pitched roof, and down the rear façade, that offers a glimpse of the material intelligence of these young architects. Its design derives from direct experimentation at 1:1 in a small workshop that they have on the terrace of their own office. The mesh, which looks like a continuous surface, is actually woven of single linear elements: twisted iron bars, more typically used for reinforcement in concrete slabs, which are then welded at the corners. This mesh is a multi-tasking part of the building: it provides safety as a grill-cum-fence to the open windows, it provides a support for the plants to grow, and along with the latter, acts as a solar filter. It also provides a sense of temporality: both ageing and rusting visibly, while daily its form leaves inticate shadow traces on the walls, floors, and ceilings, meaning that the passing of time is another key material in the building.
The light inside Casa Scout also plays a performative role. During the day different sensibilities hold sway inside, due to the play of light and shadow created by the iron mesh, the skylight, and the green filter over the façades.
Overall, there is an implicit rather than explicit stance towards environmental issues in the parti of the building. “Sustainability in architecture can be experienced in two ways,” states BAAG.“The first foregrounds technical gear and manmade equipment to appear sustainable; the second, more quietly, considers local means of production, the availability of materials ready to hand, and thoughtful design strategies taken together, to provide a rational and economical use of energy. We like to think ourselves in the latter way.”
– Florencia Rodríguez, editorial director of PLOT, the Buenos Aires-based magazine on architecture, with the collaboration of the magazine's editors Julia D'Alotto and Javier Agustín Rojas. revistaplot.com
– BAAG (Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal) is an architecture-collective led by Gabriel Monteleone, Griselda Balian, María Emilia Porcelli and Gastón Noriega, based on innovation, research, experimentation and thoughtful practice. In 2014, "Casa Scout" received the first SCA CPAU de Arquitectura y Urbanismo award for new built work in Argentina. In 2015, the project also received the National Sustainability Award there too. baag.com.ar