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What Is Beautiful? Q&A with Van Bo Le-Mentzel

Van Bo Le-Mentzel

Van Bo Le-Mentzel

Among the many intriguing issues that were raised during the Berlin Lab, a few in particular became the subject of intense discussion here on the Lab | Log. Christine McLaren, responding in part to talks given at the Lab by Jürgen Krusche and Wolfgang Welsch, wrote a post that explored what makes urban space beautiful, what makes it ugly, and who gets to decide on those definitions. Our readers responded with a host of thoughtful comments expounding their definitions of beauty and ugliness in cities. We found the issue so interesting that we thought we’d ask a few of our Berlin Lab collaborators for their take. This week, Berlin-based architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel, creator of the One-Sqm-House and the Hartz IV Moebel line of DIY furniture, is the first to answer our one pressing question:

In your eyes, what qualities make a city beautiful?

In my eyes Berlin is not beautiful. Claudia Schiffer is beautiful. Beauty is overrated. It’s like a relationship based on giving and taking: I try to give the city my love and care in terms of public inventions (like the guerrilla lodgings and guerrilla villaging) and the city gives me education, inspiration, perfect bike paths, and hardware stores.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So the taste of the good and bad, the experiences of coziness, the knowledge of city heritage—all that decides whether people find cities beautiful or not.

Le Corbusier said that people need how-to-live instructions for their housing, because apartments are like machines. Well, I don’t think that cities are machines, but maybe they are sort of playgrounds, with certain rules. Cities also need instructions [for] how to use them. Nobody teaches us how to do that, so I guess it’s the responsibility of all architects, designers, teachers, politicians, lawyers, and artists to do it.

Here is my instruction: the city is like a cow—you have to caress it if you want good milk.

Check back next week for another installment of “What is Beautiful?”

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Photo: courtesy Van Bo Le-Mentzel