The Architect’s Game: SCALA


SCALA is an ongoing project which, through a standard deck of poker cards, provides an overview of several architectural works of interest in recent years. The four suits define the size of the projects from the small scale of pavilions and houses to the urban and infrastructural range.

In addition to bringing together the most iconic architectural production of recent years, the projects intention is that of carrying out a review of the current architectural panorama within emerging countries, shaping a carefully designed object that also pledges to the  parameters of the traditional poker card game.

*Printed by Legends Playing Card Co

Kickstarter Campaign


What prompted the project?

A few years ago, on a visit to the Schröder House in Utrecht, we came across a Finnish architecture-related poker deck. A nice collection made in the 90s, but that we found somewhat conventional and obsolete. It was at the end of our university studies in 2015 that we began to mature the idea of making our own digest of architectures, with buildings that had accompanied our generation’s formative stage.

We wanted to try new things, get out of our usual work patterns and prove ourselves. We could afford to start drawing with no clear result in our minds. And after the first tests of style and clarifying some internal rules, the project acquired enough autonomy not to back down from it. Until today.

What is the objective of this? How and to what extent does it allows for non architects to engage with architecture?

The objective of this deck of cards is to establish a means of transversal communication to disseminate architecture and make it more accessible and recognizable. SCALA gathers representative buildings from many cities and countries around the world that are experienced from the outside and from the inside every day; we try to provide yet another layer to that experience, only in a non-conventional way.

In fact, although we doubted that our proposal would go beyond the scope of architecture, we have received a lot of interest from magicians, collectors, designers, painters, artists, historians … people who would have been much more difficult to reach had our project been about a book or simply a series of illustrations.

Who is the ultimate climate?

Waking into account, on the one hand, the nonchalant and fresh appeal of the drawings and, on the other, the informational component underlying a compilation of 52 relevant examples of recent architecture, the most specific target of the product is the student or the young architect. The figure of the ‘apprentice’ unites a greater intensity and curiosity to shape an architectural inventory that is sufficiently broad, and also a growing interest in the contemporary dynamics of the field, factors to which the collection and playful format of SCALA can contribute.

In any case, as our experience has shown, this does not exclude the potential interest on the part of most experienced architects and even other unexpected publics, more linked to playing card games or art and illustration in general.

What tools did you use throughout the development of the game? What other 'games' inspired or influenced your approach and/or design?

The starting point was something like a brainstorming of buildings and architects that we had in mind and which was filling our notebooks with handwritten lists and abstract sketches. These icons of the different examples later took shape in digital format, through CAD delineation programs and editing software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

In addition to the aforementioned inspiration from the Rakennustieto deck, we took into account similar works developed by the French Cinqpoints or the Poles Podpunkt and Zupagrafika, since all of them share the value of transcending illustration in order to leap from publication to object and vice versa. We also considered how to use drawing as an expression of architectural theories and critique, as developed by Salottobuono, San Rocco magazines, or Hedvig Skjerdingstad, a talented Danish architect.

What defined the selection of projects you choose to feature? Why are these limited to the XXI century?

Our catalog is completely subjective, and owes much to what we have been absorbing throughout years of relationship with architecture. The discrepancies between us about which projects ought to be discarded or not has ended up articulating a common discourse, fruit of multiple conversations. SCALA is, in short, a list and, as such, has been drawing a map of relationships for the examples of buildings that we consider influential or unique.

The fact that they are buildings from the last century we believe speaks of ourselves as individuals and as a generation, taking as a reference those architects, movements and styles that radiograph the contemporary drift of our profession. In the second edition of the deck we have gone further, incorporating architectural examples from the last five years which, we believe, provide the added value of a constant updating of our collection, trying to escape obsolescence, something that has happened to some of the examples we previously referred to.

What informed how these are then revealed, through specific details, views types of drawing etc?

We usually identify the selected buildings with a drawing or a concrete image that tends to be as essential as possible. That is why most of us are recalled by OMA’s Casa da Musica elevations rather than their plans, and the opposite could be said of Zumthor’s Therme Vals. Regarding other architectures, however, it is the interior what most strikes the viewer, or the façade details, covering and pavements. That is why we try to make the best out of every illustration, fully developing its potential and uniqueness.

And yet that’s not the only factor, since the vertical and reduced format of the poker card (89 x 64 mm) had a lot to do with the design, causing some of our favorite projects to be left out and other ‘less interesting’ examples to be included because of how well they fitted the card format. In addition, we incorporated more criteria to organize the collection, such as different scales (hence the name of the project) and building typologies according to the suit, or ways of ordering the architectural representations according to the card number.

How and to what extent did this exercise of 'simplification' enable you to understand the project further?

Redrawing a building and adapting it to a new language of representation with a different style and internal rules forces you to make a series of decisions and therefore to think about the represented object. This led us to conscious abstraction and highlighting the outstanding elements of each architecture, and also to build bridges with other selected examples in order to give greater homogeneity and coherence to the collection as a whole. In short, the decision about what to manifest or enhance in the drawing and what to hide or suppress is an act that implies a progressive knowledge of the project you are working with.

What influenced the language of representation of the project?

In addition to many of the examples coming from the worlds of illustration, design, and architecture that we discussed earlier, what greatly influenced the collection were the adaptations and efforts made between the three team members to achieve a common style of drawing. Decisions such as drawing lines to use them only as boundaries for color and shading and then hiding them, or using a specific color palette depending on the suit of the deck, were the outcome of many trial and error tests until a satisfactory result was obtained. On the other hand, elements such as lettering, numbering and suit icons had to be properly integrated into the illustrations, thus conditioning the way to carry them out.

What is for you the difference between notions of drawing and images within architectural discourse?

The image is the most immediate means of visual expression that we know of, and as such it prompts the viewer to create an understanding of the represented object with just a brief approach. However, drawing reveals the intentions and ideas behind architecture, allowing you to comprehend it and remember it with much greater precision. Both forms of expression are valid and necessary, but drawing will always bring us closer to the essence and understanding of architecture.

Are you looking to develop the project further?

We could really talk here in the past tense. SCALA started four years ago as an innocent and impulsive project that we wanted to carry out as an excuse to work together in a different way than we were used to. However, over time it turned into a more formal enterprise that we successfully developed in the American crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, which has allowed us to produce and distribute it in many places around the world. It also helped us to found our own office, to work on new design and construction projects and, to come full circle, to redesign a second edition that, as was the case with its predecessor, is currently in the collective funding campaign phase.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

What sets us apart from other professions is our general and transversal ability, so that besides being able to build architecture (what is supposed to be our main purpose), we are equally provided with the skills and knowledge necessary to develop other types of activities related to design and art. The architect of today, as we understand it, makes furniture, draws illustrations, lays out books, writes essays and, of course, the architect also builds our buildings and cities.