WARSAW UNDER CONSTRUCTION 5
The exhibition accompanying the fifth edition of the WARSAW under CONSTRUCTION festival – “Profession: Architect” – is held on two floors of the Historical Museum of the capital city of Warsaw located at Rynek Starego Miasta 28-42.
We kindly ivite you to free guided tours every Friday and Saturday at 12.30.
The exhibition is a proposal for entering into the world of everyday work of architects and learning the language of architectural design. We are interested in decisions taken in the comfort of the studio, while sitting in front of the computer or at a meeting with a client. These decisions are essential to the development of any building and the future of the city. Choices made by architects are materialised in space.
One of the activities inherent to architecture is drawing. The reality of contemporary design, created with the help of modern software, has served as an inspiration for the arrangement of the exhibition by the 137 kilo studio. Visitors to the exhibition are always accompanied by a theme taken from the symbolism of technical projects. We are able to penetrate the black and white, computer-generated printout of a drawing thanks to the graphic symbols representing, for instance, glass, steel or stone. They have inspired the setting of the individual exhibition rooms (e.g.: the marking of the floor has been linked to the WSM’s public spirit, and insulation to the issues of professional ethics of architects).
Visitors enter the first floor of the gallery through the Museum Lapidary in Nowomiejska Street. They discover the fact that the Museum is located in eleven tenement houses forming the frontage of the market. During the post-war reconstruction of the Old Town, the slightly redesigned interior created a new spatial quality. A Museum of the City was thus created as a composition sewn from the fragments of its tissue. And although the architect in charge of the reconstruction, Stanisław Żaryn (1913-1964), was more of a conservator and a supporter of arranging the new museum with respect for the past rather than a modernist, the historical cover conceals the postulates of modern architecture heard in those times. The architect was surely far-sighted in his thinking about the reconstructed, but simultaneously, ‘improved’ city.
The Museum presented the history of material culture and spatial changes in Warsaw by its architecture and the surviving objects. Visitors were able to meet the figures of former residents by simply touching the staircase railing, admiring the silver tableware or inhaling the smell emitted by the beams of the apartment ceiling. A visit to the exhibition involved a physical sensation of architecture and the intimate nature of residential interiors. The Museum was a materialised manifesto of the reconstruction, and its 1953 opening coincided with the opening of the Old Town. Several architects worked on the arrangement of the exhibition. The main exhibition of the festival – “Profession: Architect” – dedicated to the architectural profession, takes on an additional meaning in this particular place.
Material culture is a real seismograph of urban transformations. At the same time, we feel that there are not enough exhibitions in Warsaw presenting results of the work of architects. Therefore, we have decided to take a closer look at the workshop artefacts associated with designs, such as projections, sections and renderings of buildings. We are convinced that people are able to get to know themselves through the objects of their own production. Thus, in the design drawings and renderings produced or ordered by architects, we are looking for something more than a mere realisation of design objectives. A projection of a building is not only a means of satisfying the aesthetic expectations of the customer or just a properly designed space. In the design documentation, we are looking for the answers to some key questions raised by architects. A closer look at the architectural environment will enable us to gain a different perspective of the processes shaping the space in today’s Warsaw.
In his book entitled “The Craftsman”, Richard Senett emphasises the importance of the human strive for excellence, which combines both creative thinking and the workshop-like pragmatism. Therefore, efforts to become a specialist and expert in your own field are a key feature of any profession, and in the broader perspective – of the human condition. The frequently overestimated division of the work of architects into homo faber (embodying creative moments) and animallaborens (associated with material aspects and manual work), does not have to entail a conflict. Thus, we assume that a human being – as a working animal – develops through the skills he/she acquires, and earns dignity through his/her professionalism.
We would like the visitors to the exhibition to learn about the conditions of work of architects striving for perfection in their profession. What are the key professional dilemmas that they face? Which issues are negotiable and which do they fail at? At the same time, as bitterly commented upon by the Italian brutalist-architect Giancarlo de Carlo in his text entitled “Recipients of Architecture”, which we will be referring to during this year’s festival, the profession of architect is closely linked to external circumstances, which usually entail the need to identify yourself in relation to the authority: “In any epoch, regardless of the dignity of his function, the architect had to realise the vision of the world of those in power. Architects have always been in need of money, materials, land and legitimisation of their actions. All this could have been provided only by the dominating authority, and thus, by the very definition, they had to identify with it, even if by doing so they became just a tool in the hands of those in power.”
The historical part of our exhibition, which makes references to the interwar exhibition organised by architects and government officials on behalf of President Starzyński, is devoted to this issue. The exhibition “Warsaw yesterday, today and tomorrow”, opened in the National Museum in Warsaw in 1938, presented the development of the capital city, progress in major areas of life and city plans for the nearest future. It featured various messages from the authorities, addressed to the residents, e.g. encouraging them to donate land to the city, as well as the officials. In the case of the latter, the purpose of the exhibition was meant to be educational. Architects, as the co-creators of the exhibition, not only were the authors of the contents presented – the buildings shown in the photographs, the numerous models – but also provided a “frame for the exhibition” (the spatial arrangement of the exhibits). The visual setting of the exhibition, whose main designer, and the person in charge of artistic and architectural affairs, was Janusz Ostrowski, in cooperation with Tadeusz Filipczak, was created by a group of young architects from the Faculty of Architecture of Warsaw Polytechnic. The important thing is that it consisted not only of the district-monument to the Marshal (its model has been especially recreated for the purposes of this exhibition), but also of a architectural altar for the authorities. The busts of Marshal Rydz-Śmigły and President Mościcki stood next to the portrait of the father of Polish independence - Józef Piłsudski. Coincidentally, these are the only surviving objects that could be found. The altar of power, presented at our exhibition, gives a punch line to the dependence between the state and architecture in the interwar period. The authorities intervened with the plans, the design drawings and the organisation of architectural life itself. They offered in-field and financial help to the builders (the law on the public housing fund, 1919; the law on the disposal of public land to housing cooperatives, 1921). The state also entered the construction market as an investor (the establishment of the Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego, 1924).
A statement by architect Jan Minorski, in his article summarising the work of architects before 1939, has a lot to say on the subject of architects of the past and architects of today: in the article, he states that back in those days, architects – intellectuals did not tend to quarrel with the state.
What is the relationship between architects and the state today? Is it true that the economic freedom in Poland conceals lack of spatial policy? Surely, the successive governments have failed to create a clear strategy for architectural transformation of the country and the tools for its implementation. Housing, much supported in the interwar and the communist periods in Poland, remains an unfinished project. The strategic projects, such as “Polish Architectural Policy – the policy for the quality of landscape, public space and architecture” (developed at the initiative of the Polish Council of Architects, with cooperation by experts from, e.g., the Association of Polish Architects and the Society of Polish Urban Planners, on the basis of objectives adopted by the Congress for Polish Architecture in May 2008, and submitted to the Minister of Culture and National Heritage and the Minister of Infrastructure in May 2009, in order to be applied in legislative activities), are still waiting to be implemented. And for some unknown reason the situation continues. Unlike in the interwar period and the communist times, when architects were subjected to the propaganda of modernisation and progress, after 1989, architects did not have a positive influence on the reality, or even, as Marcin Sadowski of JEMS Architekci puts it: “Our organisations are barred from legislative activities, and there are no practicing architects among the authors of the regulations.”
And how about the fact that the ministry responsible for space communicates a contradictory message by the name of its website (www.transport.gov.pl) – is this not a potent remark on the situation of architects today?
In the times of easy transmission of architecture across the globe, the times of economic expansion and economic crises, architects will have to face far more ethical challenges. In the times of market pressure and problems with randomly urbanised space - transformed in the 1990s, it is important for architects to ask themselves a few basic questions: who am I building for? Is my work regulated, and if so, by whom? What are my most treasured values and priorities?