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Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys talks about the mission that architecture has

22 of January '23

"In an ideal world, we would like to design and construct buildings that will not negatively impact the environment in any way," - says architect Agnieszka Kalinowska-Soltys, board member and partner at APA Wojciechowski Architekci, president of SARP, and an expert in green architecture. She also reveals why it is worthwhile to compete in competitions such as the Saint-Gobain Glass Design Award.

For years you have been associated with APA Wojciechowski Architekci - one of the largest architectural firms in Poland. Your work in this office has resulted in such projects as the Alchemia I and II office buildings in Gdansk, or the highly acclaimed revitalization of the Powiśle power plant in Warsaw, of which you are a co-author. They have collected many awards and prizes in prestigious architectural competitions both in the country and internationally. What was your participation in these projects?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: I had the pleasure of being a member of the team that worked on these projects. In the case of Alchemy, there were up to a dozen of us, and in the case of the Powiśle Power Plant, more than 60. I was mainly responsible for the side related to ecology in the broadest sense. Lowering the carbon footprint, using certification systems, preparing solutions for these projects so that they have less negative impact on the environment already as buildings that have been built, are in use and will hopefully function for as long as possible.

Let's stop for a moment at the revitalization of the Powisle Power Plant in the capital, which received such awards as "Fashion Business Trends Awards 2022 - Fashionable Place", "MIPIM Award 2021 - Best Mixed-Use project", "Golden Trezzini Award 2021 - Finalist" and many, many others. What is the phenomenon of this project? What has it been recognized for in so many competitions?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Soltys: I think there are many aspects. First of all, maybe the fact that the old and the new are intertwined there. When we talk about the Powiśle Power Plant, we immediately associate it with an old building that has been revitalized. Its origins date back to 1908, and we need to be aware that the building, or rather the architecture, was a kind of packaging for technology at the time. Back then, no one particularly thought of architecture as something beautiful, creative, aesthetic. After 100 years, we see that this packaging precisely, its technology, which was then based on riveted steel construction and brick, is unique. Today we marvel at this construction, discovering the beauty in it.

The developer has also thought brilliantly about the mix of functions that are there. First of all, it is a building complex project. The Powisle Power Plant itself serves as a meeting and entertainment place. We can buy brand-name clothing here, we have restaurants - great food and for different budgets. And around it are buildings that complement the place, making it alive all the time. There are also new office buildings, residential buildings and a hotel that is just finishing construction. I think the most important thing for the city and for such places is precisely that it doesn't become empty no matter what time of day or week it is. There is life going on there all the time. That's the huge plus this mix of functions, mix-used in the use of the building.

Elektrownia Powiśle

Powiśle Power Plant (APA Wojciechowski Architekci)

© Piotr Krajewski

How did you manage to combine working for a large, reputable architecture firm with building your own brand?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: Maybe I'll say it a bit perversely - I don't have my own brand, I am APA Wojciechowski Architekci. Together with Szymon Wojciechowski, Michał Sadowski, Witek Dudek and the rest of the management team, we create this studio. It is not my own brand. I am part of APA Wojciechowski, and I say somewhat jokingly that we all carry the Wojciechowski name here. This is the person who founded this studio. He is our leader, our president, the heart that creates it. The private label came out maybe a little accidentally, because I'm involved in this "greenness", environmental protection in the broadest sense, thinking about climate change, but also making myself and architects aware of how construction strongly and negatively affects the environment and what we can do to reduce it. In an ideal world, we would like to design and build buildings that will not negatively impact the environment in any way. We would like to see such technologies that can, for example, capture carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to improve the quality of the environment and thus stop climate change, which is unfortunately already a fact.

Let's stay on this topic. You are a recognized expert on so-called sustainable architecture. Since 2010, you have been certified to certify BREEAM and LEED buildings, and you are also an auditor of the "Green House" system and a member of the verification committee of the "Green Building Standard" certification. You also have numerous publications to your credit on green buildings and sustainable urban development. Where does this approach to design, architecture and urban planning come from?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: I think it was also a challenge. When I came to APA Wojciechowski in 2010, I faced a fundamental question: what would I like to do? I chose the green building certification approach. This decision was influenced by my earlier interest (while I was still at university) in passive buildings, using, for example, heat, cooling, etc., to make a building function well without electricity, for example. It's a concern for us to have not only thermal comfort, but also to live in healthy buildings that use as little electricity as possible. For this one in Poland still comes from dirty sources. At APA Wojciechowski I was able to develop the aforementioned BREEM certification, LEED, WELL Building Standard and many more.

How do you use these certifications on a daily basis in your work as an architect?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: They are a great tool for designing and then managing buildings to do less harm. This is where thinking about climate change, about the future of future generations, comes in. We already know that the climate is changing, we know what the predictions are, how it will change in 10 years, 50 years, or even 100 years. There are simulations that show that as a society we will face many challenges that are not there right now. It will be warmer, there will be more water in the seas and oceans. Thus, water levels will rise. Some of the land and even cities will be flooded, and it will already be necessary to build in such a way, to prepare architecture, so that people will be safe in these buildings.

Are there solutions to help prevent the effects of climate change?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: Many such solutions, even on the scale of single-family construction, are already emerging, such as energy storage. There are a lot of aspects of this topic that I think are fascinating: for example, how we can influence a change in the approach to architecture, to urban planning. Actually, not how we can, but how we must actually influence to safely adapt to the coming climate change. We already design buildings with the idea that after 20, 30, 50 years they should still function well, and thus be prepared for more violent phenomena, such as hurricanes, intense winds, or even extremes of temperature - not only heat, but also cold. These are climatic anomalies that are occurring with increasing frequency.

Last year you became the 27th president of SARP and the first, in its 88-year history, woman to hold this position. How do you find yourself in this role?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: Let me start by saying that I was vice president of SARP for the environment and climate protection, topics particularly close to my heart. Sharing knowledge with fellow architects was a passion. Unfortunately, at the beginning of last year, the then president of SARP, who held this position during a difficult period of pandemonium, resigned without notice and left the main board virtually overnight. This was in the middle of his term. We were surprised by all this, but we had to agree, to think about what to do next. The SARP main board unanimously decided that the person in the president's seat should be me. For which I also thank you very much, because it is an honorable place. Then the General Convention of Delegates, also by a huge majority, elected me president. This showed me how enormous a credit of confidence I have among my fellow architects. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that this was not my choice. It was never my goal to become president of SARP. It basically came out of a sense of duty. It wasn't my goal, to the end my choice, yet I finally made up my mind and I am the president of SARP. I hope to have a female president in future terms as well.

This is a great honor, but one that makes us realize the somewhat sad truth about the position of women in the world of domestic architecture so far. What, in your opinion, is the role and place of the fair sex in this field?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: The role of women in architecture has changed a lot. Several decades ago, it was only a few decades ago that the first women began to study architecture, that is, they studied for the profession. When SARP was founded, there were actually no women architects. We have 3-4 names of prominent female architects, who, by the way, were wives of architects, but basically this is a very small percentage. At the moment there is such a trend that in architectural studies in Poland we have a majority of women than men. Which makes me happy, because I think that women have a very good predisposition for this profession.

Staying on the topic of women in real estate. In 2018, you became a triple winner of the Top Woman in Real Estate competition. Since 2019, also a mentor of the Top Woman program, where you share your knowledge and experience with young women starting their careers....

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: Of course, 2018 was a very enjoyable year in terms of these awards, but actually I think I enjoyed mentoring more. Maybe because I was able to share my experience with young women. I was able to listen to them, understand their learning and career paths, and try to advise them more. I am a feminist, I believe that women's equality is important. Studies show that in more than a hundred years we have a chance for it in Poland. If our country changes at this rate, we need more than a century for women to be treated equally and to earn equally. Also, the long work still lies ahead of us. I want to support women who are somewhere on the threshold of their careers. I believe that this is the role of women who have achieved more, to help those girls who are somewhere at the beginning of this path.

You are a juror of the Saint-Gobain Glass Design Award architectural competition. How would you encourage young female architects, but also architects, to promote themselves by entering such competitions?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: An architect has to study all his life. It is so that we graduate and actually just start. We have acquired the tool to become an architect. We already have a master's degree, but we become a good architect after several or more years of professional work. I think this competition is a good stage in the development of a young person. It allows you to face yourself, but also to face challenges when it comes to solving technical, material and, in this case, health issues. Here it is largely about glazing and light, which play a huge role in our daily lives. Also, there are plenty of aspects to take into account. This is also an extremely prestigious competition, so winning it or receiving an honorable mention will certainly resonate. It also gives a lot just to take part in the competition, to work through the topic, to look for solutions. The work of an architect is not only creative, but also technical. We should know about construction, legislation, economics. Participation in competitions is also an opportunity to be inspired by what colleagues have done. To observe the work of others and, through this, also develop in the profession. I think that it is the Saint-Gobain Glass Design Award competition that is a good opportunity to try to combine all this.

What will you pay attention to when evaluating the projects submitted to the competition?

Agnieszka Kalinowska-Sołtys: It probably seems to everyone that on ecology (laughs). Of course, yes! The carbon footprint matters, but I think it is not the only criterion for me. Certainly aesthetics, durability and quality of solutions count the most here. For me, these are such three basic conditions that a well-designed building must meet.

You can find more about the Saint-Gobain Glass Design Award in the A&B competitions tab.

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