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Architectural hit-list - "Archipidnik po Europie" by Robert Konieczny and Tomasz Malkowski

09 of December '20

The review appeared in A&B 12'2020

Architecture should be experienced live. To see it, to feel it, to touch it. Soak up the atmosphere. But what are lovers of architecture - ancient and modern - to do when pandemic restrictions have condemned us to stay in our own apartments or, at best, severely restricted our ability to move around? The Pascal publishing house has extended a helping hand to "grounded" enthusiasts, publishing "An Archip Guide to Europe."

illustrations courtesy of Pascal Publishing House

new paths and beaten tracks

The guide's co-author, architect Robert Konieczny, stressed that the book's goal was to present "objects that mark new paths in architecture." Together with critic and publicist Tomasz Malkowski, he compiled a list of ninety-two objects. They form a subjective tourist trail leading through realizations of an innovative nature, with a unique "fresh idea" behind their creation.

Some of the items on the list may seem surprising (for example, the railroad signal boxes in Basel designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron), but they are actually quite predictable. We are dealing with an architectural the best of, a European hit list.

It's hard to criticize the authors and the criteria they adopted. In Berlin, they take the reader to Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum or show Peter Eisenman's monument - flagship projects in the spirit of deconstructivism and absolute architectural must sees. At the same time, it might also be worthwhile to show buildings that are much less frequently described in trade periodicals or do not make it into them at all. The monumental and overwhelmingly inhuman scale of Eisenman's project takes on a different meaning when confronted with the memorial dedicated to the murdered Roma and Sinti by Dani Karavan. Only a few hundred meters separate the two sites, which use different language when telling the story of the genocide.

There are more such doubts. Is the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp, designed by Willem Jan Neutelings' studio, such an innovative building to direct the reader's attention to it? Or is it worth reaching out to the same artist's somewhat less impressive turn-of-the-twentieth-century projects, in which he reinterpreted traditional typologies of multifamily housing, such as the Hollainhof in Ghent? Is Dresden's Bundeswehr Military-Historical Museum a building "ahead of its time and trends," and does De Rotterdam really have a "strong, expressive idea"?

The authors, as they themselves declare, wanted to create "an instruction manual for reading architecture." They conduct this all-important lesson using recognized positions of prominent authors. It is a pity that the curriculum does not include more non-obvious readings.

Bosco Verticale apartment building, Milan, Italy, design: Boeri Studio, 2014

Photo: Laura Cionci, illustration courtesy of Pascal Publishing House


Who is the "Archi-Guide" aimed at? In the introduction, the authors note that they initially thought of readers interested in contemporary architecture. Over time, as Robert Konieczny points out, this notion has evolved; the book is for "everyone who wants to take a deeper look at architecture."

Popular travel guides devote little space to contemporary architecture. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (which is not included in the "Archip Guide"!), the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, the Dancing House in Prague... The list of tourist attractions in Europe rarely includes buildings that were erected in the last half century. Does this mean that modern architecture does not interest us? Or perhaps no one has drawn our attention to the strange steel and glass blocks with shapes that are not always understandable, and has made no attempt to explain "what the artist (architect) had in mind"?

Robert Konieczny and Tomasz Malkowski try to fill this gap. They show the buildings (the book is richly illustrated), discuss the most important aspects of each project. They do not close themselves in a hermetic world of specialized knowledge, although we can also find such on the pages of the guide.

This does not mean, however, that "professionals" will not find anything for themselves in "Archip Guide". Konieczny and Malkowski show the broader context of the creation of individual buildings, and pay attention to the genesis of the projects. The story of the glass dome that Sir Norman Foster spread over Berlin's Reichstag building began with the idea of creating a huge canopy; the soccer stadium in Braga, Portugal (designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura), which may seem non-functional, is perfectly suited to the hot climate.

The authors analyze specific technical solutions and their impact on the character of architecture. They delight in the novelty of construction or, on the contrary, expose the lack of sincerity of the buildings described. They serve all this in a light and accessible form. Instead of a boring academic lecture, they offer a tour with a passionate buddy.

Lego House, Billund, Denmark, proj.: Bjarke Ingels Group, 2017

Photo: Ivan Baan, illustration courtesy of Pascal Publishing House

conversations about buildings

Anyone who has had the opportunity to listen to Robert Konieczny talk about architecture will surely acknowledge that the author of the Breakthroughs Dialogue Center is a great narrator, the type of storyteller who can present the process of creating a building as a fascinating adventure. The concept to give the "Archi-Guide" the form of a conversation between a pair of colleagues, a theorist and a practitioner, turned out to be a hit. Instead of traditional descriptions of individual buildings, we got a lively dialogue between people who are close to the problems of contemporary architecture.

Konieczny and Malkowski throw around facts and anecdotes. They exchange experiences. Sometimes they enter into a lively discussion, as in the case of Lego House, which initially evokes the authors' extreme emotions. "Just not Lego House!" - cries Konieczny and calls Bjarke Ingels' realization shovelly. Malkowski tries to defend it. He emphasizes the coherence of the concept. "Tautology!" - cuts off the architect, but eventually gives up. "It's not my fairy tale, but I'm starting to appreciate the project a bit."
Sometimes polemics only serve to bring out what is most important in a building. When Malkowski asks about the sense of building Bosco Verticale, he doesn't give the impression of being a staunch critic of Stefano Boeri's concept. He merely invokes the opinions of those who, like Philippe Rahm, see the Milanese skyscraper as an expensive example of greenwashing. "Imagine these people [...] building villas for themselves near Milan [...] that would be just a burden on the environment!" - counters the accusations Necessary.

Even when the authors talk about obvious matters and give facts that can be found in the first better description of a given building, they are able to give them an interesting form enriched with their own subjective feelings. When Konieczny describes the unusual structure of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg in all seriousness, Malkowski adds that he "felt like he was in a nut shell" in the huge concert hall with its organic forms. When, in turn, the columnist mentions the ecological dimension of the Dutch pavilion at EXPO 2000, his interviewee compares it to "architectural tiramisu."

Seriousness and humor. Knowledge and subjective experience. All this makes the journey in the footsteps of the following buildings extremely enjoyable, and the only complaint the reader may have is... the insufficient length of the individual archidialogues. What do you mean, it's already over? After all, the conversation was just beginning to develop - it flashed through my head many times during the reading.


Reading "Archip Guide" is no substitute for personal contact with the buildings in question. Getting to know a building is, after all, a polysensory experience that goes far beyond what the creator has included in a work of architecture. Once the crisis is over, it is worth planning a journey in the footsteps of Konieczny and Malkowski. Perhaps through reading archidialogues we will pay attention to something unique, learn to look at modern architecture and understand it.


Illustrations provided courtesy of Pascal Publishing House.

Article from the December issue of A&B, edited by Ultra Architects.You can find the freee-publicationHERE.

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