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To comfort hearts - Konieczny and Malkowski's book on contemporary Polish architecture

03 of June '22

Robert Konieczny, Tomasz Malkowski
"The Archip Guide to Poland. Conversations between an architect and a critic about the most interesting works of contemporary architecture."
Pascal Publishing House, 2022

After foreign recommendations, the time has come for the country. Their chosen examples of good architecture were taken by Robert Konieczny and Tomasz Malkowski. Their "Archiprzewodnik po Polsce" is a sensible, pleasant, even soothing read. Because it is not a story about new Polish architecture in general, but about significant exceptions in the Polish landscape.

There are one hundred and twelve exceptions (including Konieczny's works). They found their way into the over 400 pages of the second - after "Archiprzewodnik po Europie " - volume, in which an architect and an architecture critic discuss their chosen projects: Robert Konieczny and Tomasz Malkowski. They lead us through the good Polish architecture of the last two decades, with a few concessions to the 1990s and even - surprise , surprise - the 1980s. Indeed, contrary to the usual caesuras, we won't find here many buildings from the first decade after the 1989 breakthrough, which is understandable when one recalls the quality of many of the realizations of that time. However, this does not mean that there is no postmodernism on the pages of the album. On the contrary. Necessary so explains the choice of style, which we do not associate with either his realizations or his previously declared tastes:

Just as I expand my taste to different genres of music as I get older, I have the same with my perception of architecture. However, we didn't show postmodernism because it's the right thing to do or because of the emerging fashion for it. More important to us were such buildings that are still phenomenal and can race against what is currently being built.

much from under the needle

Postmodernism, however, is only an addition to the good examples that - starting in the mid-1990s - were a reaction to the swaggering postmodernism of Polish architects. Examples that showed that after years of crisis and systemic turmoil - Poles are once again capable of doing world-class architecture. We read, therefore, primarily about buildings that are still new, often very fresh or even from under the needle - because the album includes even this year's realizations (Konieczny's building in Miedzianka). The whole thing is heartening and soothes the nerves - it allows us to forget for a moment that the examples in the guide are pleasant exceptions to the poor Polish norm, which occurs in much greater intensity. Why the overrepresentation of hot news? This is somewhat explained by a sentence from a conversation about a kindergarten in Aleksandrów Łódzki.

It's the latest and not very dated," Konieczny says of the kindergarten about xystudio 's 2021 implementation.

On the one hand, a sensible approach. On the other hand, in this kind of guide, it's good to give the realization a few years of breathing room - to see how it has aged and how it functions. By then, evaluations are usually already more difficult. More uncertainties and reservations creep in - so the unconditional legitimacy of showing these and not other examples weakens. In the case of very fresh projects, building projections would be useful to make it even clearer where the uniqueness of this or that solution lies. Besides, Konieczny himself regrets that there is no room for projections in the publication.

Nevertheless, most of the projects are well known anyway: they have made their way through the pages and pages of periodicals and services about architecture. By the way, the authors themselves admit that during the search they were guided by competition awards and whether a given object appeared in professional media outside Poland. A safe solution, although the reader who is somewhat familiar with the subject is condemned to boredom. Fortunately, conversations about selected buildings often provide knowledge and insights of considerable freshness.

slashes and white spots

However, it is hard not to notice a significant disparity between the localities and regions included by the authors. Silesia (close to the authors), Wroclaw, Krakow with Malopolska, Warsaw and Poznan rule. White spots (with a few exceptions) are western and northern Poland and Podkarpacie. Of course, there are regions better and worse endowed with contemporary architecture, but after all, there was no shortage of good examples in, for example, Olsztyn or Koszalin, not to mention smaller towns. What is striking, however, is the paucity of public spaces, especially since - after years of drought - there has been some improvement in this area.

Particularly puzzling is the overabundance of Krakow projects - as if the city of Krakow, and not one of the car brands, was a partner in this publishing venture and it was necessary to squeeze in as many Podawel objects as possible. Even if they have their counterparts in other towns or regions absent from the publication.

one could go further

It is, however, unnecessary for the authors to explain their large selection of Silesian examples. "Silesian school of architecture" deserved it. In fact, the interlocutors mention it, presenting one of the most interesting (and least trite) examples - the ZUS building in Zabrze by Andrzej Duda and Henryk Zubel. By the way, the narrative adopted at the beginning that the optics of a foreign man were adopted in the selection crumbles a bit. The building of the state insurance company did not seem to be present in the European professional press, for which this very good public architecture - similar to many honest Western realizations - could not be something spectacular. On the other hand, it was , as Konieczny admits, like other works and the designers' teaching activities, a very important foundation for the Silesian successes of the following decades.

Nevertheless, it was also possible to go a little further here and give space to regions that were left out of the guide. The interchange center in Zory is fine, but - for geographical balance - it could have made way for other stations - for example, in Solec Kujawski or Wolsztyn.

houses on the sidelines

Understandable and valuable, however, is the poor representation of single-family houses. Understandable, because the material for selection here is very abundant, constitutes a somewhat separate category and in principle deserves a separate publication. Valuable, because it is worth redirecting the audience's attention to other types of architecture. Houses and interiors have been pouring off the pages of trade magazines and online portals for years anyway, gaining great click-through rates. And by the way, they give the damaging illusion that with Polish single-family housing is already very good.

The selection key, by the way, is a subjective thing; the authors turn on the fuses every now and then anyway, explaining their indications and mentioning the dilemmas of selection. They often mention buildings considered but omitted, so the reader can follow this trail and form his own opinion.

Space for personal opinion is also left by both interviewees. They do not announce verdicts ex cathedra. They analyze without sensationalism or exaggeration, calmly, matter-of-factly, thoughtfully. Sometimes perhaps even a little too smoothly. Contrary to what we read in the note from the publisher, the "often differing opinions" of Konieczny and Malkowski lie quite close to each other. The interlocutors could have taken different positions more often - not to raise adrenaline, but to stimulate the reader's perception. A clearer argument would have greater cognitive value. But - nothing by force. Do we want a clearer discussion? Let' s not pester Konieczny and Malkowski about it. Let's let the other authors have their say.

Jakub Głaz

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