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Architect in conservation position - "I have a different view"

04 of August '20

"I believe that the biggest threat at the moment are architects and investors who don't have the habit, knowledge or desire to know how to adapt historic buildings to new functions in the least invasive way." Igor Strzok, Pomeranian Regional Monument Conservator, is interviewed by Ewa Karendys.

Ewa Karendys: The authorities of Gdansk accuse you of blocking investments in the city, the value of which is estimated at a total of about PLN 100 million.

Igor Strzok: Demagoguery.

Ewa Karendys: This includes the renovation of Ogarna Street, which runs through the Main City area.

Igor Strzok: Ogarna is one of the most important streets of the Main City complex. There we have sidewalks and roadways rebuilt in the shape they had until the second half of the 19th century. Now the city has decided to run a bicycle route there, to bridge the gap between the sidewalks and the roadway. But the route must not violate Polish law, including the Law on the Protection of Historical Monuments, which clearly protects the Main City. Three years ago on St. Spirit Street, the city leveled the sidewalks with the roadway, creating an ahistoric space. This implementation was criticized by the National Heritage Institute, also Professor Magdalena Gawin, the general conservator of monuments subjected the concept to crushing criticism.

Ewa Karendys: The dispute on Ogarna concerns the pavement and the lowering of curbs. Historic preservation is one thing, but where is the human being in all this? After all, the point is to make the space user-friendly, accessible.

Igor Strzok: I am not a romantic lover of monuments, but a government official who has a duty to protect the historic substance in its entirety. There are Supreme Court rulings that clearly define that in areas such as the Main City in Gdansk, the widths of streets, roadways and sidewalks, windows and their divisions are protected. Today we will allow two bicycle lanes to be sanded, tomorrow more will come who will demand more changes to the space.

Ewa Karendys: Here we are getting into an argument about whether we want to build an open-air museum or a city for the people? Many European countries, especially now in the era of pandemics, are moving in the latter direction.

Igor Strzok: I spent 29 years outside the country in several European metropolises and I don't react to populist arguments, which I think are evidence of Polish complexes. In the reconstruction of Gdansk, an effort was made to refer in forms to the golden age of the 16th and 17th centuries. That is why we are trying to make sure that what the generation of our fathers left behind is not tarnished by development elements.

Ewa Karendys: Another point of contention is the city's Façades OdNowa program, through which more than 100 townhouses in the Main City were decorated with the cooperation of the city and artists. The project was blocked by you. Do you not like the decorated facades?

Igor Strzok: Let's separate what I like from what is right from the point of view of historic preservation. The idea would be very good, if only the location was better chosen. There are plenty of neglected tenements in Gdansk: in Nowy Port, Wrzeszcz, Biskupia Górka. I believe that the proposed decorations had little to do with historic Danzig detail. Let's also remember that the tenements rebuilt in the Main City after the war were intended by their creators to be a backdrop for the historical monuments, on the reconstruction of which the most time and money was spent.

Ewa Karendys: But such decorations are not new. Artistic decorations appeared on facades in the 1950s.

Igor Strzok: The mosaics and painting decorations that were created at that time have been recognized as an art monument. They indeed have a high artistic value, which was difficult to see in the projects presented. I stressed that there was a possibility of compromise, but if the painting elements were only a small detail.

Ewa Karendys: As the first architect to serve as conservator in years, you announced that this term would be a little different. What is the difference? So far there is no shortage of controversy surrounding your decision.

Igor Strzok: What constitutes a different outlook is the ability to analyze the space and the objects in it in terms of their value. I believe that the biggest threat at the moment are architects and investors who don't have the habit, knowledge or desire to know how to adapt historic buildings to new functions in the least invasive way. Or, how to design architecture that will not compete with monuments.

Ewa Karendys: Which projects in the space of Gdansk do you think deserve the most criticism?

Igor Strzok: I believe that no contemporary work has surpassed Forum Gdańsk in its hideousness.

Ewa Karendys: Strong words.

Igor Strzok: The urban planning analysis is crushing for this object. The Forum has destroyed the magnificent panorama of Gdańsk as seen from Biskupia Górka. It is a complex of several buildings, stylistically inconsistent. Each in a different style, made of different materials. E.g. the multi-level garage is a huge and heavy block dominating such an exposed location.

Ewa Karendys: Anything else?

Igor Strzok: The Bulwark Bastion, which is four heavy gloomy towers built on the remains of a 17th-century bastion. The resulting development disturbs the skyline of Gdansk. It's the quintessence of developer thinking: maximum usable space for minimum money.

Fasady OdNowa Gdańskie kamienice

The city's Facades OdNowa program

Photo: M. Tymiński | Provincial Office for Monument Protection

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