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Architecture of (a)politics part 2. pathfinding

13 of April '21


The interaction between architecture and politics is quite commonly associated with large-scale state investments, propaganda buildings of authoritarian regimes, official directives of totalitarian dictatorships. In the daily work of an ordinary designer, who is not Pniewski or Koolhaas, there is no room for reflection on the influence of politics on architecture. Politics happens over there, somewhere far away - in Warsaw, Brussels, Washington. Here, close by, we have the problems of providing adequate sunlight for apartments and the investor's expectations to fit as many apartments as possible on a small plot of land, with the area adjusted to the creditworthiness of future tenants. This is the reality, not "some policy".



il. Blazej Ciarkowski

In 2006, Michael Sorkin gave an interview in which he pointed out that architecture is never apolitical. It always serves to strengthen social relations - from family relations to relations between the rulers and the ruled. Following this line of thinking, we will find political meaning in seemingly "apolitical" architecture. We will reach small elements of everyday life that turn out to be metaphors for the entire political and social system. Such a symbol in relation to interwar Poland are servants' quarters in modernist luxury townhouses designed by Juliusz Żórawski. They are a perfect metaphor for the essence of the Second Polish Republic - a state aspiring to modernity, yet immersed in the vast inequalities of post-feudalism (for those who see nothing wrong with the servant institution, I recommend a book by Marta Madejska, Joanna Kuciel-Frydryszak or Alicja Urbanik-Kopeć).

Show me your building law and I'll tell you about your society ," wrote Karoline Meyer and Katharina Ritter, comparing regulations in London and Vienna.

The conclusions of the analyses were clear. "Red Vienna" turned out to be not only a better guarantor of tenants' rights, but also of the safety of building users. However, Meyer and Ritter's considerations should be supplemented by one issue that is very relevant in Polish conditions. The condition of the socio-political system is indicated not only by the provisions of the law, but also by the effectiveness of their enforcement.

In the 1980s, Polish architects spoke of freedom.

An architect does not have to build at all costs - it is better to remain silent than to lie, accepting the degradation of his art under the pressure of satisfying ad hoc needs, " proclaimed the "Home and City" group, holding designers (partially) responsible for putting certain utopian ideas into practice.

After more than three decades of free Poland, one may be tempted to analyze how Polish architects and urban planners built this "freedom"....

The architectural manifestation of the socio-political system of the Third Republic is housing. Built in opposition to the gray monotony of communist-era blocks of flats and problems with the accompanying infrastructure. In counterpoint to the inefficiency of the state construction industry.

urbanistyka łanowa

doe urbanism

il. Błażej Ciarkowski

First of all [...] it can be presumed that the volume built under market economy conditions could have been immeasurably larger. Secondly, the effects would certainly have been better - this is how Andrzej Basista summed up the achievement of People's Poland in the field of multifamily construction in 2001.

20 years later, we can say with certainty that the mythical "invisible hand of the market" is unable (unwilling?) to solve the problems of housing shortage. The results of the Gierek decade are still unattainable. Progress in the area of quality designed space also seems doubtful.

To justify the author of "Concrete Legacy" we can add that he is not the only one who has succumbed to the widespread enthusiasm for capitalism in the American edition. After all, the essence of neoliberalism is the conviction that it is a common-sense basis, based on absolute logic like mathematical theorems. The foundation of this attitude, and at the same time the cause of the ills of Polish architecture, is the concept of "freedom" and its interpretation.

"Freedom," as understood by some designers, is a return to "historical" (and therefore, in their view, "natural") principles of shaping space. Why public consultation? "It's a matter of the free market." Why social housing? Let the financial possibilities decide everything. "It is enough that people vote with their money," he said. - Wojciech Gwizdak wrote. Following this line, we are abandoning basic human rights (housing is such a right!) by replacing them with the laws of supply and demand.

"Freedom" is the abandonment of planning restrictions. In 2018, the provision on the minimum size of individual rooms was deleted from the "Technical Conditions", replacing it with the minimum area of the entire dwelling. It amounts to 25 m². However, many developers (and designers) believe that this provision is too strict and should be deleted. Then it would be perfectly legal to create micro-apartments of 8 m², which in the current situation are included in the projects as... service units.



il. Błażej Ciarkowski

The number of restrictions in Polish law is relatively small, while enforcement of existing ones is often ineffective. This was clearly shown in a study of one of Warsaw's development estates made by Kacper Kępiński. Although the conditions for access to sunlight have been met, the real insolation of the residential space is negligible. The issue of greenery is similar. The biologically active area required by the plan is reduced to small lawns, green roofs (vegetation mats!) or plantings in pots, and trees are only able to grow on small patches of land along traffic routes. Of course, according to many, even these trace restrictions hinder the development of construction in Poland....

"Freedom" is the unlimited ability to dispose of private property. The sacred right to property (WYPW) affects the shape of Polish space more strongly than many legislative provisions. It provides justification for arbitrary construction and realizations that do not comply with local zoning plans. The MPC was invoked by a businessman from Lodz, who wanted to build a high-rise building in the center of the city, in defiance of the regulatory provisions, and by a host of his online defenders.

Święte Prawo

Sacred Right of Property

il. Błażej Ciarkowski

The ŚPW is being talked about by tenement owners in the process of rugging up existing tenants. The effect of focusing attention on the private is to divert it from the common. Among these are the privatopia of gated neighborhoods and housing complexes built against logic, planning rules and sometimes the law. The lack of public awareness of the need to shape good space, which forces one to curb particular interests for the sake of the common good, makes the idea suggested by Magdalena Staniszkis of consolidating and re-dividing land sound almost like collectivization.

Thefalsely understood "freedom" is, in fact, PATIENCE. It is a reality in which, according to Margaret Thatcher's thought, there is no society, only a collection of competing individuals. "The common good" becomes synonymous with the word "nobody's," which nobody cares about. Belief in neoliberal logic fueled by the negation of all the achievements of the People's Republic of Poland have become one of the foundation acts of the Third Republic. In turn, an eight-meter-high pseudo-apartment in a new real estate development is an architectural manifestation of its socio-political system.

Błażej Ciarkowski

The article is part of the series Architecture (a)political.
Part 1: Archi-washing

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