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The architecture of discrimination - a conversation with Dominika Janicka

31 of December '20

Can space foster discrimination against minorities? Architecture often becomes a political tool, and the acts adopted by local authorities have a bearing on how residents function in public places. How to design cities so that everyone can feel comfortable in them? A conversation with Dominika Janicka, curator of the exhibition "Space in Times of Blight" at the Institute of Design in Kielce.

Strefa wolna od LGBT

Photo Bart Staszewski

Kacper Kepinski: Why did you decide to include this second theme - discrimination - which relates to the pandemic indirectly, in an exhibition about the pandemic and the plague?

Dominika Janicka: In this first part of the exhibition, this pestilence is, of course , theCOVID-19pandemic , we show how design responded to it, how it behaved, what designs it proposed. At the same time as working on the exhibition about the pandemic, we experienced in the world, and we experience all the time, various symptoms of discrimination against minorities. We focused on discrimination in public spaces. In the U.S., we had the assassination of George Floyd, huge protests from under BlakLivesMatter. Closer to us - LGBT-free zones . Local government officials have been introducing them since 2019, but successive expansions are underway so far. For me, as a designer who deals with public space, it was a shock - how is it possible that in a country that is in the middle of Europe someone can introduce resolutions that openly exclude a group of residents, even in the symbolic layer. This blight that engulfs our space is also hatred and discrimination against minorities. Hence the idea to also look at legal solutions that over the years have discriminated by means of the way public space is organized against the minorities in question.

Altas nienawiści


Kacper: You're talking about legal provisions, but can the very design of space, architecture and design be discriminatory and exclusionary? Is there architecture that supports inclusivity?

Dominica: These are legal provisions, but they actually project the space later. Inthe exhibition we also present the phenomenon of redlining in the United States. There they divided major cities into several zones in terms of investment attractiveness. The worst, red zones were the most financially risky. Hence, local governments did not introduce public buildings such as libraries and museums or parks there. The legal provisions greatly affected the fact that whole swaths of the city did not have well-designed and equipped schools, parks, and access to public services needed in human development.

Wybory prezydenckie Strajk kobiet

Photo by Kacper Kepinski

Kacper: Do designers have the tools to hack such a system and, in situations more akin to normalcy, design places that will also serve minorities?

Dominika: To me it seems that every architect and architect has this tool and it is empathy. Each of us can learn this tool in some way. In fact , the way we design depends on our sensitivity, which we can learn to some extent. The most important thing is to have this openness. Even in commercial projects, where what matters is usable space that a developer can sell, you can try to smuggle in open, inclusive and inviting spaces. There is no golden rule that says that a certain type of bench or table will cause an ultra-rightist to meet a leftist and communicate. An interesting case is a project from the civic budget in Kielce, where a project to set up rainbow benches in the city won. They may not have contributed to integration and greater openness. However, they have opened a discussion at different levels in the city about the complexity of this group, the diversity of Kielce's population.

Plakat antyfaszystowski Napis na murach w Łodzi

Photo by Kacper Kepinski

Kacper: Are you able to point to an example of such a good practice in Poland? Where a space that includes different user groups has been created intentionally, rather than by accident?

Dominika: I don't know if it's too early for such projects. As part of my work on the exhibition, I checked how refugee centers are designed in Poland. Unfortunately, they are not designed, they are not prepared for the integration of newcomers into the local community. He doesn't want to call them prisons, but when you enter such a place, it is fortified with a fence, security, registration of entrances and exits. They are not conducive to integration and looking at the other person as a partner.

Kacper: At the exhibition, you present Maria Kwiatek's communicator project, used to place simple messages in windows aimed at neighbors. This phenomenon is also happening from the bottom up. In addition to protests, which, despite the pandemic, took place en masse this year - we also observe flags and symbols of various groups, social or political movements being placed in apartment windows. Besides their own windows, do city residents have places where they can express their views in public spaces?

Dominica: The protests we see are happening in public space - in the streets and squares. It seems to me that in Poland these public spaces are very often created as an outgrowth of buildings. Often architectural firms, when designing a building, take the forecourt of the building incorporating it into their design. Such space is often created as an addition to the architecture. It is not thought of as a separate and very important project. This is also true of government offices, where there are no people specifically responsible for these aspects. Urban plans are established, but no thought is given to squares and streets as a place that also aims to integrate and build openness of residents factor. There are also very few offices in Poland that specialize in this type of design, except for a small group of landscape architects. We are still at the aesthetic level - we discuss how the space looks, not how it functions and what message it carries.

Protest w Warszawie

Photo by Karolina Halik

Kacper: Can you point to offices, people designing and writing about tolerance and space that are worth watching?

Dominika: One of them is definitely the Resolve collective from London. They work in Caribbean communities, organizing workshops, educating residents and co-creating spaces with them, often temporarily. The second such office is Assemble, also from London. They create very open projects that aim to equalize access to culture for different user groups. These include temporary theaters and cinemas in places where access is limited. In Poland, such themes are taken up by the Cracow-based Miastopracownia, which, among other things, designs houses of culture.

We, in the framework of the exhibition, for the post-lockdown period, want to create projects in Kielce's public spaces that foster openness. One of them is the construction of a warming house for the homeless near our headquarters. We also have an agreed workshop with Novika studio on creating a pictogram of a bathroom for non-binary people. Such a bathroom will be located at our institute, but we also have permission from one of Kielce's schools for this type of activity on its premises.

Space in times of blight

''Space in Times of Blight'' is a double exhibition at the Main Gallery of the Institute of Design in Kielce. The first part presents more than a dozen projects that were created in response to the immediate fight against Covid - 19 and those that combat the effects of the pandemic while solving problems that already existed.

In the second part of the exhibition - the title word ''plague'' - stands for the epidemic of discrimination and hatred that hit minorities just as hard in 2020. The exhibition will show instances when provisions and laws on space, instead of integrating, discriminated against selected social groups.

More information about the exhibition: link

interviewed: Kacper Kępiński

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