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Architecture is an encounter between people and place

17 of September '21

The interview with Boris Wrzeszcz
appeared in A&B 3'2021

Borys Wrzeszcz, one of the winners of the Architectural Award of the Wielkopolska Region, talks about leaving and returning, various approaches in learning the profession, pursuing a goal and architectural relationship building.

Borys Wrzeszcz

- He gathered his educational experience in architecture in Poznan, Ljubljana, Copenhagen and Santiago, Chile. After graduation, he returned to the capital of Greater Poland to co-found the Wrzeszcz Architects studio with his dad, Mariusz.

Dominika Drozdowska
: In January of this year, the chapter of the Architectural Award of the Wielkopolska Region awarded three equal prizes in the Young Artist category. Hugon Kowalski, Adam Wierciński and you were awarded. According to the justification of the jury, you have undergone an individual path of development, which has shaped different but equally strong personalities. Your path seems particularly interesting.

Boris Wrzeszcz: Let me start with our friendship with Adam and Hugo. Adam and I have known each other since we were children, but the three of us, along with Hugo, met at a drawing class that was a preparation for architectural studies. I wanted to get into the Academy of Fine Arts, but failed. Instead, I was accepted to the Poznan University of Technology, which ultimately turned out to be a better choice, because the studies were two-stage and offered the opportunity to go on student exchange, which the ASP did not offer at the time. After studying for some time, however, I realized that I would not last five years at the university. Once, in the old town of Poznań, I met Kostek, Marcin Kościuch, of Ultra Architects, who advised me to go to Ljubljana, to Vasa Perović. It was an accidental conversation, which, however, led to the fact that I was able not only to open this direction for cooperation, since it had not been offered by the university before, but also to go to the Slovenian capital. The climate of this university made a big impression on me. Vasa Perović's studio was located on the top floor of the school and was open daily to all students, so you could see the projects carried out by different year groups.

:What was so special about Vasa Perović's teaching style?

Boris:Vasa Perović is the equivalent of Dr. House, a character in a TV series popular in those years. He is a very intelligent man with a sarcastic sense of humor. Because of this brilliance, one can forgive him everything [laughs]. He showed up at his studio four times a week, and if he saw that someone was making an effort and cared about his project, he devoted a lot of time to that person. The defense of projects at the end of the semester was also very interesting. Vasa did not grade our work - instead he invited his friends from the world of architecture and art. Our task was to present our projects to these external jurors, and they would say what they thought about them. All the works were presented on identical graphic backgrounds, as if it were an architectural competition with an external jury. After returning from Ljubljana, I defended my engineering thesis in Poznan, but I knew I wanted to go somewhere further. I applied to universities in Delft, Milan and Copenhagen. I cared most about the latter, but unfortunately my application was not accepted. Although I got into Delft and Milan, I decided to take a year off and work in my dad's architecture studio. The following year I applied again, and I completed my portfolio with only one work - the Scaled House, which I worked on in the office. Thanks to this break and the work in the architectural office, I got into the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. This was apparently the key to selecting candidates, because, as it turned out later, everyone in my design group had at least a year of professional work behind them. The department of this academy itself is quite intimate and is located in a former military port in the center of the city. The studios were divided into thematic groups, each with its own building and each student its own corner with a desk, a cabinet and a piece of wall on which to hang their work. This space was available twenty-four hours a day. Interesting fact: beer could be drunk on the school grounds.


House Scaled

Photo: Jakub Borkowicz

:How were the three universities you studied at different?

Boris: The three places represented different design approaches. In Poznan, from the guidelines we have two weeks for concepts, the next week for projections, the next week for sections and so on. In Ljubljana, roughly seventy percent of the time is spent on concept development, designing, for example, five different proposals on the same plot of land. The final drawings of the projections and sections are presented schematically. In Copenhagen it was even different - we were given a general topic and initially dealt with it in groups, conducting various types of urban analysis, and when we approached the architectural scale, we started working individually. Students were also provided with support - for example, if you were designing a building made of wood, you would be referred to a person who deals with it, or take a tour of the factory that produces the elements. A colleague of mine was designing a library, so she was given a meeting with the director of the national library. It was clear, however, that some were overwhelmed by this generality of topics and tried to do a very specific design, while others played with freedom and didn't really care about a specific building. Watching these two groups was interesting, because the approaches and personalities of the future architects were clarifying before my eyes.

:Which group did you fall into?

Boris: Such arbitrariness suited me very well. I designed a building based on my module for living in Copenhagen, and at the time I lived in a room three meters wide, which was completely sufficient for me. I created a living system that, by design, had to be as light as possible. I assumed that it would let in a lot of sunlight while not casting shadows. The result was something like glass houses. And this came from the fact that the sun very rarely shines in Copenhagen. This lack is really felt and has bothered students from different parts of the world. At the beginning of my master's studies, I also began to realize that they would soon end.

Shadowless Housing - design of a shadowless multifamily building in CopenhagenShadowless Housing - design of a shadowless multifamily building in CopenhagenShadowless Housing - design of a shadowless multifamily building in Copenhagen

Shadowless Housing - the design of a non-shedding multifamily building in Copenhagen

© Boris Wrzeszcz archive

:So you went to Chile.

Boris: Yes, I wanted to make the most of this time in life, when you have more freedom and fewer obligations. I also wanted a change of environment, to go outside of Europe, because in fact Polish, Slovenian and Danish cultures are quite similar. I considered going to Brazil or Chile. I didn't know Portuguese at all, and I didn't really know Spanish either. However, I found that since in Chile they don't require a language certificate at a specific level, I would apply, and if I got in, I would learn the language. And it worked out. I don't even know if anyone besides me took part in any exchange at that time - there were really great conditions for studying in Copenhagen.

:The only thing missing was sunshine. You went looking for it in Santiago.

Boris: Yes, sunshine and adventure. Before I left, I took a three-month language course, which of course was not enough to study in Spanish. Nevertheless, I went. I didn't care about gaining specific architectural knowledge - I observed the place, the people and the situations. Social stratification was very evident in Chile. Local students belonged to the elite, they all lived in the same neighborhood, which was quite unheard of for me, but in South America this is quite normal. As a foreigner, I was not included in this group, and I also lived in a neighborhood with people of middle or lower social status. Leaving Denmark, I was given a mission by the dean of the faculty, Katrine Lotz, to visit architect Jorge Lobos, who was to teach at the university in Copenhagen the following year. So I went to the other end of Chile, two days by bus, to his office. Our first meeting did not go well. I was in poor shape right after the trip, and he thought I was a typical European who had come to Chile for a vacation. Nevertheless, we managed to talk, and since the idea of a Santiago-related project was already starting to run through my head, I figured we might be able to find a common language after all. And indeed we did, after returning to Copenhagen over my master's project "Don't Sell Yourself Short!" (Don't Sell Yourself Short!) I just worked under the guidance of Jorge Lobos and the aforementioned dean. The project was to prevent the polarization of society in Chile, which may sound rather ambitious. I chose a site - a development quarter inhabited by the socially excluded - that was a lonely island between enclaves of wealthy people. For the time being, people of varying material status live side by side, but the walls of the guarded neighborhoods are increasingly pushing in, displacing the lowest-income residents. Importantly, land still belongs to the latter. Even now, the areas inhabited by excluded people are much more diverse and spatially richer than the neighboring neighborhoods behind the walls. That's why I wanted to propose solutions to help current residents stay in the place they own. But also solutions that will help the transformation from temporary architecture to higher-standard developments. I focused on meeting all the residents' needs with the minimum necessary architectural intervention. After a phase of exploration, I proposed a basic module for the social tower, which included a kitchen, toilet and stairs. It was also crucial to bring in a water supply and sewage system. Thanks to the stairs, such a unit could be expanded vertically, which, given the high price of plots of land, was most reasonable. I developed a simple structural frame made up of columns and beams that made such interventions possible, and showed what the neighborhood could look like in five or ten years. The result was a structure that residents could develop on their own. An interesting finale to the project was the presentation and discussion it generated at the Chilean Ministry of Development, where it was presented by Jorge Lobos.

Boris Wrzeszcz's master's project Don't Sell Yourself Short! (Don't sell yourself cheap!).

My studies in Copenhagen culminated in a thesis defense that included outside guests. The committee included representatives of various companies, a former partner from the Henning Larsen office, the director of the Danish Design Center, and a specialist from a company that builds complex structures. The latter warned me not to go to a corporation where I might forfeit. After my defense, I was even offered a job at the Henning Larsen office, but I did not accept the offer. I returned to Poznan and have been working with my dad for five years. I think I have a little more freedom or even liberty here. I certainly do not regret this decision. I remember that before and during my studies I felt a strong need to know and see the world outside Poland. At the time it seemed to me that everywhere was better than here, but once I got around the world a bit, I decided that I was going back to Poznan, because this is where I would feel most comfortable. Anyway, I don't even think about it, so I think I chose well.

continued conversation on next page

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