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Backstage of creativity. Iwona Buczkowska on the condition of the architectural profession

11 of May '22

statement fromA&B 04 | 2022 issue

I opened an architectural studio in France right after my studies, which I started at the Gdansk University of Technology and finished in Paris. So my work experience is related to France and is 99 percent about state assignments, mostly winning competitions.

I suppose that in every country an architect has a limited capacity to act. There are frameworks beyond which one cannot go, but it is up to the designer to respond to them. Some are insurmountable: urban planning laws regarding the site, technical orders, regulations, for example, thermal, acoustic or those regarding spaces for people with disabilities. Others - related to the philosophy of life or the demand of future users - can be subject to discussion. The cost of a building is imposed and is a great constraint on design.

Since architecture is closely linked to politics (at least in France), designs are often a tool for political battles. After implementation or before. When contractors are imposed for political reasons, their bids often exceed market prices; the developer forces the architect to make his proposed modifications, at the expense of concept and design. I once won a competition for a residential neighborhood with retail and service functions. The city imposed on me a contractor who, although the design respected the budget, demanded changes. They canceled the solid and functional concept of the designed spaces. The project would not make sense. The city mayor gave me an ultimatum: "Either you change the design, or you give up on it." I resigned.

Working for twenty years at the university with students, I discovered that some of them, when choosing to go to college, applied for medicine and architecture at the same time; in the case of being accepted at two universities, they chose medicine. What is the relationship between the two majors? Only one: both make it possible to practice a free profession. It's just that the free profession of architecture has nothing to do with the free profession of a doctor, lawyer or notary.

kompleks residential complex in Saint-Dizierkompleks residential complex in Saint-Dizierkompleks residential complex in Saint-Dizier

residential complex in Saint-Dizier, France; perspective

© Iwona Buczkowska

For many architectural studios, orders come irregularly, taking part in competitions is often not paid, income is variable, and sometimes there is simply no income. It is difficult to organize work and cooperate with the same team for many years. Despite the many awards, publications and videos of my work, which should make it very easy to run a studio, the reality is different. I have gone through different stages: eleven people in a team, for many years four, two or one, sometimes I work alone, sometimes there is no work. Computerization makes it easier - small projects can now be managed by one person.

In France, an architect is responsible for his execution for ten years. Often, if the workmanship is shoddy, there are lawsuits to settle who is responsible for leaks, for example: the architect or the contractor? Attorneys' battles, additional stress, lost time and, although we all have professional insurance, there are always financial losses associated with lawsuits. If there is a fatal accident (e.g., a balcony collapses and there are casualties), the architect (supposedly, after his death, his children) is held responsible for life, facing prison.

Architecture is considered the mother of the arts. It is not only about proportion, space, function, construction, urban planning, landscape or nowadays also ecology - it is also subject to politics, economics, business, pressure. We are responsible for our design (aesthetics, concept, etc.) and the result, including, unfortunately, the modifications that have been imposed on us.

kompleks residential complex in Saint-Dizierkompleks residential complex in Saint-Dizierkompleks residential complex in Saint-Dizier

residential complex in Saint-Dizier, France; cross-section

© Iwona Buczkowska

To what point do we accept changes to our concepts by an investor, politicians or a contractor? Why should we give in to pressure when it comes to a concept, or duplicate patterns, rather than look for new solutions? To what point do we endure stress, fatigue and sometimes even exhaustion? Why does so much energy have to be put into defending a project, convincing an investor or future user? Then we look at our realizations, which are often transformed without our approvals, are not maintained, and sometimes even get demolished (without any serious reasons), thus erasing part of our lives. We have different approaches to the profession - we follow design patterns or look for innovative solutions, where the user is at the center. Most builders impose the first eventuality.

Each of us has different limits of endurance. One of my professors, when encouraging me to pursue non-commercial architecture, said: "Since there are always problems in the architectural profession, let them be because of excellent architecture...". After which he added: "Ms. Iwona, one should have horse health for architecture." - and he was right.

Iwona Buczkowska

Atelier Iwona Buczkowska

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