Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!
Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!

Architecture takes time. Interview with Bogdan Kulczynski

06 of February '23

Among other things, we talk to Bogdan Kulczynski, winner of the SARP 2022 Honorary Award, about how the clash with reality affected his childhood vision of architecture and whether working in this profession can be a great adventure.

Ola Kloc: Apparently you wanted to become an architect from an early age, what was your vision of the profession then? How do you perceive it today?

Bogdan Kulczynski: It's true... when I was in the fifth grade, so I was probably around 12, 13 years old, maybe even a little less, when asked by my teacher, like all the children in the class, what I would like to become in the future, I said that I would like to be an architect. My father Stanislaw Kulczynski wanted to become an architect . Unfortunately, he did not succeed, because those were the times right after the war. He started his studies, but he couldn't make it financially, and in fact his parents probably couldn't, because he was the second child, and back then the birth hierarchy pretty much decided who had priority. Fifth grade was probably some 1965, Poland was completely different, the whole world was different, reality was different. At that time I must have had a child's vision of the profession, a fairy tale, supported by ordinary wooden blocks and playing house, city, space. And today, well, architecture is a serious and difficult profession, if we look at it as a whole - from the beginning, that is, from the idea, to the implementation. Whereas pure architecture, in the sense of an idea, thinking about how it could be, how to realize it out of the box, and at the same time uncomplicated, this fairy tale has remained to this day, because it is one big abstraction. And if we don't want to duplicate the next cheapest possible design, it will always be a great adventure. So I think that nothing has changed in my perception of the profession, but what has arrived is an awareness that I didn't have then. The world with its technology, capabilities and finances has arrived, because considering architecture without finances is impossible.

dom architekta

architect's house

Photo: Hanna Dlugosz

Ola: Clashing with the realities of the profession - financial issues precisely, technology - did not then strip a child's fairy tale of its magical envelope?

Bogdan Kulczynski: At the core, I think not. I never think at the beginning whether something can be done or not, but statements like "well, but we don't do it that way," "but that's not how it's done," I've been hearing since the early days of the profession, because contractors have their habits and if only something different is proposed, which doesn't have to be more complicated at all, is often even simpler, doesn't have to involve additional finances, but is different from what we do every day, it arouses just such reactions. Our profession, because I hope it's not just my trait, loves this uncommonness, this otherness, but a whole lot of people otherness just don't want it, fear it, want to take shortcuts, because they've done it before, and here suddenly you have to think, because otherness requires thinking.

Ola: In view of this, what advice would you give to young people just entering this professional path?

Bogdan Kulczynski: In young people there is the power to seek a new path, not to be afraid of new solutions, and in combination with more experienced people, there is the wonderful power of new creation. I taught eight years at the Department of Architecture, I was very young at the time, these were the years just before martial law, from 1979 to probably 1987 - that's how much you could work without a doctorate or enrollment in the party. At that time there were these two options, the moment people enrolled in the party, they could move to a lecturer position, although officially no one put it that way. Or you had to have a doctorate. Even then I liked working with young people. In my studio, as I've said many times before, I'm the only one who is getting older. Its base is young people, around thirty, thirty-something years old, only the people who are at the very top of office management are around forty.

patio Hoża 55

Hoża 55 patio

Photo: Piotr Krajewski

Ola: What is the reason for this?

Bogdan Kulczynski: On the one hand these are people who already have some experience, and on the other hand they are still thirsty... I think this word "thirsty" is quite important, to want, to want to create something different, something out of the box. Such a compilation gives the best effect. Maybe I also enjoy working with young people, and I hope they feel it, this friendly atmosphere. I've always tried to make it almost a family atmosphere in the studio. This is not so clearly seen nowadays, it varies in studios. There are some where rigor prevails, I know this from people who come to me, or have left and moved on, but are still friends with me. Including when someone tells me: "Listen, Bogdan, I can't talk to you, because at our place you can't talk during working hours, you can't have private conversations". I don't understand this, at my place the atmosphere is always open, cordial, I don't account for working time every minute, because I believe that in the creative profession it is impossible to use every minute creatively. This is simply impossible and unrealistic. On the other hand, of course, today's work rules, work standards have changed. The working time on a project - through computers and changing design technology - has almost halved, and there is a tendency and pressure from investors to make it even shorter. So, on the one hand, more lists, signatures, tables, so-called papers are arriving, and on the other hand, this time is still being reduced.

Ola: Is it possible to balance this somehow? Architecture, after all, needs time.

Bogdan Kulczynski: Architecture undoubtedly takes time. Often something is drawn, we go to bed with the feeling that what we have drawn, what we have invented, is wonderful, and when we get up in the morning and look at it, we think "God! After all, this is not good for anything!", "this is very weak". Architecture is not just putting up the proverbial lines. More and more often I hear from the investor "But it's enough to press a button on the computer and it will continue to count there", because once you throw in an idea, this computer will continue to do everything itself. This is not true, and it is done to the detriment of architecture. Of course, today we have banks of our various solutions on the server that we can use, and this is some kind of acceleration, but I think that none of the activities we do in life exempts us from thinking, and even less so if it is creative work, in which people later live. Because whether it's buildings, whether it's offices, whether it's public utility, the quality of our lives depends on space. In fact, everything we look at is architecture. For example, let's look at the advertisements that completely obscure the landscape and houses. In a stretch of about twenty kilometers on my route home, there are buildings that have eight of these ads! "Flowers", "Flowers", "Various flowers", "Cut flowers", a flower shop hung with a signboard "Florist". I completely do not understand this, and I think the owner of this flower shop does not understand it either. He also doesn't understand that this is a monstrous littering of the space. I remember that when we started going outside Poland, then still in Czechoslovakia, my first thought was that something is wrong here. And suddenly I realized, being taken by cab or bus from the Prague airport to the city center, that I had hardly noticed a single advertisement. I saw the trees, the landscape, the greenery, I saw everything but the advertising. The same thing is happening in France right now. The French are even hiding transmission lines so that they don't litter the landscape, so that it is as clean as possible. They keep an eye on the materials used on the buildings, the scale of the buildings, everything is somehow tidy. On the other hand, regardless of the regulations that are in a particular country, in a particular city or in a particular neighborhood, if we don't show a conscious culture of space and don't realize how important this is, how it affects us, I think these regulations will somehow function, but it certainly won't be what I'm talking about, what a large part of people are thinking about.

PKOL Athina Park

PKOL Athina Park

Photo: Piotr Krajewski

Ola: So is this a matter of education?

Bogdan Kulczynski: Certainly architectural education, the so-called art classes, I don't even know what they are called at the moment and whether they are there at all, absolutely should be. I believe that the architectural profession is extremely useful to you, to put it in very high terms, to the economy. An architect is not necessarily someone who just designs, gets awards and feels like a great architect. An architect is also the ability to organize space. I think that in larger units, for example, hospitals, vacation centers, there really is a need for an architect, such a space organizer, if only when arranging a doctor's office, not to mention entire wards, whose spatial organization cries out to God. There are many spaces that I encounter and almost forbid myself some sort of organizing reflex that would perfectly improve the functioning of this space, that is, make people live there easier, that is, better.

PKOL Athina Park

PKOL Athina Park

Photo: Piotr Krajewski

Ola: Let's move on to the Honorary Award of SARP, of which you were a laureate last year. Among other things, the chapter appreciated your judging activities. What does your work look like when judging architectural competitions? What should you keep in mind when judging projects?

Bogdan Kulczynski: I have never selected a team of judges, but I think that it should be made up of architects with different inclinations, both in the sense of aesthetic sensitivity, and those for whom it is important that the work presented complies with the requirements, financial feasibility, that is, such a little (I would not want to offend anyone) architects-accountants, who check whether someone somewhere has not exceeded the conditions of the competition even by a millimeter. All these functions are very important. The works should come out of the same assumptions included in the conditions of the competition, because exceeding any of them causes, if it is conscious, the ease of solving certain issues, which means that the project can be much more attractive. Anyway, later demonstration by a participant that someone didn't fit into these conditions, did things differently, inconsistently, causes disagreements and cases go to court.

I make no secret of the fact that I start by watching, paying attention to how something was conceived, whether which of these works in the way of thinking stands out in relation to the others, and only later check whether it meets all the conditions of the competition. If something is fantastic and a favorable interpretation is possible, I am in favor of such a work, more so than a work that is correct, but at the same time bland. Judging works is a very difficult task from my point of view, most often we have to choose something that meets the conditions on the border, often exceeds the finances, while it is an extremely attractive, innovative work. At the same time, of course, this I must say, I am against works that are overpriced. Architecture should be (in the good sense of the word) simple, should use simple solutions, a reasonable amount, should not be the so-called golden handles. I think we used to talk about this as a certain value of the way of thinking, the way of implementation or respecting the investor. For a long time, it's also worth talking about it in the light of ecology, that is, such buildings that respect ecology, respect simple materials, sourced almost from the neighborhood, that don't leave an overgrown carbon footprint, but respect us, and at the same time - as if it doesn't sound noisy - mother earth.

Smolna 40

Smolna 40

Photo: Piotr Krajewski

Ola: ""Measure your strength by your intentions"" - this maxim accompanies Bogdan Kulczynski on many of the buildings he has constructed". - Professor Ewa Kurylowicz said during the laudation. How do you understand it? How does this thought manifest itself in your projects?

Bogdan Kulczynski: This is Ewa's formulation, which refers to Adam Mickiewicz. It is often confused in Poland, in a wrong version it is interpreted: "calm down, because you won't make it." Eve is talking about choosing a goal, a goal that is often very difficult, and adapting your strength to it, preparing yourself for the effort you have to put in to achieve it. Maybe this is a childish or frivolous approach on my part, but I don't have such a memory of measuring myself. It always seemed to me, especially when I had a good idea, that it would definitely get done. I've always had an extremely friendly attitude towards subjects. I don't see it as a hardship, as an ordeal, as a struggle, but as a great job. The biggest ordeal is if I'm not completely satisfied with what I came up with, with what I drew. I consider resistance from the investor or contractor as normal. If the investor and the contractor also look at what they are doing in a friendly way, we generally get along. They all care that it's just something at least a little different. And maybe it's also kind of fortunate that I've met such people on my professional path, who didn't fight for principle, but tried to maybe simplify something, but also create new value together.

Ola: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Ola Kloc

The vote has already been cast