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Christmas column

28 of December '22

A column from A&B issue 12|2022


When I received an offer to write a column for the December A&B, I agreed without hesitation. The only problem was. total freedom to choose the form, length and topic of my text. Every architect knows that the more constraints, conditions, prohibitions, orders, contexts to take into account, the better to design - and when we get an empty plot of land on which we can design whatever is in our souls - then the problems begin.

There is, of course, a tried-and-true method for having no limitations - you have to create one for yourself. Drawing a building in the middle of a beautiful meadow, we invent ourselves anything - a story, a narrative, an idea, an algorithm that will lead us step by step to the final success. Technology, for example, can be helpful - we invent for ourselves that the house should be concrete, brick, wood, clay - and we already have a self-play! Or better yet - we analyze even the most boring and barren context for so long, until we finally always figure something out - underground mine workings, traces of mud from a nearby clay mine, sites of rare fauna or flora 10 kilometers away, or the genesis of the name of a neighboring village. Then we cling to it and voila - the concept is ready!

As I decided - so I did. I reached for a bundle of recent issues of A&B to get an idea of this very context. I paid special attention to the columns, because, after all, the regular columnists of A&B are my heartthrobs - Kuba Szczęsny and Kuba Głaz. I like them, respect them, admire them - but to be honest - most of their texts I have not read so far. The reason is simple - each issue of A&B is very, very thick and has a lot of interesting articles with lots of nice pictures. And the columns are unfortunately at the very end. By the time I get to them, I mostly fall asleep.... But now I've mobilized myself, read a whole bunch of issues one by one - and here's what I learned.

The leit-motiv of both Jakub's columns is as follows - things are bad and ugly in Poland, and people are unhappy here. And why are they unhappy? Because they are backward, complacent, uneducated...But why are they backward, etc., etc.? And here we come to the root cause of this evil. It is right-wing nationalism and the terrible Catholic Church going along with it.

According to Kuba Szczęsny, whose texts are downright baroque and brimming with a wealth of attractive topics, Poles are backward in terms of free sex, intolerant, limited and stifled by an inhumane regime and sectarian religion. Ba, even in situations where by some miracle they manage to behave decently, the only people who do not help the Ukrainian refugees are members and hierarchs of the Catholic Church.

Kuba Glaz, who, on the other hand, consciously and elegantly limits the expression and subject matter of his texts (although he, too, occasionally smacks a sudden comparison of Karol Wojtyla to Karol Swierczewski (?)), consistently sticking to urban-architectural issues, he accurately stigmatizes the defects of the Polish landscape - light pollution, noise, dirt, concrete (physical and mental). Each time, he also shows a positive counter-example - casting in this role the widely understood West, or to put it simply, Germany - where it is neat, clean, smart and good. Even on a cold Baltic beach in Germany it is quiet, peaceful and idyllic - not what it is in Poland, where noise, crowds and disco-polo make any relaxation impossible....
There is also a prescription - what should be done to make it better for us. Here both columnists agree - it's best to leave - the farther away, the better. To warm countries, to the exotically vibrant corners of Rio de Janeiro or at least Palermo, or even to that Berlin nearby. Because here in Poland, at best we're in for oppression, depression, a dark, long and unheated winter, and at worst they'll just take us into the camouflages....

I must admit that read in one go all these columns make an extremely strong impression. After this reading I got into a sarcastic and very critical mood, which paradoxically made me very happy. For it is well known that the essence of a good column is virulent criticism. As the undisputed master of this genre, Antoni Slonimski taught, "One need not praise! It is necessary to chastise! Because if you chastise, you chastise furiously, but everyone else is delighted! If you praise, everyone is furious, and the praised will still think it's not enough!"

I started with a seemingly simple thing - an attempt to squeeze at least a few lines out of the fact that urban planning and architecture in Germany is pretty, while in Poland it is ugly. Unfortunately, I was hindered by the fact that I look at the surrounding space not like a normal person, but like a pretentious architect - not directly, but splitting hairs, analyzing, classifying, showing off my dubious erudition - which architects I know, which buildings I have seen. Instead of admiring, like any reasonable observer, the fact that in Germany it is clean, and in our country it is dirty, that there are a lot of nicely restored, clean monuments there, and in our country, not knowing why, not many, and that they are dirty and poorly maintained, etc. etc., I decided to prove the thesis of the superiority of our neighbors using examples of favorite buildings. I have really a lot of them in Germany - but as if to spite me, it turned out that there are even more in Poland. Arno Brandlhuber's post-industrial house is great, but Przem Lukasik's Bolko loft is even better, what's more it was built 20 years earlier. I loved walking on the rooftop terraces of James Stirling's Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, but the rooftop garden of Marek Budzynski's BUW is not inferior to them even by an inch. With an open mouth I watched the dematerialized roofs of the Olympic complex in Munich (Gunter Behnish and Frei Otto), but is Katowice's Spodek(Maciej Krasinski, Maciej Gintowt, Waclaw Zalewski) worse? I finally arrived at Gottfried Bohm's Neviges church, which for me for years was the most amazing modern building I had seen with my own eyes, and for a moment I thought I had an undisputed winner, but then I remembered about theStaszek Niemczyk's churches - and I had to honestly admit that they are closer to me, and that their beauty appeals to me more strongly, that I feel in them like in medieval cathedrals (and this is the equivalent of architectural paradise for me).

So I tried to put aside the wretched architecture and just write frankly, originally and uncompromisingly, how Poland is generally bad and Germany is generally good. But it was going rather poorly. I remembered that, after all, I lived in Germany for a total of almost two years, but, not knowing why, I decided not to stay there - on the contrary, I returned to Katowice and live here peacefully to this day. I can't say - it was fun this bachelor's life abroad, I saw very interesting things and more than once my glasses fogged up.... While jogging through the forest in Gelsenkirchen, I had the opportunity to see what the shooting exercises of a neo-Nazi group look like (quite stressful - not to say threatening...). During the Love Parade in Berlin, I had the opportunity to see what it looks like for a prude-free mixed group (with a large overrepresentation of gentlemen of varying ages equipped with skimpy leather costumes and filthy mustaches) to play pranks in public outdoors (quite unconventional, to say the least - eccentric....) During one of the post-competition discussions, I had the opportunity to see how the unawarded architects excused their winning colleagues from fascists and compared their project to the works of Albert Speer, and the latter retaliated with accusations ofcommunism dating back to deep East Germany (this in turn was quite refreshing, to say the least - exciting, especially since the discussion was followed by a very successful party with a very large amount of free alcohol). So I had a champagne time in this Germany, but despite all these attractions at one point, sitting on the terrace over the Sunday newspaper and a delicious breakfast, I concluded that, unfortunately, I was not interested in whether Rudolf Scharping would defeat Helmut Kohl in the next election, and that in general - it was nice, but it was time to go back....And so I watched Scharping's painful defeat already from home soil, to which, after an overnight ride on an overcrowded bus, I clung like the mythical Antaeus, or perhaps rather John Paul II, now the Great....

Well, since we have already descended on this topic - I still have one last resort left - the anticlericalism so popular lately. Maybe, following the example of Kuba Szczęsny, I can at least criticize the backwardness, obscurantism, obscurity and illegitimate influence of the Catholic Church? Since even Dawid Podsiadlo - that super nice young man, loved by grandmothers, mothers, daughters and granddaughters, that paragon of non-conflictuality, embodiment of Poles' collective taste in music and hairdressing, filling stadiums with good guys from theneighborhood, aseptic as a bandage for the worst love wound and as safe as a pandemic intercourse at a distance, earned the announcement of imminent apostasy, I guess it can't be that difficult?

Unfortunately - I fell all over the line here as well. When I began to read into the arguments in favor of apostasy, atheism and rejecting the Church, religion and faith as fettering superstitions, I saw in them, despite my sincerest intentions, far more resentment than sense. I had an irresistible feeling as if I had gone back to my elementary school days and sleepily listened to the ramblings of itinerant intellectuals from the unforgettable Society for the Propagation of Secular Culture at Monday's parenting class. I was reminded of the slogans written in squeaky chalk on the green board "the dissemination of socialist customs and rituals related to life: personal, professional, social in order to give them a secular form"; "dissemination of the Marxist worldview and religious studies"; "propagation of the principles of socialist morality"; "cooperation in the formation of the secular personality of youth." "development of the beliefs and attitudes of modern man - free from myths and religious illusions, actively fighting for the victory of the ideals of socialist humanism"; "deepening the all-democratic, secular principles of social coexistence: The principle of privacy of religion, separation of church and secular institutions, freedom of conscience and religion, and tolerance."

Well, unfortunately - once I associate the problem with the acolytes of the PZPR with the TKK, the asshole, nothing will come out of it. It is necessary to stand in the truth and honestly admit defeat in this field as well. It's true that the Church is made up of imperfect, sinful people, and scandals involving priests and bishops are, of course, doubly blameworthy, because these people enjoy special privileges only because they perform spiritual functions carrying particularly high moral requirements. It is true that pedophiles in cassocks must be punished with the utmost severity of both ecclesiastical and criminal law, and their victims must be compensated. It's true that Pope Francis' statements on the war in Ukraine (and on a surprisingly wide range of topics) are often incomprehensible and sometimes downright scandalous. It's true that true faith is often lacking in the Church, that it can be accused of excessive formalism and empty rigorism on the one hand, and, on the other, of being too softened up and willing to adapt to the modern world at all costs. All this is true, and one could go on for a long time listing these bad things. But in any case, the sum of the good that the Church has brought with it over the two millennia of its existence far outweighs the sum of the evil it has done. Equalization of the rights of all people regardless of their status, race, gender, the commandment to love toward neighbors and oneself, mercy and the possibility of forgiveness for even the worst criminal provided he acknowledges his faults, is willing to make amends and make amends for his faults - all this the Church has preached, always moving toward the good at least half a step ahead of the modern world. And it proved its teaching with deeds, often paying the supreme price with the lives of saints, martyrs and millions of ordinary, too often nameless faithful. He won't make an atheist out of me - I'm a Catholic, I go to church every Sunday, I confess my minor and major weaknesses and bad deeds - and I'm not going to change that. It doesn't make me anyone special, it doesn't make me proud, it doesn't give me any right to elevate myself above others - but thanks to it, and I mean it quite seriously - I'm a little better person than I would be without faith and without the Church. I sincerely admire people who can find justification for any coherent moral system without referring to God - I, despite my efforts, cannot logically derive it, whether we take the absolute will of the majority or the extreme subjective judgment of the individual as a basis. I have even more admiration for the atheist courage to believe that death ends our lives irrevocably and definitively - I wouldn't be able to live with such an awareness, I wouldn't find any sense in making any effort in the face of the ultimate horror of meaninglessness and lack of purpose to existence. Like the vast majority of people on Earth, I believe that my life has some deeper meaning, that it is part of some higher plan, that it is subject to evaluation both in this world and in the next - and this causes me to strive, to get up in the morning, to work into the evening, to fall asleep with the hope of waking up in this or, if it is God's will - already in a better reality.

Well, and beautifully, then we have gone deep...But what about this column? And here came the rescue. When, tired of writing, I went out to get some fresh air, "walking aimlessly, not keeping an eye on the road" I found myself in a cemetery lit up with candles. All Souls' Day was just coming to an end. What a pity, I thought, that my text does not appear just in November - I could perhaps do something about the spaces of cemeteries, about flickering candles, about fleeting beauty and gentle sadness.... Or maybe, on the contrary, about artificial flowers, rampant cars, overflowing garbage cans - maybe here I could finally at least praise these drab empty German cemetery parks somehow? And at that moment came a dazzle. The column will come out in the December issue - that is, the Christmas issue! And in view of Christmas, the whole tangle of threads makes sense! It's about faith and the Church - as OK as possible, it's about architecture and space - in keeping with the profile of A&B's guest pages. It's also about personal emotions - it all comes together! The only thing missing is wishes. And it is to them that I will now turn.

życzenia świąteczne

Oskar Grąbczewski

architect(OVO Grąbczewscy Architekci), a writer after hours - more for his passion than for his career.
He sees his debut and specially published Christmas column as the beginning of something new

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