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Games of architectural quality - another round. Maciej Jakub Zawadzki is interviewed by Ania Diduch

02 of May '22

interview from A&B 04 | 2022 issue

"Just like doctors or lawyers, we are a profession of public trust and cannot be combinatorial," - said Maciej Jakub Zawadzki, founder of the MJZ studio, in an interview about the condition of the architectural profession. There is no shortage of professionals in Poland - there is a lack of context for drawing on the maximum of their abilities. Multidisciplinarity paradoxically does not go hand in hand with multitasking. Is the light you see in the tunnel a change or rather another train of foreign imports without reference to the local context?

Ania Diduch: What does the term "condition of the architectural profession" include and what makes up a "good" or "bad" condition?

Maciej Jakub Zawadzki:Fitness in sports is influenced not only by regular exercise, but also by following a good diet. If one were to translate this into our architectural context, it involves creative development and adequate remuneration. There is a problem with both in Poland today.

Good, correct so-called background architecture, which is a de facto copy of Swiss or Austrian models, has spilled over into the entire market. We see it everywhere in architectural competitions and their results. Combined with striking visualizations, it allows the competition juries to believe in the possibility of realizing a relatively nice building within the budget, and that is enough. The price, which was not supposed to be the main selection criterion, is again implicitly of paramount importance.

Admittedly, thanks to this, Poland may not be ugly in those places affected by the competitions, but they do not carry an intellectual charge as a result. You don't see an evolution of thinking, just a simple copying. To put it brutally: it's a bit like apeing the West.

In competitions with the patronage of the architects' association, the main prize is at most a reimbursement to the design office. These sums used to be quoted as net amounts, but now appear unchanged as gross. Despite all the construction boom. On top of that, other places from the podium can be invited to negotiate and sign the contract. It is really hard to find another such profession whose corporations would accept such a state.

A prefabricated hotel at the resort "A Place Above the Palms" in Guajir in northern Brazil.

proj: © MJZ studio

A real scourge is also giving away for free the concept, which is, in my opinion, what is most important - the idea or absorption studies, which, after all, bring out the potential from investment plots. All this is done only to make money in the next stages of the project. In sports, doping is illegal; in the architectural profession, dumping should be illegal. Both terms refer to a certain artificial enhancement of one's capabilities by non-legal methods. In sports, we have had incredible athletes who have indulged in it; in Polish architecture, it is the big design firms. That's why we sometimes feel like we're in some other competition. Not a weight class like in boxing, which I used to train, but in a completely different discipline.

Ania: Architects are under pressure from the ever-increasing number of areas and ratios they must consider in the design process. How has the pace of this acceleration changed during your time as an active architect?

Maciej Jakub: Local laws are changing, but so is the national one. It was amended last September, making the form for submitting construction projects simpler. This is a very good change. You have to have the technical part, but you don't submit it to the office for checking, which is very reasonable. Officials never checked it, at most they parsed it for compliance with the local plan and zoning design. This helps position the architectural profession among other creative industries, rather than in the "construction" category, where we always end up when we are sponsored on foreign events by state agencies.

There are also interesting legal bubbles, excessive generalizations. Since we have our analytical department in the office, which deals with specialized design, we have been asked many times by private clients, developers, to check finished construction projects (including those already submitted to the authority) for legal compliance. Large law firms were hired, and they always confirmed our assumptions.

Adaptability of the program in a hotel building in Masuria on Lake Swiecajty

proj.: © MJZ studio

Ania: How do architects catch their balance and recover - and how do you do it? The platitude about work-life balance has been repeated for years, and recently I heard that it is being abandoned in favor of work-life integration. Another platitude or a shot in the arm, though, because it resembles the natural process of human functioning?

Maciej Jakub: I never fully understood the former concept. For me, work is not a punishment, but a pleasure. I have the luxury of finding clients, also in Poland, who can appreciate our work and ideas and pay well for them. On top of that, we learn various things all the time. When I founded the office ten years ago, I didn't think that we would come to design a gas station to be changed into a charging station, which requires very specialized knowledge, to jump right into a design topic related to allotments and modern technology. I work when I think about a project in the morning before going to the office or when I sketch on the couch in the evening. I have veritable stacks of black little notebooks to jot down selected thoughts from all their jostling. Not necessarily related to architecture, but, for example, an idea for a related business. I keep them in my pocket at all times. I used to think I was crazy, but later I read that my beloved Wislawa Szymborska had a similar way of doing things. I don't grow up to her heels, of course, but it was very nice and soothing.

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