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"My approach to investors is to be favorable and helpful." Interview with Dariusz Chmielewski, Pomeranian conservationist

16 of April '24
Technical data
  1. Dariusz Chmielewski, the Pomeranian conservator of historic buildings, promises to cooperate with developers and investors, although some have previously criticized this friendship.
  2. Unlike his predecessor, the current conservator places great emphasis on the timeliness of the office's decisions and making up for the backlog left behind by Igor Strzok.
  3. I absolutely disagreed with the results of the NIK audit in my previous term, and to this day I still think they were unfair," says Chmielewski.
  4. If something has ceased to exist completely, there is no basis for reconstruction. I am against reconstruction," he says of the future of the new building at the LOT site, where the Danziger Hof once stood.
  5. Asked about the Imperial Shipyard site, he replies that this project is evolving all the time. There are places where, in my opinion, modern high architecture has a chance to exist, the restorer points out.
  6. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the A&B portal.

A saying was once coined - "we protect a monument until it falls". Many objects have fallen at the stage of discussing the protection of a single wooden beam. And I proceed from the assumption that if I have to save the object, I will sacrifice this beam," says Dariusz Chmielewski, since February the Pomeranian Voivodeship Conservator of Monuments, a position he also held in 2012-2016.

Ewa Karendys: During your previous term in office, there was talk in the city that you were indulging developers too much.

Dariusz Chmielewski: I'll admit that this is not the first time I've heard that I was a friend of developers. And I wonder if this is negative or positive.

Ewa Karendys
: For developers it's great, probably worse for the space....

Dariusz Chmielewski: Let's remember that the so-called holes of shame functioned in Gdansk for a long time. The former railroad clinic by the PKP station, the hole in front of NOT on Rajska Street, not to mention Granary Island. Unblocking these stuck topics, looking for solutions, everyone just hailed the friendship for developers, for investors.

And yet we don't live in a country where everything finances itself. You need someone who comes with an idea and with money, and the preservationist is the person who has to dress the new development in some kind of framework. This sometimes means that the developer will build one more floor, but the grounds will be fixed. Of course, all the time there is a group of those who criticize: "not this architecture", "not these heights".

Ewa Karendys
: This is the case on Granary Island, for example.

Dariusz Chmielewski: The local plan on Granary Island set the height in relation to the highest surviving granary Deo. And such buildings were shaped there, not higher. However, the form of architecture - this is already a discussion with designers. Sometimes very difficult: "less of this", "more of that", "color not so". But this can no longer be written in the local plan, you have to refer to the fantasies of designers. And Granary Island, or the famous hole in front of NOT, or the Central Hotel in the former railroad clinic, yes, they were debatable. Only no one wants to remember that even the latter building was on the verge of a building disaster.

Ewa Karendys
: The owner of the former railroad clinic told me a few years ago that what he had discussed with your predecessor Marian Kwapinski for months, he agreed with you almost in one meeting. It's hard not to be surprised: how is that possible?

Dariusz Chmielewski: In my professional career, I spent more or less a dozen years each in administration and on the scaffolding, as a maintenance contractor. I simply understand the drawings, I understand the architecture, but I also understand the execution possibilities. And it is not a problem for me to introduce new solutions in monuments. A saying was once coined - "we protect the monument until it falls". It's just that many buildings have fallen at the stage of discussing the protection of a single wooden beam. And I proceed from the assumption that if I have to save the object, I will sacrifice this beam. We'll cut it out, preserve it and show in the new interior what beam ceilings used to look like. Let's show this witness to history, but let's try to save the object.

Ewa Karendys
: What kind of preservationist will you be in this term? Will something in your approach to historic preservation and agreeing on new developments change?

Dariusz Chmielewski: It is difficult to change the approach and character. On the other hand, my experience in execution has arrived, I am able to pay attention to more details today. My approach to investors - developers, but also smaller, private investors who are renovating a tenement house or premises - is favor, assistance. As an office, we have a servant function to clients. We also have expertise, and when someone from the outside comes in, we have to support them with this expertise of ours.

Ewa Karendys
: The previous conservator Igor Strzok was regarded as a brake, now there are concerns not to fall into the other extreme and allow investors to do too much.

Dariusz Chmielewski: Okay, just I'd like to hear the argumentation, where is this over-scaling or destruction of a monument in the term in which I was in office here, that is, 2012-2016. Are there any such examples? Because, for example, there was an allegation by the Ministry of Culture, whose inspection focused, among other things, on the reconstruction of the Great Armory and concerned the destruction of a section of the vault.

Ewa Karendys
: Recall that it was about the construction of an elevator there.

Dariusz Chmielewski: I agreed to it, because it made it possible to make available the entire area of the Great Armory, which - to this day few people know about it - still has a second underground, there are beautiful Renaissance cellars with original vaults. Everyone cheered and said "fantastic, we managed to save the underground part of the Great Armory!".

But the results of the inspection are zero-sum, meaning "the historic substance has been depleted," because, for example, 30 pieces of 17th-century bricks have fallen. And this is always difficult to balance, because I have to make this decision, no one else. But the governor pays me to decide what is the greater good for the monument. Is it the 30 lost bricks or the 1,200 sqm recovered?

Ewa Karendys
: When you returned to office after eight years, did anything surprise you

Dariusz Chmielewski: Everything. I've worked a bit in government and local administration, while here I was surprised by the scale of the problems. The main thing is time management in this institution. Because, after all, we work within the framework of the law, namely the Code of Administrative Procedure. If we are obliged to issue a decision within 30 days, and in difficult cases within 60 days, and according to statistics, 47 percent of cases are overdue - often tails reach 2019 - then something is not right.

Ewa Karendys
: What exactly?

Dariusz Chmielewski: Full-time staffing has managed to increase in recent years, inspectors have arrived. On the other hand, the governor's termination of the agreement in 2018, under which part of the powers of the Provincial Office for Monument Protection were transferred to the Municipal Conservator in Gdansk, meant the addition of several thousand cases. And this will not be taken care of with a few full-time employees.

Today we are in the middle of a major inspection by the State Labor Inspectorate. There will still be time to summarize it and determine what the biggest problem was. But we already know that an anti-mobbing commission must be established. In recent years, the office has said goodbye to many employees, while others have left on their own - and often after a month or two. We want to clarify this.

On the other hand, I have the satisfaction that after the first attempts at reorganization we are pushing out the backlog - today we are issuing decisions for applications from the end of 2022. And on March 5 I signed the first decision for an application that was received on February 5.

Ewa Karendys
: Does this mean that inspectors are commanded to process cases
on time?

Dariusz Chmielewski: That's for sure, I put a lot of emphasis on timeliness. Of course, we try to pull out the most backlogged cases first. Often, you won't believe it, they involve the approval of an internal gas installation connection. I can't understand the reasons for shelving such a simple matter!

Ewa Karendys
: The governor's inspection of your predecessor found 59 irregularities in 2021, including protracted decision-making, half of the cases were processed after the deadline.

Dariusz Chmielewski: Unfortunately, the office was even fined by the court, because some investors came to their senses and complained to the Regional Administrative Court. And in fact the court imposed fines. It doesn't fit in your head, but such situations happened. In December it was already a total of several thousand zlotys.

Ewa Karendys:
What were your first decisions in your new-old position?

Dariusz Chmielewski: I found the cases heavily overdue. I was mainly concerned with streamlining work, I submitted a project to the governor to reorganize the structure of the office. And, above all, changes to the key department, namely immovable monuments. At the first meetings with departments, I asked about "thick" topics or those with a very long history.

Ewa Karendys
: So?

Dariusz Chmielewski: These include area-based registration of entire neighborhoods as monuments. My predecessor initiated proceedings to enter entire areas like the districts of Lipce, Orunia, Sobieszewo in Gdansk or the village of Dębki into the register of monuments. From this point on, residents are not allowed to do construction or conservation work, so these proceedings must be carried out efficiently. Other challenges include the unraveling of the Tczew Bridge case, the Gedania site in Gdansk, the renovation of the Gdansk Market Hall, investments in the Lower Town under the public-private partnership, or the detour of the Lowland Gate - in the latter case we have already unlocked the possibility of talks about this needed investment.

Ewa Karendys
: In Gdansk, should some of the competencies of the historic preservation office return to the City Conservator?

Dariusz Chmielewski: Yes. I have always been of the opinion that it is worth investing in local government conservators. Previously, I have also concluded such agreements with other municipalities, because this is not just about the Tri-City. In Gdansk, we recently discussed with the mayor and the Office of the City Architect that the return of competence must be a longer, conscious process.

For me, the City Conservator is like my inspector, only placed in the field. Because as part of the agreement, we supervise these conservators all the time.

Ewa Karendys
: But an audit by the Ministry of Culture, when you previously sat in the Pomeranian conservator's chair, showed that your supervision of the Gdansk conservator was insufficient....

Dariusz Chmielewski: In fact, all these things focused on the shipyard issues. She was a sensitive topic at the time.

Ewa Karendys
: There were other NIK allegations, including insufficient protection of the Wola Łeb granary on Granary Island.

DariuszChmielewski: In retrospect, I very much regret that at that time it was impossible to talk to the representative of the Supreme Audit Office. He did not accept at all the arguments, the explanations we presented.

Ewa Karendys
: You did not agree with these allegations?

Dariusz Chmielewski: I disagreed absolutely, and to this day I think they were unfair. Among the accusations was that the protection of shipyard monuments was not implemented as early as the sale of the sites, that is, in the 1990s. It was of no use to my explanations that I took up my position in 2012, and a year later I started the first registration of the Imperial Shipyard and Schichau Shipyard sites.

And the lack of oversight of the Municipal Conservator was that he did not deny demolition requests in the post-shipyard areas. But after all, the sites in question were not protected at all in the local plans. They were not in the records. They were not listed in the register of monuments. So they didn't have any form of protection under the law.

It was only possible to start an entry in the register, and we did that. And I have such a sense of historical injustice that I got an earful in these post-inspection results. But the authority was asked, not Chmielewski. And here I believe that Chmielewski did what he was supposed to do. On the other hand, it is difficult for me to answer for the earlier years.

Ewa Karendys
: But there were other allegations, in turn, the governor's audit showed that you made decisions based on incomplete applications.

Dariusz Chmielewski: It is stipulated in our regulations that when evaluating an application, for example for construction works, the conservator must have the construction project or the part of it necessary to evaluate the application. Let's take the example of the reconstruction of Gniew Castle. Of the 14 volumes of documentation, I don't need the part on sanitary installations, kitchen technology in the restaurant or the spa in the basement - as long as they don't affect the monument. I don't need these, for example, 10 volumes, 4 volumes that talk about architecture, renovation of the facade, glazing, roofing of the courtyard are enough for me. These are conservation topics. And this one, to the extent that I thought it was necessary for the evaluation of the proposal in terms of conservation - was.

Ewa Karendys
: Today many areas are waiting for agreements, such as the iconic LOT building. Will you break the investment impasse and issue a decision for the new building?

Dariusz Chmielewski: I will not get ahead of the facts, because the application for demolition has not come to me. There was, however, a discussion about whether to put the building on the register at all, and I will say right away: in my opinion, no. For the time being, the investor is coming with a project for the so-called LOT 2, that is, filling in the corner of the Jagiellonian Embankment, on the side of the ZUS building. We have already worked out the architecture, the facade design. On the other hand, we still plan to inspect one of the tenements, which has a historic staircase that should remain.

Ewa Karendys
: There will be no controversy here?

Dariusz Chmielewski: There won't be, the facades are rather conservative, traditional, made of brick and plaster. There will be contemporary architecture, because I am absolutely not in favor of full reconstruction of monuments, I don't like new monuments. Nevertheless, the elevations will be inspired, in terms of materials, appearance, gables, division of tenements. A very large amount of iconographic material has been gathered, based on postcards, photos, what they used to look like. There used to be big-city buildings here, which we lost after 1945. The townhouses will be in their original heights, in their original detail, in their original composition.

As for the LOT building, even the developer himself does not want to discuss it for now. This is also a difficult topic for him, complex in terms of ownership due to concluded leases, rental agreements, etc.

Ewa Karendys
: Your predecessor was in favor of rebuilding the Danziger Hof.

Dariusz Chmielewski: The question is whether we are able and whether there is such a need to build anew something that has ceased to exist and of which there is not even a trace. Besides, there was also a monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I in front of the Upland Gate. Well, if we are going into reconstruction: how about recreating the monument as well? These things really aren't as simple as some postcard enthusiasts make it seem. Absolutely, I am against reconstruction.

Doctrinal documents like the Venice Charter and the Athens Charter say that we do not reconstruct monuments. If something has ceased to exist completely, there is no basis for reconstruction. Of course, this approach is changing a bit, the doctrines are starting to soften a bit, in Warsaw we are talking about the reconstruction of the Saski Palace.

Ewa Karendys
: Maybe this is due to the fact that we are dissatisfied with the quality of contemporary architecture, proof of which is, for example, the criticized LOT competition project.

Dariusz Chmielewski: That may be the case. It's a discussion about contemporary architecture, whether and why it is better or worse. Are we able to leave behind something unique that successors will not want to destroy?

Ewa Karendys
: Investors are eager to cut the cost of materials, I bet the reconstruction of Danziger Hof would be kitsch

Dariusz Chmielewski: I am also concerned about this ability of ours to produce architectural details from cladding, from clinker tiles. In the case of a reconstruction, this could not be afforded, the level of craftsmanship would have to be of the highest order. This involves the reconstruction of stonework, actually forged by hand. We used to have massive stoneworks all over Europe. Today, what we really have at our disposal are individual carvers and, sorry to say, tombstone carvers.

Ewa Karendys:
Among the topics waiting to be agreed upon is the Imperial Shipyard. Several years ago, the developer showed a master plan, but the plans have stalled. Will that change?

Dariusz Chmielewski: This project is evolving all the time. And I must admit that there are places where I think modern high architecture has a chance to exist.

Ewa Karendys
: As the master plan envisioned - even 100-meter-high buildings will spring up?

Dariusz Chmielewski: No, today we are not talking about such heights. On the other hand, there are places where the investor himself already sees, after so many years of experience, that there is no such need for overdensity. Besides, new functions are expected to appear in these old buildings, which have not been included in the records or registry. Instead, the developer expects the buildings to be raised in some places, by one or two stories. But it's a completely different approach than the one that followed the first competitions.

Ewa Karendys: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed by Ewa Karendys

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