In our Beskids cottage in one of the rooms or rather chambers there is a peculiar library. It is a collection of quite old or very old books experiencing their quiet retirement. Since I am very fond of books and never throw them away, a collection of books that no one reads anymore, nor does anyone return to them or look into them, has accumulated in our urban apartment over time. These books, if you can call them that, are deported to the countryside, where, lying on library shelves, they complement the somewhat nostalgic atmosphere of the cottage. These books get covered with dust, cobwebs and need to be aired out from time to time, lest they become victims of mold or mice.
Flipping through them recently, I came across an interesting item. It's an old, even pre-World War I prayer book in folio format probably from my or my wife's grandparents, which, moreover, bears the marks of frequent use. It is interesting that the cover of this prayer book is decorated with engravings of Gothic details, rather than Art Nouveau motifs appropriate to the time of its printing. Was it recognized more than a century ago that architecture and fine arts had lost their spiritual dimension? Most prayers, with the exception of a few instances of spelling changes, are no different from today's prayers. This, by the way, is an interesting and important element of stability and permanence in contrast to other rapidly passing written texts.
Browsing through this prayer book, however, I came across a collection of prayers referred to in the title of this section as "Ejaculatory prayers". This is a collection of twenty-one short prayers written in a language not used today, full of pathos and emphases, exemplifying devotion and worship. They consist of seven acts of worship, seven acts of propitiation and seven acts of requests and entrustment. Although the tradition of "ejaculatory prayer" is long, their language, which is so different from today's information-packed world, causes ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, they evoke the former religiosity of societies, while on the other, they show how today's world, and thus discourse and language, have changed. Looked at from a slightly different angle, it's a very interesting document of the changes taking place in social mentality, although it begs the question, what impact did the recitation of these prayers have on the daily lives of the people of the time? Once again shelved on the village shelf, the prayer book probably fell into another sleep, after all, a 100-year-old cottage is certainly a very good place for it. In the flow of daily events, moreover, I forgot about it rather quickly.
A few weeks ago I received a book published by the Silesian Library, edited by Prof. Magdalena Zmudzinska Nowak "Tadeusz Barucki, architect - traveler - researcher". This interesting monograph of the late architect Tadeusz Barucki, who died in 2022, is the aftermath of a benefit organized on his 100th birthday anniversary by the Silesian Library in cooperation with organizations and the community of Silesian architects. Unfortunately, this was the last meeting with Tadeusz Barucki, not only, as stated in the title, an architect, traveler and researcher, but in fact an institution whose titanic efforts over many years had an enormous impact on the Polish architectural community. There is probably no architect in this country who has not encountered the activities of Tadeusz Barucki, and his influence on the dissemination of world architecture in the Polish environment is difficult to overestimate.
While reading and reviewing this monograph, I recalled an older book by Tadeusz Barucki, "Polish Architects on Architecture 1902-2000" (Salix alba Publishing House, 2009), due to its small format, set aside somewhere in the library in the second row and long since unviewed and read. Dusted off after a few years, the book, which is a summary of Tadeusz Barucki's many years of work, includes contributions by more than four hundred Polish architects born between 1844 and 1983. This huge undertaking accomplished by Tadeusz Barucki as a result of his meetings with most of the living Polish architects and their brief thoughts, and in the case of the older deceased architects, their archival statements, undoubtedly illustrates the ideas that have preoccupied the Polish architectural community for more than 120 years.
I remember his visit to Silesia a few dozen years ago. It was - at least for me, and I believe for a large number of archiectects and architects - an important experience, forcing me to make a short but written statement that was an individual credo of sorts of the professional path.
These short statements have both an individual character and constitute an interesting body of views that can constitute a kind of "Summa theologiae" of contemporary Polish architecture. If one were to try to form a view of contemporary domestic architecture on the basis of this book, it would be an almost angelic picture, filled with noble intentions and lofty ideas. However, this much vaunted verbal picture of our architecture, inevitably confronted through our knowledge of the real achievements that have shaped our space throughout the last century, is unfortunately no longer so heavenly.
I guess, like religious "ejaculatory prayer" living their own lives and probably having little impact on people's real lives and actions, one gets the impression that the ideas presented in Tadeusz Barucki's book functioned in isolation from reality like some immaterial spirits being outside the real world of erected architecture. For me, however, the most interesting was the meeting with Tadeusz Barucki during the Congress of Polish Architecture in Bialystok in 2008. It is a pity, moreover, that the organization of such events that are a platform for intellectual and substantive exchange of our environment has been abandoned. Tadeusz Barucki then presented a lecture on what he called vernacular architecture, although perhaps a better name would be nugget architecture created in various parts of the world without the participation of professional architects. How different is this architecture with a huge charge of authenticity and originality realized by local communities, growing directly out of the balance between local culture and nature from our professional architecture watered down with the dubious ideological sauce of our creators, including my speech. Maybe this is a forgotten recipe, operating somewhere on the periphery of our world, for creating worthwhile architecture instead of inventing more ejaculatory prayers.
© Piotr Średniawa
I read both books and magazines fairly quickly, but with a fair amount of attention. Sometimes, however, I am forced to reread some paragraphs and still have trouble understanding parts of texts. Such a case happened to me while reading the October 2022 issue of A&B devoted to the topic of healthy cities. Posted in that issue, in the article "If not healthy, then what?", were statements by city spokespeople on the measures being taken to respond to current challenges. The following questions were asked , "How does the perspective on city planning and management change after a pandemic, and what solutions should be implemented to stimulate positive change?". Here are some of those statements:
It is certainly possible to talk about the noticeable impact of climate change, demographic change, economic change or technological progress on the conduct of urban policy. The solutions adopted as part of the ongoing work on the new Study - the document defining the municipality's spatial policy - must follow these changes. For this reason, they will take into account the challenges and problems associated with climate change adaptation and suburbanization processes.
For efficient management of the City, many measures had to be taken, new ways of working and communicating, which have been little used so far, had to be implemented, but also existing organizational and management solutions had to be developed.
The pandemic made us realize the importance of shaping a compact yet green city. The periods of constriction also contributed to the strengthening or even restoration of traditional neighborhood ties [...].
The most important planning and management challenges at the strategic level recognized the need to adapt to climate change and reduce environmental risks, strive for climate neutrality, develop infrastructure that improves competitiveness, investment attractiveness and living conditions in thecity, counteracting the negative effects of demographic processes, developing and supporting human and social capital, as well as increasing innovation and increasing the efficiency of the City's management (including the financing of development activities) and cooperation between neighboring local governments and across sectors.
A systemic approach to the resilience of the City and its environment [...] is expressed in strategic documents focused on climate change adaptation, spatial, economic and social development. They all point to the need to develop a compact city, a city of short distances, a city of fifteen minutes, where all needs - work, shopping, learning and entertainment - are met within walking or biking distance from home.
It is indeed difficult to understand from the above quotes, apart from lofty intentions, actual concrete actions. One can accuse them of being quotes out of context, but the rest of the texts do not explain much either. They are yet another as contemporary as possible "ejaculatory prayers", this time full of the prevailing political correctness associated with declarations about the fight against climate change and the need for a transformation towards blue-green infrastructure. Unfortunately, in all likelihood, they only document the gap between the declarations and the real actions taken, not to mention the results.
These declarations fit in with the old prayer book as well as the statements noted by Tadeusz Barucki, unwittingly continuing the tradition of "ejaculatory prayer". As you can see, as a society we have long had a tendency to construct verbal declarations that have little to do with real action regardless of both the time and the prevailing regime.
From my already deep professional past, I remember such an episode. In the second decade of the Gierek-era prosperity, it became obvious that the obligatory investment plans imposed from above were completely unrealistic in relation to possibilities. At one of the meetings on the realization of a huge large-panel housing estate in Silesia as part of the plans for the realization of the so-called KBM, or concentrated housing construction, the director of the then-union asked a question to the director of one of the building combines:
- How are you going to carry out this difficult task, Comrade Director?
After which the director of the combine without hesitation gave this highly professional answer:
- We, comrade director, will realize it by the DO-RO method.
Explaining DO-RO is the official "ejaculatory prayer" of that era, which is an abbreviation of the words "Good Work." This "ejaculatory prayer" being the rallying cry of the party and government team at the time was intended as verbal camouflage to obscure the increasing inefficiency of the past system.
Nearly fifty years have passed since that era, and nearly a hundred since the oldest statements of the past generation of architects in Tadeusz Barucki's book, and we continue to create more "ejaculatory prayers" with some naive faith in the self-fulfilling causal power of words. Just as I found the old prayer book, probably a hundred years from now someone plagued by alternating heat, droughts and floods will find the statements of our local government officials and us architects about the fight against climate change and the blue-green transition and will wonder what we meant then and what was the point of building such peculiar verbal constructs.