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"It's complicated". Ewelina Jaskulska on the condition of the architectural profession and her relationship with architecture

16 of May '22

statement fromA&B 04 | 2022 issue

The knowledge that architecture is a beautiful yet difficult field is widespread. It is known to be one of the most interdisciplinary professions, as it combines humanism with the sciences, sensitivity and delicacy with the hard reality of technology. However, this interdisciplinarity has been limited only to the necessary elements of the design process related to construction technology, namely the trades. One looks in vain for sociologists, anthropologists, artists, psychologists in the design process. And you can't blame architects for this - we simply adapt to the reality imposed on us, struggling to survive.

So the architect has it hard, but there is someone who has it even harder - the ARCHITECT. After all, who is an architect and why not an ARCHITECT? Interestingly, I encountered the "other" treatment only when setting up my office and talking to investors. Why? From the beginning, European civilization assumed a system based on patriarchy, where the man took an active part in social life, while the woman was supposed to focus on domestic matters and, as responsible for everything concerning the home, she also had permission to shape and decorate the interiors around her. Since the Renaissance, when we see the flowering of art and architecture, women have invariably decorated their homes, and this awareness in society has continued to thrive to this day. Just as it came as a shock to an investor that a woman doesn't just design interiors, it came as a shock to me that the fact that I'm a woman has any relevance when discussing a project. To save these shocks for the next investor, I was tempted to do a bit of a test. I took my husband, who has nothing to do with architecture, to the meeting. The investor asked a question, looking at my already perplexed husband, and I calmly gave an answer. The investor looked at me only for a moment, but I could see that he felt calmer seeing the man, even as he pretended to talk to him. This gave me the impetus to act. I decided to take care of the position of women, and together with Joanna Aleksandrowicz we initiated the Architectural Women project run at the Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation.

The gender problem in architecture is not the only one. We complain that Poland is so messy, that here everything is pastel, although lately gray and white, but in general not like in Western Europe. This is because our profession has been reduced to squeezing PUM, and aesthetically to wrapping reinforced concrete structures with the same systemic facades over and over again. So as architects running a small design office, we take on another task. In addition to the execution of the project itself, we try to educate the clients aesthetically. For many hours we convince the investor of new and different ideas, showing realizations in the world, develop further analyses, showing the beneficial impact of pro-social solutions.

In the end, we achieve the desired goal! Great joy to do something different, something good. But lo and behold, we find out that the project is a bit too expensive, that a fellow investor will do the project for half the price (only he didn't have an idea before). What follows is another common pattern of action in Poland, which is copyright infringement. And the ethics of the profession? Oh, it's doing great! But only on the Chamber's website.

Aesthetic awareness and copyright awareness unfortunately go hand in hand with the awareness of the entire investment process of Polish investors, who "know construction because they just read the latest issue of a construction monthly." We know not from today that we have a certain common trait as a nation - we are specialists in everything. That's why, when designing a building on the slope of a mountain, half of which had to be dug up, and disc walls had to be made, I wasn't surprised at all when the investor said he didn't need a detailed design, as he "knows excavation very well, because his neighbor has a backhoe." The investor's belief in his knowledge affects the work at every stage of the project, and he tries to force certain solutions on the designers and designers that do not necessarily comply with the regulations. However, I console myself with the fact that this is not only the case in Poland. After all, Gehry himself said: "I don't know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do."

The problem of the competence of those involved in the entire investment process does not only concern investors. Local plans, the way of establishing and designing of which has not changed for decades, reducing the diversity of Polish regional architecture to the angle of the roof slope and the roof necessarily made of tin tiles, and often a complete lack of substantive dialogue with administrative personnel do not facilitate work, and thus positive changes in our environment.

I, for one, still believe that through architecture I can change the world at least in a small way. I am still sure that architecture cannot be an end in itself, but must have added value for the investor and the community. I see a change in the minds not only of investors, but also of clients, who are beginning to be aware of what they can expect from a space. But it is a slow process.

Architecture is a beautiful profession. Me and architecture is the kind of relationship that is described on social media as "it's complicated." So me and architecture are complicated (as women are), which is why we stick with each other.

Ewelina Jaskulska


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