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Director of DetalFest, Poland's only festival of architectural detail: "It is what is most human in architecture".

01 of September '21

On September 10, the third edition of DetalFest, Poland's only festival of detail in architecture, will be launched in Lodz, led by the slogan "non-urban." Why is such a festival needed in Poland? What is detail in architecture? How to sensitize the public to architecture, and will changes in the education program be a good direction? "If a certain practice lasts in a culture for thousands of years, on different continents, in different social orders, then it must be "for something." Detail, for me, is what is most human in architecture." - Maria Nowakowska, director of the festival, says in an interview with A&B.

Katarzyna Domagała: What ideas does DetalFest center around and why do we need this event in Poland?

Maria Nowakowska: Each edition of the festival is guided by one idea, the most important for me - meeting and discussion. And the leaven for all these processes is architectural detail - a phenomenon that unfortunately doesn't get the best press in postmodern reality.

Catherine: Why doesn't it?

Maria: The subject of ornamentation or decoration has been marginalized in architectural discourse for years. The ambiguous diagnoses posed by Loos have been flattened to a slogan: "ornament is a crime," which was, incidentally, based on a mistranslation of the title of his best-known text.

Katarzyna: So the festival restores architectural detail to its essential value for Polish architecture and culture?

Maria: This is what we are trying to do. In the festival's optics, we treat the detail as a cognitive vehicle, an invitation to reflection - why is it there, when supposedly we could do without it?

Catherine: Well, all right. And now maybe more specifically: what is a detail in architecture and what is its role?

Maria: We have been trying to answer this question for three editions, and we are still far from final diagnoses and conclusions (laughs). Depending on who answers this question, we may hear different answers and probably all of them will be true in their own way, but we can also try to systematize this concept.

Catherine: Let's try it then. How about starting with a definition?

Maria: The dictionary or universal definition defines detail as a way of finishing a part of a building. It can be treated purely technically, for example, a detail as understood by most contemporary designers would be the nose of a stair tread or an element of a certain shape forming a balustrade. Of course, we also have a broader understanding of the concept, set in a cultural, social and historical context. It is worth knowing that ornamentation is a complex cultural practice with a very rich and heterogeneous history. It is co-created by phenomena as seemingly distant from each other as religious and social beliefs and practices, the state of general knowledge, the availability of materials and technology or the climate - and that's just the beginning of the list!

Catherine: And what about the purely human aspect, that is, the public's perception of the detail?

Maria: He also comes into this context. Human aspirations, dreams, needs, emotions are written in the detail.

Catherine: And what do you appreciate most in architectural detail?

Maria: For me, the most interesting thing is its "non-necessity " - if a certain practice lasts in a culture for thousands of years, on different continents, in different social orders, it must be "for something". For me, detail is what is most human in architecture. That which appears after the basic needs are satisfied - biological duration, security. For my own use, I prefer to use the term "humanization," which is more universal, because it allows us to include not only buildings, but also the space between them. So at the festival we explore different types of humanization practices.

Catherine: This year the festival has a theme for the first time. It's the slogan "non-urban." What does it mean and where does this change come from?

Maria: "Non-city" is such a peripatetic ferment (laughs). The idea for the festival's keynote was born in motion. In the autumn of 2020, tired of pandemic restrictions, I began to wander between the villages of the Lodz province. The frame was the stations of the regional ŁKA railroad. I covered distances on foot from Rozprza to Luciążanka, from Laznowo to Rokiciny, from Przyłęk Duży to Wągrów - just to name a few routes. I don't have roots in the countryside, I haven't traveled to holidays "under the pear tree" since my early childhood, so the level of exoticism was very high for me. The space I was observing eluded the patterns and nomenclature familiar to me from the cities. I lacked language - to describe and to understand what I was watching. With each subsequent trip, this need to understand a world that falls into the domain gap between architecture, art history and ethnography was stronger.

Catherine: So you began to see the correlations....

Maria: Slowly some logical sequences, hypotheses, conclusions began to appear. For example: the more stony the land, the more stone-built chapels, fences, Stations of the Cross. Or the more agricultural production is oriented to animal husbandry, the more "camp", barrack-like architecture with vertical accents of feed silos. The significant share of crop farming translates into land divisions and textures that have been perpetuated over the centuries, creating "landscapes of spits" or "furrow-and-groove landscapes," which, incidentally, have already lived up to their scientific literature (sic!). Equipment that is going out of use often gains a second life as aesthetic accents on buildings - chaise wheels, orchids or horse tack can be found on the walls of many of them. This is the path that ornaments have traveled for millennia - brought to life for utilitarian reasons, they turned into signs of the times and then into ornaments. Conducting this hundreds of kilometers long "foot search" in villages near Lodz resulted in inviting specialists and enthusiasts to DetalFest, capable of building an in-depth picture of "non-towns" and the architectural phenomena present in them. The heart of the festival was, is and will be precisely the lectures.

Catherine: For me, this idea of non-urbanism is wildly intriguing and a bit... wild!

Maria: The slogan "non-urban" is a bit hooking. The countryside is an area where the urban corset of taste and correctness, control, evaluation and regulation is loosened or laced in a different way. Therefore, it is sometimes the cause of jokes or criticism from urban aesthetes. The countryside is drawn in their stories as a land of straw bales disguised as minions or a nesting area for tire swans. However, the essence of these phenomena is lost in such assessments.

Catherine: Which is to say what?

Maria: A man expressing his dreams, needs and aspirations. "Laughing" is lethal to empathy, it also cuts off cognitive paths. Besides, it's worth remembering that trendy urban themes such as incorporating the needs of non-human users into architecture, participatory design and zero waste have been present in the countryside for a long time. So I thought with the keynote we would indulge in a little subversion. Focusing on a specific phenomenon provides an opportunity for in-depth reflections conducted from different points of view. So I intuit that future editions will also have their own themes.

Catherine: I was wondering how the public can be sensitized to architecture, including architectural details. Of course, one form is events such as DetalFest, but I thought that maybe some changes are needed in the educational program? Is there not enough talk about architecture in schools?

Maria: I have been working for six years to popularize architecture in a city of 600,000 people. From my point of view, retail is an ideal starting point for education. It gives a low entry threshold - finding a figure, plant or animal on a building is within the reach of most city users. Looking for and recognizing it engages the participants in the activities and thus opens them up to getting to know the city, to read it at a different pace and with a different attentiveness than in everyday life. From this "detective-collector" ceiling, it is possible to go out with an educational narrative in different directions - cultural messages about a particular type of ornamentation, the theory and history of architectural forms, building technologies and materials , to name a few.

I also have to admit that I am an enemy of starting education "from the top " - throwing people with dates, names, fads, intellectual currents, expert discourse. I'm also a staunch enemy of the post-folklore approach to education: snobbery, looking down and distributing revealed truths to be accepted unquestioningly - and, unfortunately, this is not an uncommon phenomenon in the circle of people involved in architecture. To sensitize, to open up, to leave in people curiosity, questions and diverse sources of answers, often contradictory - this is for me the way of education. To be honest, I mainly believe in non-system education.

Catherine: But how do you think such education should be organized? What is needed?

Maria: First of all, educators with knowledge and a passion for transmitting it, who will arouse curiosity, show the space as a mysterious book full of internal connections and give the basic tools to read it.

Catherine: Who is DetalFest aimed at?

Maria: It is certainly not an event addressed only to architects. Nor is it an academic conference, although academics also perform at it. It is beyond genre divisions. It is an event for people who are curious about man and his environment, especially about space and buildings. It was created to be able to see the world for a moment from a slightly different angle than every day. Such "extensions" are very intellectually refreshing, inspiring new activities, reflections. My ideal participant is as close as possible to the sentence: "I would like to experience and think something outside of my current experience". Just that and so much more.

Catherine: Then let's say a few more words about what's on the agenda for this year's edition.

Maria: The speeches were divided into three blocks: "non-city," "nonetheless city" and "non-human beauty." In the first of these: Dorota Brauntsch will talk about the vanishing beauty of brick houses in the south of the country, Dr. Daria Jagiello will introduce the architecture of water mills from the Bzura basin, Dr. Eng. Kasper Jakubowski will outline the peculiarities of the so-called. Fourth Nature Parks, Kamila Kulik will show how other streets in Piotrkowskie voivodeship of Lodz look like, Aleksandra Lisiak will introduce the universe of rural fire stations, Izabela Redman-Zalewska and Marcin Zalewski will share their observations on the stone heritage of the Lubawa land, Dr. Olga Solarz will talk about the relationship of magical and religious practices with decorations on the walls of rural houses, prof. Jaroslaw Szewczyk will bring closer issues related to building with just anything: tallow, brushwood, straw or cinders, Mariusz Wisniewski will show the reality of life in an 18th century arcaded house.

The block "however, the city" will allow us to see the differences and similarities between the world of villages and small towns. With Paweł K. Krawczyk we will visit nearby Zgierz, and with Maja Szwedzińska we will get to know PKiN's lesser-known brother, the Zagłębie Culture Palace in Dąbrowa Górnicza, and Piotr Znaniecki will share his love for Białystok's Skorup.

The program of speeches will close with a block devoted to designing for non-human users. Dr. Mikołaj Golachowski will seek answers to the question of whether animals perceive beauty, and Malgorzata Gurowska and Agata Szydłowska will talk about building a human-not-human city. On top of that, we have prepared a series of accompanying events: exhibitions, tours and workshops that allow us to add some twigs of personal practice to the wreath of theory, which is very important for our team.

Poster of the third edition of DetalFest

© Organizers

From September 10 to 18, 2021, Lodz will host for the third time the only festival in the country dedicated to architectural ornamentation - DetalFest. The current third edition will include 14 speeches by researchers and popularizers of architecture, as well as more than a dozen accompanying events, including workshops for children and adults, walks and exhibitions. This year's edition of DetalFest is held under the theme "non-urban," referring to phenomena present outside of large cities. The aim of the event is to popularize issues related to architectural detailing, treated as broadly as possible - from ornamentation on buildings, through symbolism, to materials or technology of their execution. More about the festival on the official website of the event.

Maria Nowakowska - program director of the Festival of Architectural Detail DetalFest, owner of the brand Detal in the City and Lodz Detal, author of 4 books, 15 folders and a number of articles on architecture and art in the public space of Lodz and the region. She is a PhD student at the Doctoral School of Humanities at the University of Lodz. Professionally, she prepares and implements projects in the field of heritage popularization.

interviewed by: Katarzyna Domagała

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