The interview is from A&B issue 11|23
They began their activities after the war broke out across the eastern border. Then they got busy organizing windows for homes and buildings in Ukraine. The spontaneous action grew into a major relief effort. Today, when we hear less about the problems in our neighbors, they reminisce about their original activity and talk about new initiatives to improve housing, construction and architecture, as well as maintaining the OKNO project—BRDA Foundation.
packing windows for transport
Photo: Kuba Rodziewicz
Anna Walewska: How did you meet each other?
Petro Vladimirov: Zosia is from Warsaw, I am from Ukraine. We met after the outbreak of the war, in a wave of relief efforts for people coming to Poland at that time. I moved into the apartment of Zosia's partner, Michal Sikorski, who is also an architect (he runs the TŁO studio) and with whom we did the pavilion for this year's London Design Biennale. As a result, we all know and like each other.
Zofia Jaworowska: We decided that we wanted to jointly undertake further aid activities aimed at people who are returning to Ukraine or are in Ukraine. Well, that's how the BRDA Foundation was created, with the intention of taking up various topics, mainly housing. However, construction proved to be a niche that socially engaged activities rarely reach. We feel there is a place for us there. The Polish construction industry is a huge potential in the context of rebuilding Ukraine. And since we are a Polish-Ukrainian duo everything came together in a logical way.
Anna: You have been involved with various social initiatives for a long time.
Zofia: Yes. I wanted to continue to be involved in something that first of all somehow activates people in the local area, but also allows you to do projects that are scalable, so they can generate qualitative change in larger areas, but which are still close to the idea of home and the values that home brings with it.
Anna: And you Petro?
Petro: I am an architect, and like every architect, at some point I face a dilemma: either I will design for the rest of my life, or I retire from design and look for another approach to architecture for myself. The topics around the process of creating buildings, materials, building blocks are very interesting. This is where I found my place.
Atrium windows ready for the Warsaw-Charków route
Photo: Adam Przywara
Anna: Will you tell us about the OKNO project [cf. A&B 01/23]?
Petro: We launched last July. The areas of Kiev and Kharkiv were liberated. People started to return there. I was in contact all the time with those people who said that people were returning, but the theme of lack of materials in repairing and rebuilding destroyed buildings began to come up in those conversations. As for the windows themselves, window glass production in Ukraine ceased in 2015, and before the war glass was imported from Russia and Belarus. Poland, on the other hand, is the largest exporter of windows in the European Union.
Zofia: We started to explore this topic. If you fire up OLX, you can see that people are selling windows coming from renovations in large numbers, and at that point there was a shortage in Ukraine. So we hypothesized that these people could perhaps give us these windows for free. So at first we got windows from private individuals and woodwork manufacturers and distributors, to whom we started writing to ask if they had windows in stock from returns, for example. The project lasted one year and three months. Unfortunately, we no longer collect windows from private individuals on the scale we did last year, although we would very much like to. The foundation is growing, but we still don't have the capacity for retail replacement. It also requires much more money than collecting dozens or hundreds of windows from one building.
Petro: We have started to receive large batches of windows from dismantling. A good example is the recent demolition of the Atrium building on Jana Pawla II Street in Warsaw, which was an icon of Warsaw postmodernism. We obtained 215 windows from it, which have long been in Ukraine.
Packing the windows for transport
Photo: Kuba Rodziewicz
Anna: Do the windows go to private homes or also to institutions?
Sophia: Mainly to private recipients, to homes in rural areas. We have also delivered windows to various community centers, schools and several other public buildings. It should be remembered that these are recycled windows, so they come in different sizes, to a historic building they won't go, but to a private home, where „freedom Tom in his own house” can be adjusted the hole left by a destroyed window so that the new one will fit. Now winter is approaching, so we are on turbo acceleration on the shipping of woodwork. We are just arranging the shipment of 460 windows to Kherson and Kharkov, which come from a demolished tenement house on the corner of Wilcza and Poznanska streets in Warsaw.
Anna: It's a great research topic—the migration of windows from the devastated monuments of Warsaw to private homes and institutions that were affected by the war effort.
Petro: Our team is accompanied by Adam Przywara, a curator and researcher who deals with the topic from this side. He wants to track these window trips and document them as much as possible.
Anna: How many people are coordinating the work?
Zofia: Two. Myself and Petro, but on individual projects we have support from contractors and outside contractors, and there is already a large community of friends around us.
Anna: How many windows have you shipped so far?
Zofia: Currently (as of 2/10/2023) 1397. We should hit 2000 by the end of the year. We feel that's quite a lot, but it's a drop in the ocean of needs. We haul windows by trailer. These are aftermarket windows. Each rack of windows has to be secured. Special wooden racks, foils, tapes are used for this. These are not clothes or humanitarian aid in the form of medicine. The windows are not lightweight. The average weight of one window is about 60 kilograms. At the finish, we order Mr. Mark with a forklift, who arrives and packs it all into a trailer, which then sets off.
The remains of a dismantled parquet floor in a tenement house on Rozbrat Street
Photo: Kuba Rodziewicz
Anna: Where do you get your financial support from?
Zofia: So far we have raised funds from donations from private individuals. Unfortunately, crowdfunding in Ukraine doesn't click like that anymore. We had a couple of commercial partners. We currently have a budget to sustain ourselves until the end of December. That's why, in cooperation with DESA, we are preparing an auction of Polish design, which will be held on November 27 at 7 pm in Warsaw, you will be able to participate online as well. All proceeds will be allocated to the continuation of the OKNO project.
Anna: Who is participating in the event?
Zofia: We have a fantastic group of talented and experienced designers and designers who have donated a total of more than forty objects for the auction. Some of them will be at affordable prices, others are real gems of Polish design, and we also have objects that were created especially for the auction and those on the borderline between design and art. With us will be Marcin Rusak, Malwina Konopacka, Paradowski Studio, TOTEM studio, Agnieszka Owsiany, Splot.... So from tables, through glass and ceramics, to decorative fabric, lamps, mirrors.... There will be a lot to choose from, so we cordially invite you to bid—it's our chance to make the OKNO project last for another year and for another 2,000 windows to go to social organizations in Ukraine.
Petro: And going back to the project itself, we were also lucky that STRABAG decided to donate 215 windows to us. This allowed us to reach out more widely to construction and development companies.
Unloading windows in Kiev
Photo: Marcin Banasiak
Anna: You are active in the topic of recycled windows in many fields. It was the same with the London Design Biennale.
Petro: It's a broader topic of using recycled building materials. We deal with it in different ways. We started with a community project, and we bounced back from that, creating an exhibition in the Polish Pavilion at the Biennale. We showed installation solutions for recycled windows, and collected windows in London itself—they too have already gone to a non-profit organization in Ukraine. We also reflected together on the aesthetic value of reusing building materials and components.
Zofia: Foil, plastic, styrodur, and suddenly it all landed in this historic space in London. The contrast between the PVC windows and the old woodwork of Somerset House, still in full sunlight, proved very interesting. In homes, we all prefer to have wooden, triple-pane windows. In our operations, such a familiar but no longer welcome classic in the form of PVC windows with a simple plastic handle is most welcome. Such windows survive transportation, are easy to install, and are relatively lightweight. Most of the windows go to rural areas, to people who did not have the resources to leave or decided to live to old age in their own country. These are often people who had terrible quality wooden windows. For them, these plastics mean not only safety, but also better protection from cold and moisture. We now have the ability to source, among other things, doors, carpets, suspended ceilings, stone and other materials. We decided that this could be a way to finance some of the foundation's activities.
Anna: What is your concept?
Zofia: Furniture and vintage items have been very popular for a long time. We are broadening our focus to include recycled building materials.
Petro: We created the BUDO project, which has been in operation for a short time and is constantly evolving. Today it consists of two elements: it's an online store with recycled materials that we source from demolitions and donations, and a consulting and dismantling service for building managers, developers and investors. In commercial buildings, it's very common for equipment to be changed that you don't quite know what to do with. This is where we rush to help.
Zofia: We recently did an inventory in one such place. It turned out that there were 596 objects in it: desks, armchairs, lamps, magnetic boards, pedestals and so on. Some of these things went to Ukraine, and some went to schools in Warsaw or Torun, the vast majority went to Polish non-profit organizations. Thanks to the network of contacts we have developed in the third sector, we can act quite matter-of-factly. We managed to find recipients for 590 items among 30 organizations. We even reached out to a rural housewives' circle. That's a total of 14 tons of furniture that didn't end up in a container—a huge saving for our partner and a huge financial saving for those we supported with furniture. More and more companies are coming to us about this. In this way we get both materials that we can donate to those in need and those that we can put in our store, which is an additional financial boost for our foundation. And so social value is combined with environmental care and commercial activities.
Unloading windows in Kiev
Photo: Marcin Banasiak
Petro: We were recently approached by the building management company, which said that they would soon be having the façade in the office building's foyer replaced, and thus removing the granite. Thanks to our cooperation with CYRKL, we are recovering this granite and finding buyers for it.
Zofia: We are also acquiring lamps, small items such as doorknobs, hangers, but we are more interested precisely in stone, tiles, wood, doors, windows—large gabbos.
Petro: This is an avenue that is not yet explored in depth by us or architects. That's why we are working closely with designers to jointly develop ways to reuse materials.
Zofia: During the not-so-lucky demolition of a historic building on Rozbrat Street, we single-handedly saved several hundred square meters of oak parquet, which will get a second life in two architectural projects in Warsaw.
Petro: We started going into office buildings and tenements without knowing how to dismantle the various elements. Four hours of work by our volunteer team under the guidance of professionals is enough, and we already know how to act. We just happened to enter Rozbrat before this demolition began, so we had some time to see the building, prepare and plan our work. We didn't ultimately acquire windows from that building, but we did acquire parquet floors, lamps and radiators.
Zofia: Recently, courtesy of the head doctor and his team, we received 300 windows in connection with the thermal modernization of the hospital in Opole. In December we have a major project in Wroclaw and two in Warsaw. We're growing, but we're still a long way from being financially secure, and that's what we're striving for, to be able to carry out relief activities without the stressful dependence on grants and donations.
Petro: The legislative aspect is also an important factor here. Windows can freely last for several decades, in contrast, we are now seeing a wave of thermal retrofitting of public buildings, where windows that are several or more years old are being replaced. This has good points—the building will have less heat loss, but it means that potentially still good-quality building components end up in the trash.
A window from an Atrium building installed in Moschun, Ukraine
Photo: Marcin Banasiak
Anna: To what level of ditching such a machine would you like to reach?
Zofia: We would like to get to a level where we can afford to hire one more person, because we no longer have time for anything, and we have more and more ideas.
Anna: These are not high expectations.
Zofia: It is known that we do not work here for free, because contrary to popular opinion, running a social organization is not volunteering. It's hard, daily work that requires sacrifices. Decent salaries for work done is not a handout. We would like to be able to operate for as long as possible. I think we have the potential to operate on a larger scale, we just lack the capacity to develop this potential. We feel it's all growing. If there were one or two more of us we could operate more intensively.
Petro: Many people see the potential in what we are doing. Therefore, indeed, this third person would make us feel better.
Sophia: Our activities don't quite fit into grant projects either. We have to look for alternative solutions. That's why the auction. That's why the BUDO. That's why our consulting service for companies and property managers.
A window from Atrium goes to a day care center in Circuma, Ukraine
Photo: Marcin Banasiak
Anna: The name of your first project—OKNO—the heart of the foundation, is very metaphorical.
Zofia: But also very literal.
Petro: This makes it immediately clear what we do in—windows. And in the BUDO project—we work with building materials. Simple in concept, actions that can have a real impact on the construction sector in Poland.
Anna: Thank you for the interview.
interviewed: Anna WALEWSKA