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Hits and kits, or a summary of the year 2021 in architecture (part III)

06 of January '22

The end of December - because that's when we finished preparing the January issue - is the best time for all kinds of summaries. And like every year, we ask practitioners and architecture critics to write what they consider a success and what they consider a failure in a given year. We do this in the convention of Kits and Hits. We give our Authors and Authors total freedom of expression and exceptionally we do not moderate this discussion. We are simply very curious about it.

Marcin Brataniec on hits and putts in 2021
FromA&B issue 01|2022

I must admit that invited by the Editorial Board, my first impulse was to point out as a putty of the year the creation of a ranking of its cases before its end [we asked for a summary of the year of our selected Authors and Authors in November - editor's note]. However, I will try to conform to the requirements of the publishing cycle, and treat the thing as a working material, which indeed any ad hoc summary is. So I assume that nothing significant will happen again in December, I look at these eleven months and come to the conclusion that in architecture and its construction it is difficult to talk about events at all. Planning, programming, design, construction is usually at least a few, sometimes a dozen or more years. What has occurred is subject to change, and we will know the true value of it after more years. What we call the events of the year and what will claim to be a "hit" or "putty" must therefore be looked for among processes stretched over time, and which to some extent have matured or germinated in 2021, and what is closer to the date of the event is more likely to be found around architecture in the zone of exhibitions and actions.

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Looking for processes or decisions that could be new beginnings of change toward a better space on a larger scale, I cautiously point to changes in the Public Procurement Law strengthening the competition procedure as a hit. The new provisions of the Public Procurement Law give a hint of the use of the competition for large-scale investments, and give support to procurers who, until now, have often been afraid to organize a competition - out of convenience, out of fear of being accused of spending public money irrationally. Of course, there is a concern that, like any regulations, this one can be circumvented, stretched and distorted, nevertheless, I treat this as a ray of hope, the beginning of deeper reflection, the beginning of the end of the times of creating space on the basis of price and deadline criteria.

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In contrast, the annual lack of spatial planning reform is a constant putty. Despite announcements, we still do not have a good and effective spatial law. Discussions about houses on application or not, about thirty-five-meter houses, seventy-meter houses are discussions on alternate topics. Nothing will exempt us from designing good - beautiful and useful - houses, and this is not related to the procedure under which they were approved. Similarly, I have no conviction that building a house by authorized builders, under the supervision of an authorized construction manager and an authorized architect will give it the right quality, allow us to live in it comfortably and see its beauty. I think that in discussing these secondary formal issues we are losing the basic sense and energy. In my opinion, the fundamental problem lies elsewhere: in the construction of a good, community spatial law - and this problem, covered up by discussions on issues as above, still lies swept under the carpet of all sorts of impotence and interests.

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In Kraków's local backyard, the most important change for the city is the reconstruction of the railroad line from the Płaszów station to the Central Station. The new connector will shorten the trip from the south of Krakow to the center, give the possibility of using the tracks for local light rail, also expanding the city's internal transportation network. Along with this construction, a new bridge is being built, with a pedestrian and bicycle bridge next to it. The new investment has the potential to connect, open up and can permanently change the city for the better and more convenient. I point to this investment as a hit and as a putty,

A hit - because the elimination of the railroad embankment and the suspension of the tracks high above street level connects the previously divided parts of the city. The new clearances between the pillars offered unexpected views. The future of these reclaimed, stitched back together areas could be excellent.

Kit - because the way the redevelopment was implemented is objectionable in many places. An architecturally disastrous connector was built over Wielicka Street, and on the section from Vistula towards Grzegórzki a shoddy and frightening wall is being built, one hundred times worse than the earlier green embankment. The opening of the areas under the flyovers is not followed by a good design of public spaces. Thus, it is increasingly clear that Krakow's historic opportunity is not being used properly.

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In the event zone, I won't point out putty, rather I'll point out that among the most hotly debated ones, I'm not taken aback by the top-down bureaucratic action called "New European Bauhaus" - all I miss with it is an elaboration of the slogan, for example, "New Bauhaus, or your new even more advantageous benefits," and possibly a nice visualization of the new better world with a suggested price surrounded by an asterisk, say 9.99. Somehow the issue of building seventy-foot houses without a professional's stamp of approval, which is widely discussed in the community, does not frighten me. The dispute over the gender or non-gender variation of our profession's name does not fire my imagination. I prefer to look for positive energy and concrete actions.

Among the events, the action to defend the Szombierki Combined Heat and Power Plant, initiated, among others, by architect Przemo Lukasik, and supported by many circles, which I hope will lead to the preservation of this important testimony of our culture, which is often forgotten that it also has a technical field and its magnificent testimonies. I would like the open letter to be recalled and weigh on decisions, so that we do not have to be ashamed of our omissions one day. So let us remember these words:

An act of unprecedented CULTUROBILITY is being carried out before our eyes (...). Despite a number of discussions, declarations and strategies, post-industrial cultural heritage is still treated as a burden, although in reality it is a development opportunity, a brand, an economic potential for localities and regions. We have also heard more than once from various quarters that the obstacle to government intervention is the ownership status of the sites. It is time to say unequivocally that cultural heritage is not private property, it is no one's private affair.... is a deposit entrusted to us, the Society, is a legacy and wealth entrusted to our care, which constitutes the current development potential of Poland, as well as a legacy that we will pass on to future generations.

Finally, another highlight - an exhibition of Alina Scholtz's work bringing out of the shadows a person who greatly shaped modern Warsaw. Beautiful drawings, clever plans, sensitivity and deep vision of problems. This exhibition also shows the power of collaboration. Alina Scholtz worked with the greatest architects, and without her their objects would have remained mere objects; with her they became fragments of a greater whole. I read this exhibition as a great reminder, a call to return to collaboration between architects and landscape architects. As an example of the fact that building space must be a collaborative work.

Marcin BRATANIEC

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