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I'm a bit of a hermit - an interview with Wladyslaw Grochowski, president of Arche SA

Wiktor Bochenek
12 of November '21

Wladyslaw Grochowski, chairman of the Arche SA group, made headlines after his appeal to authorities and political leaders, in which he asked for humane treatment of refugees staying on the Polish-Belarusian border. He pledged to take in 100 refugee families, providing them with assistance. In our conversation, he touches on the responsibility of today's developer, his plans for the future and the values he values.

Wiktor Bochenek: What is the role of a developer in Poland today?

Władysław Grochowski: Well, you surprised me a lot [laughter]. Looking more broadly, I think the developer should have a big, positive impact on the shaping of public space. It's not just about making money. Developers should take responsibility. It's about the developer's awareness of his activities, because this is, after all, happening in urban space, which is a common asset. It also has a big impact on the environment in how much concrete it uses, how much land it develops. However, one needs a lot of humility in one's activity.

Wiktor: I asked this because developers in Poland are often criticized for concreting space, creating inhumane housing or micro apartments. In your opinion, is this criticism valid?

Wladyslaw Grochowski: In part it is right, and you have to take it on board.

Wladyslaw Grochowski, president of Arche Group SA

© Arche Group

Wiktor: What are you and your company doing to change this?

WladyslawGrochowski: For several years now, as a group [Arche SA - ed. note], we have not been buying land that has not been developed before. We have a few properties from a decade ago, where we could not make such an investment. We mainly buy post-industrial buildings and historic buildings. There is so much of this that there is enough for everyone. We don't need to take more spaces away from nature and the community. We have lost the man in investing. I don't know about others, but I feel bad for scaled-down cities, wide streets, office districts. This scale has exceeded all limits of proportion. Captivated by technology, we have forgotten about values and that we are doing this for people. It feels like we've messed around a bit, but this developer consciousness is changing. All the time I think we are messing up a little and fixing a little.

Wiktor: I would like to ask about Arche: Siedlisko. This is a rather unusual example of creating hotel conditions in the midst of wild nature. How did you come up with this idea?

Wladyslaw Grochowski: I live far away, in a remote area. There was a habitat there before, so I didn't occupy anything new. I always go back to my place, it even takes me a few hours to sleep outside the city. I am not able to stay in Warsaw for a long time, even though I have a business here. During the pandemic I took an extended vacation and then many ideas came to me. Return to nature, to the sources. I know the values that remain in the countryside. I live without television and the Internet. I even say I'm a light hermit [laughs].

Arche Habitat is an attempt to create a high-end hotel in a shipping container

© Arche Group

There was this idea to show how many people still live by their philosophy. These are the people who are happy, those who have stayed here. As long as they are, we put up these toys, as we call the container units. These villages are quickly becoming depopulated. I didn't expect that there are still villages with 100 percent wooden architecture. Those beautiful little buildings left here, from which people left 20-30 years ago, look as if someone just left them. A completely different world. I wanted to juxtapose them - the big world of office buildings and those who have their own little world in such habitats. They have their customs, village activities, that is exotic to city people. Getting to know each other more closely gives a lot of joy. This is just the beginning of our activities. For the locals it's new, because we come to them, and usually it's from them that we leave. We can give something to each other.

Sample interior of a room in the Arche Siedlisko hotel

© Arche Group

Wiktor: You also created a hotel in the Żnin Sugar Factory (proj. Bulak Projekt, Arche). Will you take on a similar challenge in the near future?

Władysław Grochowski: Yes. After the experience of the Żnin Sugar Factory, we are probably undertaking even more revitalization. It's the Royal Paper Mill in Konstancin-Jeziorna - definitely a bigger project and more difficult, but we are ready. The Żnin Sugar Factory was ready to be demolished, and the site was to be divided into smaller plots of land, and no possibility of saving it was seen. In addition to investing in the building, I'm proud that we are also going into the community. People are starting to believe in themselves and are staying local. They don't go to Poland or the world, they stay there. I am very impressed with these young people. I would describe it as social design.

Znin Sugar Factory - Flagship investment of Arche Group

photo by Alka Murat

Wiktor: How do you see the future of development and hotel companies in Poland?

Wladyslaw Grochowski: I see great potential here , mainly in revitalization. We would like to introduce a broader approach. Often somewhere there are several individual buildings that don't fit together. I would see a role for today's developers to focus on the whole, to look at architecture and urbanism holistically. I also see great potential in hospitality after the pandemic, it can expand to include many new functions. Include local cultural centers and organizations to operate in hotels. We always start with as large a room as possible, where many things can be done, from catering to concerts, performances to social activities. Together with the Lena Grochowska Foundation, we create places for people with intellectual disabilities. It turns out that we are close to each other, these are very open-minded people and they are great at many activities. They are great at painting, baking, working in ceramics. We even did such workshops for architects, which were led by people with disabilities. New hospitality is an activity that allows us to be closer to each other.

Wiktor: A few days ago you offered to help refugees from the Polish-Belarusian border. What kind of relations did you encounter after this declaration?

Vladislav Grochowski: I didn't expect such a response. I got hundreds of text messages, emails, phone calls, thanks and readiness to join in, even from big companies. I am strongly encouraged by this. I think these kinds of tasks will pay off. The government has found itself in a more difficult situation. It will have to take responsibility for these people at the border. I know a similar situation from Chad, where we built a school. These walls won't help here.

Łochow palace and manor - one of the many investments of Wladyslaw Grochowski

© Arche Group

Victor: Is it possible to combine the role of a developer with charity and social work?

Wladyslaw Grochowski: I think it is great to combine the two. In the post-pandemic era, it's important to think that money is not the only thing that matters. We are flying into space, and we still haven't dealt with basic issues in the world, like the issue of hunger or wars. Maybe we should stop? Maybe we've had enough of more possessions, luxury cars and whatnot. The poorest African countries need to be helped, given a chance. That's where everyone really doesn't want to leave. There was slavery, colonialism and now environmental destruction by rich countries. No walls or closing ourselves off will protect us. This has to be faced. I'm an optimist, humanity as a civilization has survived many evils. We should reevaluate a bit what is happening now. Maybe we should not produce so many things that will turn into mountains of garbage? Do we need all this to be happy? I think experience and education will be more important. I see a big opportunity here after the pandemic, we are getting better at recognizing that.

Wiktor: Thank you for the conversation.

interviewed : Wiktor Bochenek

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