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JEMS for climate. We say: check!

25 of February '22

In January 2020, on the initiative of six Polish architectural firms, the manifesto of the Polish edition of the Architects Declare: Polish Architects for the Climate campaign was published. Its signatories announced a push for more environmentally responsible design and construction. Two years after this declaration, we check how the offices that joined the action are doing in implementing pro-environmental practices.

We sent an editorial survey to fifteen studios. In the coming weeks, we will share the opinions, experiences and conclusions of those offices that decided to answer our questions. They concerned not only the implementation of sustainable strategies in new projects, but also the functioning of the studios or refusal to carry out a project that contradicts their values. How are Polish architects responding to the climate crisis?

Read also: WXCA for the climate

JEMS Architekci is an office that was one of the initiators of the Polish edition of the international Architects Declare campaign. What actions have architects and architects taken to combat the crisis of climate collapse and biodiversity loss?

Planeta Lem

Lem Center

Photo: JEMS

What design changes have you made in response to the climate crisis? Have you modified projects already in development or are you trying to make changes to those you are starting to work on?

We are trying to grapple with climate issues in building design, in several ways. On the one hand, we try to meet various increasingly standardized expectations (that is, to act, if only "less badly"), while on the other hand, we seek a deeper meaning in an appropriate approach to the very matter of the building, the potential of elementary architectural measures that can replace complex technical, installation systems. These two approaches, unfortunately, generally do not "glue" together, which often results in unnecessary duplication of solutions. An important change in our practice is to undertake more and more tasks involving the reconstruction and adaptation of existing facilities, which seems to be one of the more responsible directions of modern "building ecology."

If you were to point to one project - an illustration of good practice - what kind of building would it be and why?

We are not sure that such a model of good practice exists. There are several important projects, currently designed or under construction, which deal with important energy issues, e.g.: using the cumulative and stabilizing properties of building mass(Lema Center in Krakow, or residential houses on Solna Street in Poznan), creating an appropriate climate in the surroundings of buildings, city fragments through greenery systems, water retention ( Welnowiec district on post-industrial land in Katowice, or adaptation of a hospital complex in Wroclaw).

Planeta Lem

Lem Center

photo: JEMS

Have you ever refused an order or abandoned a project for ethical reasons?

Ithappened to us to refuse to undertake tasks in which environmental issues were completely marginalized, and we, as a well-known studio, were to firm an over-intensive development, completely occupying the site (and then get one of the "green" certificates for it).

Do you calculate the full life-cycle cost of a building and model the lifetime carbon emissions?

We have occasionally done such calculations for competition projects. We approach such calculations with interest, but also with great reserve. They are very much a part of the technoctrative-normative-business reality. They have quickly become a coveted commodity by investors and banks. The scope and depth of similar calculations make the result sometimes not authoritative. The calculation of the carbon footprint in the selection of techniques and materials can be very illusory at the conceptual stage. For example, at that time we do not know the sources of reinforcing steel, concrete, or wood. Those from local resources are radically different from those imported from Siberia, America or China, often based on environmentally devastating mining and transported halfway around the world. The most important parameter in making responsible decisions is the durability of the structures built, their adaptability, simplicity of solutions, awareness of the building life cycle. Today, few building systems have a lifespan of more than thirty years, while their claimed recycling is sometimes a showy fairy tale. The means and techniques used to make it a reality are, from an energetic and ecological point of view, a disaster (an ongoing exhibition on the subject at London's Design Museum is worth recommending).


New Vlnowiec

Photo: JEMS

Do you share your knowledge, research and experience related to climate-responsible design with other offices?

We don't have much merit in sharing our experience in this field. We try to address similar topics in our teaching activities at the university, sometimes we write something. We realize that our knowledge is largely based on intuition and common sense, meanwhile, it is necessary to verify similar intuitions in practice and use appropriate research apparatus. Here we must rely on the knowledge of those who try to treat energy issues as broadly as possible. Such a researcher we value, among others, is Kiel Moe, whose books and articles are worth disseminating to the architectural community.


New Wlnowiec

Photo: JEMS

What are the most important steps to be taken in the near future? How do you assess the effectiveness of the steps you have taken?

It is difficult to talk about the effectiveness of our actions in such a short time frame. We feel that modern technical solutions and approaches to environmental issues are often "a snake eating its own tail." In trying to prevent the problems we cause we produce the next ones. Louis Kahn gave very valuable advice to young architecture students: A building by architectural means (appropriate mass and depth of walls, shaping of multi-plank building edges, their infiltration by air movements, moisture) should provide comfort to the user. Mechanical systems, powered by external energy, should only supplement these measures (they are, by the way, the most fail-safe and perishable element - so the architect left spaces large enough and accessible enough to replace them). Kahn's design proposals are unacceptable in most developments: they are characterized by too much unsaleable space. Also, the interior climate parameters cannot be precisely regulated and provided.


Estate on Solna Street in Poznan

Photo: JEMS

Multi-story shelves clad in glass and equipped with eco mechanical ventilation and cooling systems require a lot of expensive maintenance, servicing, frequent replacement of components, equipment, filters, depend on complex control systems (also energy questionable), involve a lot of time and energy. Maybe instead of insisting on keeping the interior temperature constant at 21 degrees, expand this range by +/- 3 degrees. Energy costs would then decrease dramatically (probably more than by screwing up insulation rates), more healthy living conditions would be created (and, for example, the energy needed to produce pharmaceuticals, which users of artificially created climates use in excess, would decrease). Perhaps it is worth extending the considerations of the mainstream eco-building industry to include buildings energy exchangers rather than insulators, to attach more importance to energy stability achieved through the mass of the building stock rather than mechanically forced air circulation, to slim them down from technological instrumentation that is unnecessary and energy-intensive in production? We are afraid that the current "only right" direction through its systemic entrenchment does not give a chance to test other ways of thinking about rational (including from an energy point of view construction).

elaborated: Kacper Kępiński

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