Architect is a profession that requires both technical and mathematical skills, as well as sensitivity to the context and history of the environment and human needs. The way to develop these is to put your whole heart into all projects and to have them evaluated. Architect Marta Sękulska-Wronska of the WXCA studio, president of the Warsaw Branch of SARP, competition judge and juror in the Saint-Gobain Glass Design Awards talks about her approach to design, her experiences with criticism and the responsibility that comes with judging the work of others.
Interview with Marta Sekulska-Wrońska
Zofia Malicka: How did you imagine the profession of architecture when you were studying and standing at the threshold of your career?
Marta Sękulska-Wronska: You enter the profession of architecture with all your heart, it's a passion that totally absorbs. I was attracted to everything in it. At the interview for my first job, in my fourth year of study, I said that I absolutely wanted to learn administrative issues, because I felt that creation was already mastered. I was interested in how to make what was drawn - become reality. I was very attracted to the investment process. I learned it quickly, but it changes all the time, I constantly have to - like probably every architect - update my knowledge. However, I was most fascinated by the relationship with people - I wanted to be on the first line of contact, to absorb emotions and needs, and also respond to them, so I quickly founded my firm. I felt the need to make someone's dreams come true, to make visions come true, to create something that is supposed to be beautiful and useful as a result.
Zofia Malicka: Many architects say that they often step into the role of a psychologist.
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: In the WXCA office we call it sensitivity, which has different aspects - once it concerns the landscape and the context in which the architecture is created, other times it concerns the very personal needs of specific people. When we design public buildings, we also pay great attention to the values that the buildings are supposed to carry, often for many years. The skillful handling of the symbol, or lack thereof, affects the interpretation. As the Warsaw Branch of SARP, we cooperate with the Architecture and Construction Technical School, we have a patron class. During meetings with students, I emphasize the importance of a subject completely unrelated to architecture - the Polish language. Interpretation of poems and other literary works is an excellent lesson in sensitivity, which I just learned from Polish lessons in high school, only later I went to classes to prepare for the architecture faculty exam, which in turn directed my sensitivity to visual art.
Zofia Malicka: So contrary to popular belief, architecture is not only an exact, mathematical, technical science, but also partly a humanistic one?
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: Architecture has many aspects, and it is incredibly important to match them to one's personality. From the very beginning, we envision our studio as a platform for all team members to develop their talents. The more valuable it is, the greater the mix of personalities and skills. Sometimes there is a demand for parametric architecture, engineering, technical sense, but equally important elements are beauty, sensitivity, especially when working on objects that need to be put in the right context. It happens that half of the team's time is spent on analysis, searching for the context, and only after "recharging the battery" with these humanistic values, are they engaged in creation.
Zofia Malicka: As a student and budding architect, did you have a need to enter competitions, to show your projects?
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: Yes, during my studies I often entered competitions, I had the ability to create teams - I persuaded my colleagues to join me. One of our first successes was an honorable mention in a competition for the development of the Vistula Boulevards below the Royal Castle in Warsaw. You could say that it was a dream topic, because it required this sensitivity to context and history, but also to the future, to combine two contradictory values - the past and contemporary needs. That's where it started, it was a very intense year for me, I was preparing my engineering diploma, competing in AZS competitions as a downhill alpine skier, I was doing a lot of things, I had every day filled to the brim, but this perfect balance - between passion for design, energy and sports endorphins and positive people - was a huge driving force.
The Polish Pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai
Zofia Malicka: The results of an architect's work are geared towards constant evaluation. Does participation in competitions prepare you for criticism?
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: The first time I encountered that not everyone likes to be evaluated was when I was in drawing school. For me, criticism was valuable and motivating, and I had the feeling that this is what I was going to these classes for - to learn, to improve, and as a result to pass to the architecture faculty, where the competition was huge (33 people for one place). Some people dropped out of classes because they couldn't handle the pressure already at this stage. Perhaps it was easier for me, because I went to music school, regularly played concerts, and was evaluated. Being evaluated, especially in competitions, anonymously, is a great way to grow - if we don't win, we can verify what someone did better, what they took into account, what we didn't think of. This is priceless. As architects, we are judged all the time - in the team we talk a lot about the fact that we do phenomenal projects, but we need to be able to present them and convince others of our idea. Unfortunately, in Poland, rhetoric is not taught at all. A valuable experience was a class with Prof. Kurylowicz, who gave us an assignment to talk about our project in sixty seconds. The excitement of the evaluation - both of six months' work and how I presented the project in one minute, and whether my presentation enhanced it - was enormous. I enjoyed it very much, perhaps the spirit of the athlete in me at that time was revived. The emotions of waiting for the verdict in the competition are very similar, I would even say addictive.
The Polish Pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai
Zofia Malicka: You have a lot of competitions and awards to your credit. Which are the most valuable?
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: When you enter a topic and dive deeper and deeper into it, at a given moment it becomes the most important. There is no project that we don't put our hearts into - when we are workshopping with the whole team, it is the most important project in the world. We always think about what can be done to make it better, how to help the team. The biggest reward is being able to realize that dream that you put so much work into. The moment when you see your work built is indescribable, it has to be experienced. Such a great experience was seeing the building of the Polish Pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai, which was well received. The joy was twofold - first, that it is the work of our team, and second, that Poland has such a great representation. Very positive feedback is coming down to us about the European Geological Education Center in Chęciny, which can already be visited commercially. These are great emotions, a feeling that something good has been done.
Five Corners Square in Warsaw
Photo: Bartek Barczyk © WXCA
Zofia Malicka: One of your realizations can be seen every day, as it is located in the neighborhood of the WXCA studio office - I mean the Five Corners Square , which caused a lot of emotions.
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: We are extremely pleased that this square is bustling with life. Despite the storm in the media, which of course we saw and lived through, every day we see how this place functions - young couples do wedding sessions here, kids play, there are lots of passersby, cyclists. It's a space that wasn't there and has been replenished, it's something new and different. In Warsaw we have either concrete or greenery. Here we have layers of both, in harmony with functional needs. In another place we would approach the subject differently, because there would be other needs. There will always be someone who will contest, but life defends itself, and that is the greatest reward.
Five Corners Square in Warsaw
Photo: Bartek Barczyk © WXCA
Zofia Malicka: And what does judging projects look like from the point of view of a juror? You are a member of the College of Competition Judges of SARP and the Mazovian Chamber of Architects. What value do you derive from that?
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: It is very ennobling. Imagine thirty studios giving their all to make a great project, investing time and resources. And it's up to us-judges-to make a good choice and find the best answer to the competition question. In the case of architectural competitions, when the winning design is to be realized, the jury members become another creator of the space that will be created. Knowing how much hardship this costs, we approach it all the more responsibly. We spend a lot of time to check all the elements of often dozens of projects, to have a constructive discussion, to convince other jury members of their opinion, to draw their attention to nuances. Together we see things differently than each separately. It is often the case that we have to choose one gem from among many sensational projects.
Zofia Malicka: You have previously served as a juror in numerous architectural competitions, including the Bathroom Design Competition, organized by Geberit, and you are currently a juror in the ongoing, first edition of the Saint-Gobain Glass Design Award. Together with other experts, you will be evaluating both realized and conceptual projects that feature Saint-Gobain Glass building glass. How do you approach this task?
Marta Sekulska-Wronska: I am very curious about this competition, I like that there is a division into categories and I assume that each category will be a separate story. I'm approaching this with an open mind - I don't know how many works we will have to judge, how much we will be able to get out of them. I will certainly be looking for works with the perfect balance of sustainable solutions, functionality, aesthetics and broad sensibility.
Zofia Malicka: Do you have any advice for the contest participants?
Marta Sękulska-Wronska: I think it is extremely important to think about the presentation of the project - how to present it so that what the author thinks is most important is read. We are dealing with a competition that has glass in the title, but in my opinion the key will not be the amount of glass in the project, but the legitimacy of its use and its wise application. Saint-Gobain Glass is a company that follows trends, responds to the needs of the modern world and gives architects a lot of interesting opportunities to use glass. It is worth remembering that.