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Circular memory

08 of April '24

Jaszowiec one of the "wrongly born"

In the beginning of spring I saw the premiere of the film "Jaszowiec, forgotten modernity", directed by Roman Kaluga-Wierzchoslawski and produced by the Green Horses Foundation and Kamil Sliwka NOX Studio, which was under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, SARP, the Chamber of Architects of Poland. The media patron is Architektura & Biznes.

Documentary, yet not devoid of an emotional message and interesting not only for architects, the film tells the story of the genesis of the resort in Jaszowiec, one of the valleys in the Beskid region of Ustroń on the southern slope of the Równica mountain, its creators, years of splendor and gradual decline. Established by a decision of the communist provincial authorities in the 1960s, the resort in Jaszowiec, the design of which was selected in an architectural competition won by a team consisting of Jerzy Winnicki, Zygmunt Winnicki, Irena and Czeslaw Kotela, was the flagship leisure and recreational investment in the Katowice Province at the time. In 1963, the first building, the Teacher's House, designed by Aleksander Franta and Henryk Buszko, was handed over. This was followed, also in modernist style, by the realization of three types of recreation houses for 2,500 people "grape houses", "multi-tract houses" and "point houses mastabas" organically inscribed in the mountain landscape. The modernist design was enriched with ceramic mosaics, metalwork and careful interior design. Although swimming pools, playing fields and a concert shell were not realized, the resort in Jaszowiec was very popular for employee vacations, being regarded as a modern and luxurious resort complex.

The years of transition did not prove kind to it. Partially privatized, it has not survived to this day in its original form. Some of the resort houses have been demolished, some have been disfigured with remodeling and extraneous post-modern details, and some are undergoing ruin. Today, there is not much left of its former splendor, and there is no overall concept of the resort's future fate. When we left the theater after the screening of the film, I saw sadness in my wife's eyes. I had only been briefly, maybe once in my life, to Jaszowiec, while, as it turned out, my wife had been there many times in her youth in the years when it shone with the then luxury and modernity against the backdrop of the gnarled communism. The sight of the current degeneration of "badly born" social modernism evoked, instead of the memories of my youth, a feeling of regret and despondency. Then I realized that although the film is about the history of Jaszowiec, it is a story about what memory is, its obliteration with the passage of time, about what we remember as once great architecture, and what today is forgotten and destroyed. Similarly, the demolished Palace of Vows in Katowice, designed by Mieczyslaw Król, where my wife and I were married, is completely lost to oblivion, and today, instead of nostalgically remembering that day already, we leave our car on the threshing floor of the parking lot organized on its site. This is another breach in our memories.

This destruction of material heritage, but also of individual and collective memory, is extremely acute in Poland, as we are a society with a memory shortened by various conditions. The massive destruction of war, border changes, population migrations, communist ideology falsifying history have largely impoverished our memory based on material heritage. This memory does not go back a few centuries as in England, or France, or the neighboring Czech Republic, but only two or three generations. The actual living memory of Lviv, Stanislawow, Vilnius, or pre-war Warsaw has almost disappeared, remaining only in yellowing photographs. It is all the more sad to observe also now only in black-and-white photographs architecture that, when it was built, was the pride of our parents, such as Warsaw's Supersam, Katowice's train station and Palace of Vows, or the deteriorating hero of the aforementioned film. This is another already at our own request abridgement of our collective memory.

memory is a condition of survival

I no longer remember whether I heard or read somewhere the thought-provoking phrase that memory is a condition or function of the survival of living beings. Indeed, mountains, highlands, plains, rocks, minerals do not need memory for their multimillion-year existence on our planet. Whether plants use a specific memory is, for the time being, the subject of research by scientists, but animals undisputedly do. Memory of predator hunting grounds, and for other animals, memory of danger by predators is a condition of survival. Birds remember how to build nests, storks remember how to return to them. We as humans are also unable to exist and function without memory. From the elementary activities of life, such as eating, speaking, perceiving with the senses, to our habitation, movement, travel, work we continually use memory resources.

Pamięć cyrkularna

Circular memory

© Piotr Średniawa

The artificial intelligence we are constructing is also unable to function without memory. A computer devoid of external memory, internal memory, RAM, ROM, HDDs, can only be used as a blinking diode stand for a fern. Anyway, the essence of artificial intelligence is the ability to process the data contained in gigantic memory resources at an unimaginable speed. But memory is not only of behavioral importance necessary for biological survival. Memory, both individual and collective, is an intangible carrier of the fundamental value for societies, which is culture. This memory is also recorded in the material heritage, from the Neolithic to the present day. One of the main (and perhaps most important) carriers of memory is architecture. This is not just the architecture of the famous and spectacular monuments visited by thousands of tourists, but the everyday architecture of our streets and the houses in which we live. The age of this architecture is not important, although its historical provenance always gives it solemnity and nobility, contemporary architecture is also a carrier of memory. After all, all architecture was once contemporary.

Not coincidentally, just as during the war, repression was directed against the intelligentsia, so was the material heritage. Cultural assets were destroyed not only as a result of military action, but were also deliberately and premeditatedly looted, devastated and dismantled, like the Silesian Museum, or blown up and burned, like many of Warsaw's architectural heritage sites. If one wants to destroy communities, one destroys their culture in the first place.

This memory, recorded in buildings, is not always legible, which does not mean its absence. Our memory is selective, we are more likely to remember all that is good than failures, troubles and misfortunes. Similarly, in the existing architectural fabric, along with a change in social consciousness, we see more of its qualities and advantages than its flaws and faults. The trend of renovation, revitalization, sanitization, reutilization is becoming more and more common, adding a second and sometimes third life to the memory already contained in the buildings, building cultural continuity. It's just a pity that, as in Upper Silesia at the beginning of the transformation, we thoughtlessly and unreflectively got rid of a huge number of post-industrial objects that constitute the identity and specific culture of the region. This paradigm is the basis of the European spatial policy embodied in the New European Bauhaus program, a name perhaps not the happiest, as it is more associated with the expansion of modernity than with sustainable development that harmonizes existing resources and values. However, it is difficult to point out today, in the face of various threats like climate change, another way for action in our space.

memory of matter

Regardless of the need for renovation, revitalization, the demand for circularity in the design and implementation of new facilities is increasingly being raised. This postulate applies as much to the anticipation of secondary use of materials and elements used in the designed objects as to the secondary use of materials from dismantled objects, which for various reasons are not subject to revitalization. Indeed, the amount of building materials destroyed during demolition or reconstruction, feeding landfills or rubble heaps, is enormous. The 4Rs principle applied to the plastic cycle, minimizing consumption and sensibly managing waste through reuse, is invoked here. This 4R stands for refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. The widespread elevation of the purely technical, or technocratic, aspect of these activities, undoubtedly right and necessary, seems to be only one calculable parameter. Estimating saved CO2 through reuse of materials is important, it makes one aware of the enormity of the energy we use (not necessarily needed) in construction. However, architecture and construction have other deeper layers than just the technocratic dimension.

So when we talk and think about memory in architecture, we usually recall buildings, sometimes their characteristic interiors, or architectural ensembles, palace assumptions, fragments of cities and towns. But also memory is stored by their fragments, stones, bricks, floor and wall tiles, wooden structures, steel girders. This is a diverse memory, both of the human efforts of those who produced them and those who lived in them. Such memory in a family dimension is carried by old furniture and trinkets inherited from our parents or grandparents. Often without much aesthetic value, they instead have some memory and emotional value from our ancestors. Although they most often don't fit in with modernist apartments and Ikea furniture, we place them in prominent places, and when we are gone, our children and grandchildren will climb them. This is how memory is built in the smallest community, which is the family.

It is also worth talking about memory, perhaps more anonymous, but referring to specific people, those whom we may not have known, but who lived here before us and left their mark in our space. Recorded in the stone paving stones are the thousands of steps of former residents who walked the streets. In the wooden elements of the trusses is stored so the memory of the former forest from which the wooden beams came and the toil and skill of the carpenters. When I sit in the garden in front of our Beskids cottage, I always stare with emotion at the traces of carpenters' axes carved into the logs of our century-old barn. I didn't have the opportunity to meet them, of course, but the trace of their hand, though so distant, is still a vivid message from the past. Similarly, the worn stone thresholds of medieval churches are intimidating, reminding us that we are neither the first nor the last here, but only temporary users of our architecture and space.

The panes of old windows reflect the faces of people who looked out into the streets and courtyards curious about what was going on in their little world. Through the old doors, for years people entered their houses and apartments after work to enjoy family life. The old bricks are like a gramophone record of the conversations, whispers and shouts of former residents. The rusting scrap bricks are not only the huge amounts of energy expended, hundreds of tons of coal and coke, but the efforts of the miners who extracted the metal ores, the efforts of the metallurgists who obtained metal from the ore, and the craftsmen who, with their skill and labor, gave the metal its final shape, from steel girders to metal doorknobs smoothed by thousands of touches. These old, worn, but still not completely destroyed objects store a micromemory that, although perhaps illegible and difficult to reproduce, is nevertheless true of both architecture and people. It is worthwhile to view no longer needed objects in this way — not as waste to anyone, but as depositories of memory. If we look at circularity and the reuse of building materials in this way, then perhaps the humanistic (although this is perhaps too pompously said) sense of the circularity postulate will turn out to be more important than calculating CO2 content and savings. When thinking about circularity, let's respect our memory both individually and collectively, which is a function of the survival of our culture.

Piotr Średniawa

Chairman of the Council of the Silesian Regional Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland
Member of WKUA and MKUA in Katowice.
Since 2003, with his wife Barbara, runs the Office of Studies and Projects in Gliwice

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