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Michal Romaniuk - "Happy Islands?"

22 of February '20

In the student competition for a press report on architecture, the jury awarded the first honorable mention to Michal Romaniuk for his report entitled "Happy Islands?". We publish the awarded text below and encourage you to read it!

MichalRomaniuk is a second-year student at the Manchester School of Architecture. He won the Distinction Award in the Singapore International Mathematical Modeling Competition and an honorable mention in The International Mathematical Modeling Challenge.

Happy Islands?



Photo: Michal Romaniuk

Why are we running away?

Because things are bad.
Because it's better elsewhere.

Where do we flee to?

Where it's easy to make money and you don't have to do much. Where the national minimum wage is four times higher than in the homeland. Where the reality is distant, but at the same time geographically close to us. Where we can get there in two hours of travel on cheap airlines.

We are fleeing to the UK.

From what and to what are we fleeing?

It is worth asking ourselves this question quietly, what are we fleeing to? What will be our "promised land"? What is hidden on the other side of that door to the new world, which for us is Modlin or Pyrzowice? In the vast majority of cases, it is not London. It may be the most popular city for those emigrating to England, but far more people choose smaller cities and towns, scattered throughout the United Kingdom. Currently, about 90 percent of Poles in the UK live outside the British capital. In places that could not be more different from London, yet still boast the same minimum wage. These places are not European banking or shopping centers. Nor, like the British capital, do they have more economic potential than many countries. London is simply not representative of such cities.

Anyone who embarks on such a journey in search of "gold" abroad is bound to encounter a gray, drab, homogeneous - in a word, British reality. Whether one wants it or not, this British reality is primarily an unhurried existence in brick houses scattered around the UK, accounting for as much as 70 percent of housing construction in the UK¹.



photo: Michal Romaniuk

I escaped

It's December, it could also be November or January. For Manchester, it doesn't matter much. The days merge into one relentless game of white, gray and eventually black. My skylight in the attic allows me to observe this hopeless festival of different shades of gray. When the sun comes out, Manchester loses credibility. It dresses itself in garments incongruous to it, disconnected from its immanent grayness. But that's a good thing. One can finally go outside.
Not only us, but also the exterior itself is very dependent on the sun, because it is quite different for the British brick to present itself, reflecting the sunlight so eagerly awaited by all. Everyday reality is different. Depressingly grayish. Because that's what British bricks really are - drab.

infrastruktury i przestrzeni publicznej

Coexistence of infrastructure and public space

Photo: Michal Romaniuk

Navigation shows that I am one and a half kilometers from the main station, in the second richest British city. You can't see this proximity to a modern city, you can't see this economic power that would like to aspire to the absolute power - the power of London. Manchester looks like a province, house after house, terraced house after terraced house. Occasionally I come across some "twins," some detached bungalow, which blend into one amorphous whole. The contours of the individual blocks are indistinguishable, producing a single, long brick behemoth that seems to master the entire neighborhood to the horizon. Don't let the name "detached" mislead you, the same "detached" houses next to each other can stand twenty, fifty or a hundred. Because that's what England is. Painted with a collection of unbearably uniform brick lines.

Here I feel thrown into a sea of concrete and bricks, from which once in a while a small island of green emerges. An islet fenced off with a fence, locked up in the evenings by British law enforcement, because parks are dangerous here. Parks are not for active recreation and communing with nature. The city council believes they are prime locations for assaults and petty crime. Apparently, the fences are a legacy of the Victorian era, when they separated the "filth" of industrial Manchester from nature. It's a good thing the fences have survived, at least there's no need to put up new ones... No less dangerous than empty parks seems this unified English landscape, where it's hard to see another human being. We are usually alone with the emptiness, clothed in brick and concretedecor. Only on rare occasions will the British drizzle be cut through by some stray "wanderer" heading from point A to point B. Such an anomaly immediately sensitizes us, sends a warning signal, while forcing the question: why is he here? Why would he go out in such weather?


islanders' extravagance

Photo: Michal Romaniuk

Walking like this, whether in Manchester, in Birmingham, or in the many other places that are supposed to be "oases of eternal (or temporary) happiness" for our compatriots, one contrast strikes the eye the most. A contrast, referring to the difference in the minimum wage I mentioned above. Despite the hollow sidewalks, despite the dilapidated, ubiquitous "concrete", despite the lack of any real public space, every now and then a Mercedes drives past me. Always some new vintage, meticulously spruced up, probably from the last few years. Yes, more often than not, it's just a new Mercedes that passes somewhere between dead-end streets that end in driveways in front of brick houses. This is what amazes most. The disconnect between what is shared and what is owned. A dichotomy that completes the image of England as a country where money can be made.

Is there nothing like (not) at home?

It's probably hard to find two more extreme approaches to housing than Britain's archipelagos of terraced houses and Poland's micro-continents of apartment blocks. Perhaps this juxtaposition of "our" familiar verticality with "their" exotic horizontality is another reason for the Polish fascination with the British Isles? "Our" painfully cramped apartments, crammed into blocks of apartments, and "their" possessively ramshackle terraced houses, to which we owe the English term meaning urban sprawl. "Our" space between block and block, where, according to noble modernist ideas, social relations were supposed to be established, and "their" lack of space for such behavioral follies. Brick or concrete, that should be the question for anyone considering leaving. Island homogeneity on a macro scale, extending over acres of British towns, or Polish homogeneity on a slightly smaller meso scale, contained within the space of a single block of flats? When we leave, we don't think about it, because the space around us will not be "ours." Ours will be only the small island that we will colonize, thus becoming one of the millions of owners of our own patch of space on British soil, which will elevate us high above our current block four corners....

fot.: Michał

photo: Michal Romaniuk



Alufire was a partner of the competition

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