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Ruins that stimulate the imagination. A conversation with Marcin Maraszek and Maciej Kaufman of Archigrest studio

15 of July '22

Copper. Until recently a forgotten treasure trove of copper, silver, zinc and uranium ores. Experienced by fate and people, the heroine of Filip Springer's reportage. Today the hostess of a literary festival, a space for meetings, changes, discoveries and expansion of reality.

August 26 marks the start of the Miedzianka Fest literary festival, this year in a new, itinerant formula - Miedzianka on the Road. The festival will travel nearly seven hundred kilometers in seven days and visit seven towns - Gliwice, Racibórz, Nysa, Opole, Zloty Stok, Pleszew and Sierslaw. In Miedzianka itself there will be a series of interdisciplinary, field workshops "Expanded Reality" planned in five paths - Observational, Philosophical, Humanistic, Sensory and Visual [more information can be found here].

The event is organized by the Institute of Reportage, and its indispensable element is literature. However, this does not mean that the festival will revolve only around it. The organizers have invited specialists from various industries, including architects, to conduct individual workshops. Tomasz aleXander Mielczynski (TXMA) will lead a sketching workshop, Malgorzata Kuciewicz and Simone de Iacobis from CENTRALA Design Group will map the local microclimates, and Justyna Dziedziejko and Magdalena Wnęk from topoScape studio and Marcin Maraszek and Maciej Kaufman from Archigrest studio will decode this mysterious space. How? The best way is to tell them themselves.

Archigrest: Marcin Maraszek i Maciej Kaufman

Archigrest: Marcin Maraszek and Maciej Kaufman

© Archigrest

Ola Kloc
: You are conducting one of the workshops as part of the Humanist Track during the festival organized by the Institute of Reportage. How did you join this event? What do architects do at a literary festival?

Maciej Kaufman: Not only architects, but landscape architects, meteorologists, ornithologists, a philosopher, an economist who deals with cooperatives. There will be cloud reading, a workshop on how not to get burned out in activism, photography classes. Of course, also meetings with writers. This diversity is probably due to the versatile interests of Filip Springer, the initiator of the festival and "discoverer" of Miedzianka, who not only writes about architecture, but also deals with small, declining cities or social aspects of architecture.

We were approached by the people producing the festival with a proposal to conduct a workshop. At the same time they offered participation to our colleagues, landscape architects from topoScape. Unlike them, we don't have a lot of experience in conducting workshops for people not professionally involved in architecture. We took it as a challenge. We had a lot of freedom in both the choice of topic and the form of our workshop. After talking with Philip, we made a proposal, to which he responded enthusiastically. So we went to Miedzianka to verify our initial assumptions. The reality turned out to be more complex and more interesting than we could have imagined. We expected to find a post-industrial "scorched earth". Meanwhile, the area of the former city was largely taken over by nature again. On the outskirts of Miedzianka we met a pair of ravens. These are now rare and shy birds, shying away from people. So if they have settled there, it means that it really is wild there.

Budynek poprzemysłowy

post-industrial building

© Archigrest

Marcin Maraszek: A big part of our activity is research work and research. By this I mean developing competition guidelines or preparing publications for the City of Warsaw. While working on the Warsaw Uprising Mound, which is currently under construction, we conducted a two-pronged reconnaissance: from our side, it concerned the history of the rubble of destroyed Warsaw from which the mound was raised, and from the side of topoScape - its "natural history" - species succession and phytosociology. We will show the conclusions in the form of didactic paths in the park area. The mound indirectly prepared us for what we saw in Miedzianka.

: This year's edition of the festival adopts a new format. What are the reasons for these changes?

Maciej: We have no part in creating the format, but according to the information the organizers gave us, the change is dictated by concern for Miedzianka. To some extent, the locality has become a victim of the festival's success. Although it may be hard to imagine, gentrification processes have begun in what is now a small village. We did not find a grocery store in Miedzianka, but there is an expensive restaurant and a craft brewery, and a bookstore will soon be built. An interesting house designed by Robert Konieczny has been built. Real estate prices are rising. Also, the mere presence of a large group of people in the short time of the festival leaves a strong mark on its few inhabitants and nature. That's why this year's edition will start in Miedzianka, but, in order to lessen the spotlight on the city itself, it will move to other cities and towns in the region during the following days.

Marcin: Miedzianka has become fashionable. It is already a brand that attracts tourists and money. Changing the festival formula is an attempt to protect the place. But the fate of Miedzianka is in a way symptomatic of the situation we find ourselves in as humanity. It can be said that the plundering economy has led to its total destruction, the annihilation of its 800-year history and the obliteration of its traces. It is a city with amnesia. A very moving place, where the ruins are much more stimulating to the imagination than the standing buildings. This place should be protected from the destructive logic of continuous development.

Resztki bramy dworu w Miedziance

The remains of the gate of the Miedzianka manor house

© Archigrest

: What will your workshops be about and how will they fit into the idea of the Miedzianka by the Way festival?

Marcin: Our workshops - Archigrest's and topoScape's - will be complementary. We assumed that our colleagues from topoScape will talk about the memory of nature, that is, what can be read from the habitats of plants and animals, and we will talk about what can be read from the remnants of architecture and industrial landscape.

: The visit to Miedzianka changed the original plan?

Maciej: Our meeting with Miedzianka didn't change the original intent of the workshop, but it made us distribute the emphasis differently. Initially, we focused very much on literature. This year's theme is "impractical literature" in the context of crises - climate, democracy, war. "Impractical" means not written to consumer demand, not utilitarian in nature. So we wove into our program authors who, in our opinion, write well about the landscape, read it well. After this visit, however, we decided to focus more on "reading" the Copper River itself. Of course, literature will continue to be part of our workshops. She allowed us to see in a dilapidated town like Miedzianka a place after the "end of the world." So we want to look at it through the glasses of Sebald, Herbert, maybe also Houellebecq, who insightfully "read" and "decode" landscapes. For example, Sebald, traveling through the English countryside, notes that European cities tend to creep slowly westward. This assertion is also true of downtown Warsaw, but also of Miedzianka! Today only its western part is inhabited, and that's where further development is planned.

Miejsce dawnego kościoła ewangelickiego w Miedziance Zdewastowana kaplica cmentarna w Miedziance

The site of the former Evangelical church and the devastated cemetery chapel in Miedzianka

© Archigrest

: What results do you expect from the workshop? Do you have any expectations?

Marcin: It turned out on the spot that the old cemetery is now a cow pasture. We even wanted to abandon the idea of the workshop and provoke the participants to build some kind of fencing of the cemetery or collect what was left on it.

Maciej: We will present the same workshop in two days to three groups, so we don't rule anything out, in each of them it may go quite differently. The theme is the exploration of Miedzianka and playing the role of pioneers discovering an area abandoned by people. We want to treat the traces of the former Miedzianka as a collection of coded messages, signs that were left there, which we will read and try to arrange into a coherent narrative. At the end of the game, we will try to choose a convenient place for a settlement, a camp, maybe New Miedzianka, based on the collected data. We hope that, firstly, this will allow us to try out our method, and secondly, it will be an excuse to discuss the values that participants will find and appreciate in the landscape. And also those they will overlook.

Marcin: Perhaps we will question the purpose of the workshop at all. Do we really need to break this camp? I would like to go beyond the logic of "conquering" nature. It seems that in the Jeleniogórska or Klodzka Basin the only way for tourists from big cities to interact with nature is to buy a plot of land and build a house. We want to think of an alternative.

Krajobraz Rudaw Janowickich w Miedziance

The landscape of the Janowickie Ore Mountains in Miedzianka

© Archigrest

: So let's get back to how the workshops themselves will be run?

Maciej: We'll all start together in the center of Miedzianka, after which we'll divide into four groups and spread out to the north, south, east and west. We will give each group a topic that will be related to some piece of literature and artifacts that are found in that part of town. We assume that no one will see Miedzianka in its entirety, but after these expeditions we will gather again in the same place and try to map the city as a group, to relate the facts we have gathered.

: There is still some time left until the festival, tickets are still available. Why do you think it's worth taking part in it?

Maciej: It's worth going to Miedzianka at all, it's instructive in itself.

Marcin: The other workshops promise to be very interesting. I would sign up for the parallel paths myself. It's certainly an interesting, opening experience.

Maciej: We will try to make our workshops very dynamic. There will be walking in nettles, through cones, through mud. In a word, endurance.

Wnętrze budynku poprzemysłowego

The interior of a post-industrial building

© Archigrest

: Wearying, cones, mud, that's what you like to do as part of urbex, urban exploration, something that you emphasize particularly inspires you. Tell us a little more about it.

Maciej: It's about an elementary curiosity of place. In our practice, we deal with degraded areas such as the aforementioned Warsaw Uprising Mound, which used to be a rubble dump, or the former Żerański Port in Warsaw. We start each project with a place that is "ugly", by exploring the area, looking for material traces of human activity and its impact on nature. We try to understand and interpret them. It's always a matter of going into the bush at first, collecting these traces, orienting ourselves in space, and then trying to build a narrative based on what we've been able to find on site and in the archives. Miedzianka is also a good training ground for such activities, it abounds in remnants that can be read like a coded message.

Marcin: Ruin or architecture that has lost its function is sometimes much more inspiring and interesting than finished, working buildings. Just like a demolished Rome is more interesting than an existing one. Urbex is a word that has aged badly. It evolved from the passion of amateur explorers discovering the ruins of abandoned houses, factories and sometimes entire cities. Today it's a hashtag on Instagram, an entire branch of tourism in Detroit, or until recently - in Pripyat. We would like to return to this original passion.

Maciek: For the purposes of the workshop, we bring back the concept of terroir, which is a set of unique environmental factors, such as soil, sunlight or microclimate, that determine the taste of food products. It appears in Jeff Vandermeer's novel "Captivation" in reference to the mysterious Zone, a place from which nature has pushed people out. Our goal will be to recognize the terroir of the Copper River.

Ola: Thank you for the interview.

Ola Kloc

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