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Modernist HOUSEbuilders. New Plan Festival in Poznan

26 of October '20

Two years ago there was luxury, a year ago - PeWuKa, and in this, rather strange, year the Poznan Modernist Architecture Festival took the slogan HOUSE as its theme. In light of the recent pandemic months - the topic has become even more relevant and important. This year's program is concise, intense and interesting - could it be inspired by modernist thought?

The debate and lectures, which took place in the space of Poznan's CK Zamek, were complemented by an exceptionally interesting series of short films titled Domestics. The series of six approximately half-hour-long materials opens up the diverse world of Poznan's residential buildings. There is a terraced house in Poznań's Grunwald and behind the Citadel, an atrium house in Rataje, tenement houses in Jeżyce and a block of flats in the Batory estate. Residents invite us into these unique spaces, telling us about the stories and emotions associated with their four walls.

modernism in the service of the community

The opening dba of the festival, entitled "Future Time Inhabited," featured architects and lecturers Agata Twardoch and Monika Arczynska, as well as sociologist Maciej Frąckowiak, and the conversation was moderated by architecture critic Jakub Glaz. What will be the houses and cities of the future, based on the modernist past? As Monika Arczynska notes, houses are an extremely durable material - although they are replaced by newer models from time to time - their assumptions and form are quite similar. We also need little more than four walls, a bathroom, a kitchen and comfort. Thinking about modernist planning and design, we can't forget that it helped improve living conditions - the emphasis was on hygiene, fresh air and light (which was lacking in the cities of the time). Maciej Frackowiak calls for the return of modernism in its social form, which guarantees a variety of amenities in addition to housing. In the context of pandemonium and the concentration of many of life's activities in the space of the home, it is wrong to think of retrofitting ourselves with more square meters. We should be betting on public spaces and social infrastructure.

goście debaty, od prawej: Agata Twardoch, Maciej Frąckowiak, Monika Arczyńska i prowadzący Jakub Głaz

Debate guests, from right: Agata Twardoch, Maciej Frąckowiak, Monika Arczynska and presenter Jakub Glaz

Photo: Dawid Majewski

The modernists' thoughts recalled by Jakub Glaz, including Szymon Syrkus' idea that everyone should be provided with minimum housing and given housing compulsion, or Wladyslaw Strzeminski, according to whom architecture is a regulator of the rhythm of social and individual life - make us think about the values of these ideas. For Agata Twardoch, the legacy of Helena Syrkus, who spoke about the social role of housing, is important. According to Monika Arczynska, pragmatism and flexibility are important - on an urban and architectural scale - from large windows to open spaces. The simplicity of construction makes modernist apartments easy to multiply and erect, but also to remodel to avoid demolition and building from scratch. Maciej Frąckowiak, however, points out not to pump up the ideological grandeur of this trend - not to elevate the "religion of the dash" to the altars, because Louis Sullivan's famous maxim can be played with the statement - if the form is beautiful then the function will also be found.

debata pt. „Czas przyszły zamieszkany”

The debate entitled. "Future time inhabited"

photo: Dawid Majewski

Modernism, as Jakub Glaz notes - was a response to the crisis. Now we are in a similar moment - at the threshold of a climate crisis, population migration or in the midst of an ongoing pandemic at its best. How might solutions to these problems take shape? Agata Twardoch believes that we need a good system, a regulator that will frame the building challenges and guidelines, because our micro-ecological manifestos are not enough in the world. Monika Arczynska says that the solution is not technology, we can't treat a house like a household appliance that we will replace after a decade, because after all, it may turn out that these systems can't cope in a crisis situation. Perhaps Ursula von der Leyen's proposed new European Bauhaus is one solution that will help restore public patronage of the housing market, generate a broader, interdisciplinary approach, and foster collaboration between designers and researchers. Finally - when thinking about sustainability, we cannot focus only on environmental issues, social issues are equally important.

We asked the organizers of the festival New Plan from the "Open Center" initiative, Andżelica Jabłońska and Jakub Głaz, as well as Magda Wypusz from the local branch of SARP, who prepared the event, some questions related to modernism and home:

Dominika Drozdowska: With this year's festival's slogan - home - you hit on an exceptionally timely topic. What is a modernist house for you?

żelika, Jakub, Magda: There is no single definition of a "modernist house," as we emphasized during the festival's opening debate. However, there are certainly common characteristics with which such a house can be identified. Both positive: such as functionality, rationalism, hygiene, light, comfort and related, but also negative: monotony, automatism, cramped, dull utilitarianism, etc. Finally, more universal phenomena can be associated with modernist models of residence: accessibility, democratization, progress, community.

Whether we want to or not, most of us live in houses organized inside in a modernist manner, even if they take the form of postmodern pseudo-dormitories or townhouses. During the festival, we tried to answer what features of modernist forms of residence are worth using in the future, and what should definitely be said goodbye to. Of course, for two hours we didn't even make an approximate list, but we were probably unanimous that it is worth preserving, above all, the fading social spirit of modernism, and not just its characteristic forms or details, which are clad today in developer buildings aimed mainly at profit.

Dominica: One of the guests of the "Homebuilders" video series, Maciej Frąckowiak, believes that housing estates are the most future-oriented form of housing. Would you subscribe to such a statement, or should we invent a new wonderful world in the 21st century?

Andżelika, Jakub, Magda: Inventing "wonderful new worlds" has a certain totalitarian element in it, which likes to annihilate the past en bloc, without preserving its positive elements. Hence, there is little enthusiasm for creating a total vision, which would probably have to be implemented on - understood very broadly - raw roots.

At the same time, I know that without a concretely named and as such defined vision for repairing the housing situation, it will be difficult to mobilize all circles that still feel responsible for creating space and architecture. Hence, a catchy, appealing idea seems to be the "New Bauhaus," a slogan thrown around in September by Ursula von Leyen, president of the European Commission. Attention is drawn to her emphasis on matters of ecology and sustainability, and to an interdisciplinary approach to the subject.

Thus, our festival's attempt to critically review the forms and features of modernism somehow fits into the consideration of what this "New Bauhaus" is supposed to be. We have opted for a recycling of ideas, as sensible as the recycling of raw materials or architecture itself - an evolutionary transition into a new reality created by changing orders: geopolitical, economic and demographic, as well as climate change.

So are settlements the most "future-oriented form of housing"? It's likely, especially in the context of the new green order, as well as the pandemic situation, in which multi-family but loose housing amidst greenery works very well. However, the details need to be asked. What should these neighborhoods of the future be like? How arranged? How communicated? Which mistakes known from existing settlements should be eliminated? What assets should be strengthened? What should be added?

: In preparing the "Homebuilders" series, has your view of the role and function of the house changed, or has anything surprised or delighted you?

Andżelika, Jakub, Magda: Home is invariably supposed to bring tranquility and security. As we found out while realizing the series "Home-makers," the home becomes a product of the home-makers' personalities, their habits, needs and beliefs, but also their family histories. Not insignificant for its role and function are the passions and aesthetic preferences of the householders. The modern home, especially in pandemic times, is becoming not only an enclave of respite and a space for coexistence with loved ones, but is increasingly also the place where we work. Perhaps in this sense, the role and function of the home is undergoing some modifications, although this is probably related to the changing reality in a broader aspect. Treating the home as a matter animated by the needs of the users is the most obvious, but also striking.

What resonated clearly with the work on the "Homebuilders" series was precisely the diversity. Each of the houses we presented made an incredible impression. The colorful hosts, aware of the history of their spaces, surrounded by original interiors, beautiful objects, but also their intriguing stories directing our attention to the architecture or the fate of subsequent owners, all this made the diversity resound the most.

An apt commentary on what can be seen in "Homemakers" may also be the opinion of Monika Arczynski, delivered during the festival, who pointed out that the nature of houses and apartments is actually changing much more slowly than the reality around us.

Dominika Drozdowska

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