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Technology, not technicians. What's new at the Museum of Engineering and Technology in Krakow?

28 of November '23
w skrócie
  1. Evolution of cities through technology: The exhibition focuses on the history of the development of cities from ancient times to the present, showing the influence of technology on their formation and functioning.
  2. The exhibition's narrative covers areas such as hydro-technology, energy, communications, and public health, presenting their evolution and relationship to everyday life.
  3. The curators have tried to highlight key issues, balancing the main topics with side aspects, creating a coherent and diverse exhibition.
  4. Conservation of technical objects is a challenge, especially with the decision to preserve the original historic substance and its integrity.
  5. The exhibition has been tailored to teenagers, but the content is understandable and fascinating to a wide range of audiences, using interactive elements and rich sources of information.

  6. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the A&B portal

The spinning of stories about history is increasingly going beyond the school framework. Today, it is not only battles, dynasties and political parties that define the past for us, but also culture, sports or technology. This was one of the goals of the new permanent exhibition at Krakow's Museum of Engineering and Technology, "City. Technosensitivity," which we discuss with its curators Piotr Żabicki and Filip Wróblewski.

siedziba muzeum przeszła rewaloryzację, o której rozmawialiśmy z Magdaleną Matejką

the museum's headquarters has undergone a revaluation

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

Wiktor Bochenek
: Where did the idea for the exhibition "City. Techno-sensitivity" telling the story of the role of technology in the formation and functioning of cities?

Piotr Żabicki: Our facility has a cross-sectional collection of museum artifacts. Until March 2022, we called ourselves the Museum of Urban Engineering. However, this name did not fully reflect the profile of the collection, hence the change to the Museum of Engineering and Technology. We wanted to legitimize what we actually collect, not only by changing the name of the institution, but also (on the occasion of a major reconstruction of the depot complex) by creating a new permanent exhibition. The intention of our team was to present a cross-sectional presentation of the collections of technical relics we possess.

We tried to create an exhibition treating the development and transformation of urban engineering from antiquity to the present. This was a huge challenge.

wcześniej nosiło nazwę Muzeum Inżynierii Miejskiej, którą zmieniono w marcu 2022

The name of the Museum of Urban Engineering was changed in March 2022

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

: How did you try to organize the different technological solutions? In the narrative of the exhibition, the visitor can encounter energy, hydraulic engineering, technologies related to almost every aspect of everyday life.

Filip Wroblewski: At the outset, let's make some important distinctions. By way of clarification: we are talking about technology, not technology. It is easy to make a mistake here. Technology is a more general issue, it refers to craftsmanship, skill, craftsmanship. It is the knowledge of how to make devices or tools, or how to induce phenomena that do not naturally occur in nature. It's the theoretical and practical engineering thought behind solutions that make our lives easier. What technology has in common is that it is a very concrete way of manufacturing and production, it is a method of action and a process of implementation. Therefore, it can be said that the city is a technology for living. Le Corbusier, moreover, said that "the city is a machine for living."

So we try to talk about technology as the resultant of very different solutions that intertwine and interpenetrate, resulting in a constantly changing urban fabric - both in terms of urban layout and infrastructure. A curatorial team of six people responsible for developing the scenario worked on the exhibition. First, we defined some basic areas - what is a city? How do we perceive it? How does it provide security and development opportunities? What human needs does it respond to? The exhibition "City. Techno-sensitivity" is an answer to these questions.

In the context of what we have in the collection, we tried to select key objects to depict how cities have been created and changed over the centuries. To this end, it was very helpful to designate twelve engineering disciplines. This allowed us to organize the various themes into interrelated thematic paths. Some of them correspond more to "hard" engineering; others, are more conventional. Thus, we have classic engineering fields such as hydro, power, heat, gas, or mobility (transportation), and on the other hand the environment, public health, trade and industry, but also communication.

zamiarem zespołu była przekrojowa prezentacja posiadanych zbiorów zabytków techniki

The team's intention was to present a cross-sectional presentation of its collections of technical relics

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

: What is the biggest difficulty in telling the story of a city through the lens of technology? Most people go through history education on the basis of eras, periods and events.

Peter: Trying to choose key issues without leaving out anything important, and at the same time without introducing too many side threads that came up on their own. What mattered to us was to create as balanced a picture as possible. Sometimes we considered certain threads to be crucial, hence we paid more attention to them, creating key experiences out of them. For example, this was the case of the development of railroads in the era of the first industrial revolution, representing the field of mobility. At other times, these and similar issues turned out to be secondary, and this was the case with ancient or medieval trade routes. Therefore, we paid less attention to them, placing information and materials about them in the background or third. In order to systematize the content in this way, we started our work by creating a large catalog of issues, which we systematically narrowed down, while looking for connections between them.

jak wskazuje Piotr Żabicki, ani dziadek, ani jego wnuczek nie będą się nudzić.

As Piotr Żabicki points out, neither a grandfather nor his grandson will be bored at the exhibition

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

Filip: The most difficult part was the conceptual work, in view of the necessary change of perspective from an event-based to a process-based view. We wanted to look at the city from an engineering angle, to try to understand how the technology of its functioning is changing, to capture how the network of solutions and devices that make up the city, that is, the infrastructure, is transforming. To do this, you need to understand the processes that occur over the centuries, often almost imperceptibly. You need to recognize them in specific material objects.

A great example of this is the elevator cabin from Krakow's Press Palace, presented at the exhibition. With this object we illustrate several coupled issues. First, the progressive change in building materials and techniques since the 19th century: the advent of Portland cement, truss construction, steel, the sloping use of glass, and finally reinforced concrete. These solutions made it possible not only to build differently, but also to think differently about architecture. Cities stopped just spilling out to the periphery, but also began to climb into the sky and go underground - in the second half of the 19th century the first high-rise buildings and subways were built. Thanks to increased structural capacity, buildings begin to count more than three or four stories. And here comes the second issue, or problem: how to efficiently and quickly transport people in several dozen or several dozen-story buildings? An elevator or an escalator, which were also constructed at that time, are concrete technical solutions to overcome this difficulty. Third, thanks to these solutions, it is possible not only to change the approach to construction, but also to make often far-reaching transformations of the urban fabric. In this respect, for example, closely related to industrialization, modernism organized the city space into districts with specific, separate functions: residential, commercial, office or manufacturing. It is with the help of one well-chosen object that we are able to tell the story of such couplings or processes.

Peter: The approach we prefer and show is something quite different from classical school education. It also required changes in our own thinking.

Filip: For us, the fundamental decision was to move, which is difficult to do in the context of exhibitions devoted to technology, the figures of inventors and engineers to the background. In this way, we wanted to give the foreground to the presentation of processes.

opowieść o technice należy prowadzić jako wypadkową bardzo różnych rozwiązań

The story of technology should be conducted as a resultant of very different solutions

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

: I'll admit that it's only now reaching me that I didn't remember a single name from the exhibition.

Piotr: That was our assumption, to tell the history of technology, not the history of technicians.

„Miasto. Technoczułość” starała się na nowo opowiedzieć o historii

The exhibition "City. Techno-sensitivity" tried to re-tell the history of the

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

: How does this, very often invisible at first glance, technology shape the city?

Filip: Fact, when we let the water run at the tap, we don't think about how it gets there or how its cleanliness is taken care of. To put it historically and problematically - the narrative of the exhibition includes a thread related to hydro-technology, which corresponds to the basic human need of satisfying thirst. We drink water to survive and use it to prepare meals, take care of hygiene or do some thing. In ancient times, cities were established along rivers or by lakes, and when water was not so readily available, wells were dug, or aqueducts and simple water supply networks were built. These networks appeared especially when the population of a city grew. The smooth operation of such a system was ensured by gravity in the case of aqueducts, or by mechanical devices such as the Archimedes screw, or the noria, or paddle wheel, for raising water. The water collected in the tanks was filtered using sand.

kuratorom zależało, by muzeum było miejscem, do którego przyjdą rodziny z dziećmi, żeby młodzież była w stanie samodzielnie zwiedzać muzeum.

The curators wanted the museum to be a place where families with children would come, so that youngsters would be able to visit the museum on their own

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

Medieval cities feature moats, planked cloacal pits, or isolated, open gutters. Public intakes such as rows are supplied with water by cisterns collecting rainwater or wooden water pipes fed by pipe-makers capturing water from rivers. Copies of such pipes from Krakow and Gdansk are shown in the exhibition.

These were times when public baths were primarily used, and water intakes were rare in homes. Bowls were used for washing, and potties served as toilets. Bathrooms for good measure in tenements did not appear until the 19th century. This comparison shows how the different systems that emerged, and the degree to which they advanced, defined the functioning of the city. We usually don't pay attention to infrastructure, because it's mostly hidden from our view - we live comfortably until something breaks. The city is changing all the time, but it's hard for us as users who create these networks to see it.

Peter: The story of the development of urban technology is really the story of the development of the comfort of residents.

kuratorzy chcieli odpowiedzieć na kilka istotnych pytań

The curators wanted to answer some important questions - what is a city? How do we perceive it? How does it provide security and opportunity for development? What human needs does it respond to?

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

: This can be seen in the exhibition when the individual toilet equipment appears.

Filip: That's right, with the juxtaposition that on the one hand, bathrooms appear in townhouses, where we have bathtubs , stoves and a toilet with a flush, and on the other hand, the Janus face of this system. That is, a water supply network consisting of water intakes, huge filters for water purification, or pumps pumping it under pressure over great distances through a system of cast iron pipes. Sewage is discharged through a vaulted, built-up sewer system, which replaces open gutters, and is accessed by sewage grates and manholes manufactured, for example, by Stryjeński's or Zieleniewski's Krakow factories - all 19th century.

jak wskazują kuratorzy, najtrudniejsza była praca koncepcyjna, wobec koniecznej zmiany perspektywy z ujęcia zdarzeniowego na procesualne

As the curators point out, the conceptual work was the most difficult, in view of the necessary change of perspective from an event-based to a process-based approach

© Museum of Engineering and Technology

: The exhibition at the Museum of Engineering and Technology, which has been made available to the public, goes beyond the historical shot, as you are also trying to talk about modernity. How have you tried to signal the problems of today's world?

Piotr: In the course of the curatorial team's work, we agreed that we would look into the future, that is, beyond the classic catalog of solutions and answers to the questions of what technology helps today. We made an attempt to indicate what the future might hold and what it might bring. The primary and self-imposed problem was the threats posed by climate change, and we are convinced that this is what will leave the greatest mark on urban development, if only through access to clean water and food, forced migration, difficulties in providing electricity or damage to municipal infrastructure caused by sudden weather events.

The vote has already been cast