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Very important inspirations. "Notes of archiculture" - a new series by NIAiU

31 of May '23

An ugly feeling of envy is released by the latest publication of the National Institute of Architecture and Urbanism. Devoted to German cities, the first „Notes on Archiculture” shows how to ensure the harmonious development of architecture and space. It not only promotes good practices and provides inspiration, but spreads a new and necessary concept.

Few people have yet heard of archiculture. No wonder. It's a brand-new term, coined from the German word Baukultur, largely translated as „culture of space.” It is introduced into the Polish language, translated and promoted by the first publication in NIAiU's new series "Notes on Archiculture. Practices and Inspirations" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska (in paper edition or available online here). Written by a group of specialists, the book is part of the institute's "Laboratory of Regions" project , the idea of which is to

seeking inspiration for forms of contemporary architecture in respect for forms that build local tradition.

The whole action, on the other hand, is an offshoot of the Davos Declaration of 2018, often cited in the notebook, titled „Toward High-Quality Baukultur for Europe," signed by European ministers of culture. What, then, is Baukultur/Archikultur more precisely? "Notes” reports that:

It encompasses all activities that affect space: from the details of buildings to urban planning and landscaping [...]. It results in well-designed spaces that change in accordance with social needs and the preservation of their own historical features and properties.

eight cities, eight criteria

This is therefore a holistic approach, the deficit of which in the creation of Polish space is very noticeable. So far, however, there has been a lack of a descriptive term that would not be saddled with both good and bad connotations, such as, for example, spatial order, planning or revitalization. Skillfully applied, the term „archiculture” therefore has a chance to become an understandable shorthand for taking care of all the pieces of the spatial puzzle. But in what is the „high quality of Archiculture” postulated in the Davos Declaration to be manifested? Eight equally important evaluation criteria were introduced: identity of place, functionality, beauty, management, environment, economy, context and diversity.

"Notes of archiculture" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU

Source: Institute of Architecture and Urbanism

Definitions of such criteria are best explored through real-world examples. The first „Notes on Archiculture” therefore presents good practices and inspiration from two German states: North Rhine-Westphalia and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The authors have selected eight small historic towns that have treated their centers in recent decades in creative and historically sensitive ways. The reader gets photos, a description of the towns and the methods of caring for space and architecture used in them.

"Notes of archiculture" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU

Source: Institute of Architecture and Urbanism

On the other hand, on an interestingly designed spread one can see a plan of the historical center with marked types and areas of development. The map is accompanied by pictograms and diagrams showing the entire spectrum of elements that make up the urban fabric: including the layouts of a typical city quarter, characteristic woodwork, roof sheathing and facade colors. Such a synthetic presentation makes it easy to get acquainted with the form and spirit of a place.

"Notes of archiculture" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU

Source: Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning

near and far at the same time

In the rest of the „Notes” these cities are referred to again in subsections describing each of the eight criteria and accompanied by further photographic examples. Thanks to the memorable examples, it is much easier to assimilate the concept of „archiculture” and its components. This, in turn, helps in comparing German examples with the realities of Polish towns and neighborhoods of similar scale or character. It is the intention of the authors that this comparison should provide us with the inspiration contained in the subtitle of „Notes”.

This discernible spatial genius loci is to take us ultimately to Polish regions, to contemporary architecture, to what we create or want to create as authors, investors, residents, local government officials, or observers—all involved in space.

However, much less distance separates Polish and German regions geographically than mentally and culturally. One watches and reads „Notes” like an account of a distant, hard-to-reach reality. And it's not at all thanks to the photos, which—it's always worth taking a correction for—can only show the best parts of the described cities.

"Notes of archiculture" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU

Source: Institute of Architecture and Urbanism

Key instead are descriptions of how deeply and skillfully Germans decode their genius loci and translate it into contemporary guidelines. Attention to the consistency of architectural forms, its high quality while avoiding pseudo-historical mimeticism deserves attention, analysis and imitation tailored to our realities.

do not download without understanding

The protagonist of „Notes” is also sometimes the landscape: views from the city to the surrounding fields not disfigured by chaotic buildings. Such views are a reminder that the borders of many German cities are visible not only on paper, but also in reality. When, after passing the village name board, the orderly development ends, fields or forests begin, without the intrusion of row houses, or new houses scattered here and there.

"Notes of archiculture" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU

Source: Institute of Architecture and Urbanism

Also very important is the theme of space management and concerning its regulation in the described German cities. Good coordination, thoughtful actions, consistency in the implementation of long-term plans are those aspects that are sorely lacking in our incoherent and poorly coordinated reality. Therefore, the effect of reading „Notes” must be new or braided mechanisms of action, rather than—much easier—copying the forms and materials „looked at” in pictures.

"Notes of archiculture" edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU

Source: Institute of Architecture and Urbanism

Will „Notes” and its subsequent editions play a correspondingly large role in arranging Polish space? Let's hope so, especially since the selection of examples in the first volume provides a wide spectrum of ideas and solutions. Half jokingly, one can only worry about the fact that it was German (and not Dutch or Danish) cities that were chosen as the examples shown in the first edition. Practice shows, unfortunately, that both decision-makers and—horror of horrors—architects are often allergic to Germany. They are critical or dismissive of the spatial order there. Boring, formalization, exaggeration, overregulation—these are epithets that can often be heard in Poland when citing a solution from across the western border.

sterile will not be

It's hard to figure out what the reason for this approach is. Is it the result of being mentally held hostage to the domestic mess? Or are complexes or jealousy at play? Either way, we should turn toxic feelings into proficiency. Now we need to use persuasion or creative sub terfuge to get decision-makers to read „Notes” carefully. Translations like "I didn't see that you can do that" or „that's not how it's done after all” will be more difficult later. At most, what will be left is a mantra about "Polish peculiarities" in which nothing is allowed to work as it does elsewhere. We will also probably hear prophecies again that inspiration from Germany will transform Poland into a sterile space without fantasy. No worries, we have inexhaustible layers of fantasy. So it is worth combining it with a more pragmatic and refined approach, Germany we will never be, but we can be a better Poland.

Jakub Głaz

Archiculture Notes. Practices and inspirations. North Rhine-Westphalia. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, edited by Katarzyna Domagalska, published by NIAiU, Warsaw 2022

Scientific editor of publications of the National Institute of Architecture and Urbanism: Bolesław Stelmach

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