Interview from A&B issue 7-8|2022
The architectural environment is changing. "The cult of the individual" or the myth of the architect-demiurge is fading into oblivion, in favor of the practice of conscious collaboration and open communication of what design work is all about. What is professional success for the younger generation? What kind of architecture do they dream of? - Alicja Gzowska discusses.
OSSA Megalopolis, Gliwice, 2007
conversation with Apolonia Slesarow, Alicja J. Stefaniak, Jakub Kaczynski, Malgorzata Rybak and Anna Piątek
Alicja Gzowska: You are organizing the first post-Pandemic Meetings. Under what motto?
Anna Piątek: We deliberately chose a concept that can be found in many areas: social, cultural, architectural or geographical. We don't want to impose a specific framework.
Jakub Kaczynski: OSSA topics are always very open. We tried to give a general idea, which each participant will be able to interpret in his own way. This seems to us the most important aspect of the overall workshop.
OSSA Rector's Hours, Lublin, 2008
Alicja G: What is your idea, how will this workshop differ from previous editions?
Jakub: The most important thing is to return to real meetings after the pandemic, to establish normal relations with other students in a specific space. Because online workshops were something different, less intense and human.
Margaret: OSSA, by having topics formulated in such a general way, offers many avenues of exploration. It's an important alternative to the forms of discussion or education as we know them, it's less formal and obliging. That's why we are keen to co-create this platform for free dialogue and exploration, where you can open up, talk, meet other students and professionals, and learn from their practice.
Anna: OSSA is one way of showing that architecture is not just a building, but very many different disciplines. Some time ago, in the merit team, we made introductions for each other on the topic of "atrophy" and everyone prepared something completely different, everyone interpreted the topic differently. We even used different forms of communication. There were drawings, poems, descriptions, as well as research on the previous representation of the topic in art and architecture. It's great that our perspectives are so different.
Apolonia Slesarow: This shows how many possibilities and ways architecture offers. Since we prepare introductions on one particular topic in extremely different ways, how can we achieve professional success or self-realization in the same way? One of the mainstream ways could be the kind of "dream path" that P2PAs are following now, to win a big competition as young designers, which will allow them to open their own office and realize spectacular projects. It seems to me that a lot of offices used to start that way. The question is whether we don't want to go a different way, to design and work differently. It's not that any of the options is better. There should be diversity, so that we have discussion and development.
OSSA Entropy, Szczecin, 2014
Alicia G: Not enough is said about other career options after architecture?
Jakub: Yes. That's why OSSA was created, which tries to make students aware that if you're in architecture, you don't have to limit yourself to it at all. Usually tutors who are not related to traditional architecture are invited to the workshops. Those who want to create something unique. Sometimes it's a unique space or illustration, and sometimes it's just an unconventional approach to a topic. In this case, mostly to architecture.
Apolonia: Recently at the Westival, this is what I found very interesting. All the offices, all the participants, who are architects by training, represented different paths of action and development. For example, the Trzupki duo (Monika and Tomasz Trzupek), who do painting and graphic design, or JEJU.Studio, which does social projects, such a socio-ecological approach... That's what I've always really liked about architecture, that it's a conglomeration of different directions. You don't have to build museums and philharmonics, you can act locally, you can just do exhibitions or design a product.
OSSA Transport, Gdynia, 2016
Alicia G: And it's not that the choice is too big and overwhelming?
Apolonia: There may be a lot of discussion for the moment, but if we start to look closely to see if people are actually following different paths and realizing themselves in them, the list narrows down for us. It's true that there may be a lack of courage, opportunity or simply luck. It's one thing to choose and another to actually find your niche. With that said, in some cases we don't know what other young architects are doing, because we just don't see them. Very many of my friends have gone abroad and they praise it. Taking a job after graduation, whether your first, second or third job, is really a clash with reality, sometimes very difficult. And finding your path in all of this takes time.
James: Yes, everything takes time. You can't learn something in a month, you have to spend hours learning the program or the regulations. Ideally, you should decide what you want to do in life at the beginning of your studies. The earlier, the easier it is to develop in that particular direction. But that's impossible, because especially at the beginning no one knows what they really want to do. Even in their master's degree, students don't know what they want to do. Actually, they know that they don't want to do architecture, which is quite interesting. At the same time, they've spent so much time on it that they just go for broke. What should they do, start another study? It's not easy, because the "real" life starts, you have to start earning....
Margaret: What Cuba said, that it's best to start specialization as early as possible, this creates strong time pressure, another vicious circle, very tiring in studies. I think we have time and can find our specialty at our own pace. It is important to focus on what we really believe in. Getting lost and rushing around becomes frustrating.
Apolonia: When we look for some encouragement or motivation from the older, practicing generation, all we hear about is how bad, terrible and hard it is. Maybe that's also why a lot of people don't have the strength to pull it off and give up.
Anna: I've noticed with myself that the farther into the woods with architecture, the more I learn about the architectural profession in Poland and its realities (not myths!), the more doubts I have. So many myths had to be verified during my studies. People not connected with the industry kept saying that an architect is such a great, widely respected and well-paid profession....
Apolonia: Yes! Or the stereotype of Norman Foster, the rich guy, about whom it is said: "he's the one who designed this building". One does not say: "he designed it and two hundred and fifty other people who work in this office". There is only him, Norman Foster. And that's why maybe there's also such a push to be an individualist. And then it turns out that you simply can't do anything by yourself, to build even a house, you need a team, tradesmen and so on.
OSSA Great Beauty, Wroclaw, 2017
Anna: Yes, this is not talked about clearly enough in Polish universities. I was always aware in the back of my mind that designing a building is the work of a group of people, but it was only during my student internship that I understood that it often falls on the architect to coordinate the project. No one prepares you for the fact that half of your work day will be answering phones and answering emails. In college, all of our projects are conceptual, only the engineering design is expanded to include some features of the construction project. No one says that we divide the project into conceptual, construction, detailed design and, if we need to make corrections, replacement. We also don't feel prepared to work with officials and the investor as often as in reality. Only at work did I understand how much depends on other people.
Alicja J. Stefaniak: At Polish universities, and consequently in architectural studios, people who know their stuff - experts - are rarely listened to. Landscape architects are not invited, no one from interiors is invited. We demiur architects want to do everything ourselves, every detail, the doormat in front of the door and every patch of lawn. Sociologists or others who could help us, for example, are not allowed to speak, and thus we lose a lot. This is also one of the reasons why people get discouraged and leave, because simply such a system of work may not suit them.
Apolonia: And both OSSA and the aforementioned Westival are a dialogue to help realize that architecture is a collaboration. Based on our different experiences, capabilities, we can create something holistic. If we honestly talked about it, it would be easier to see this and help each other, maybe so many people would not give up on architecture. It was great at the Westival to listen to practicing architects who exchanged their experiences on how to make money, how to run an office and gave each other advice. There is not enough group work at universities, it is not emphasized how important it is. You do a project, get a 5.5, they say you have the diploma of the year and you're the best in general, and then it turns out that everything is based on cooperation anyway, for which no one prepared us. It's not about being the best individual, it's about being able to effectively work something out together. The cult of the individual, I hope, is already going away, and I think we already recognize what the environment should look like.
James: That's why student internships are so important, in my opinion. As early and as often as possible, so that students see what architecture looks like in everyday life. Because it's only at work that a student is able to see that it's impossible to do everything yourself.
Apolonia: Now I think that if I had had an internship before, I would have just dropped out of college :X
Going back to myths, the topic of money often comes up in conversations, and recently we were wondering in the office, what kind of money are we talking about? Does everyone want to make millions and be Norman Foster? Do we all have to build skyscrapers? My office is very keen to participate in tenders and in municipal investments. It's not popular, but it's also possible to make money from it, and above all, you can, for example, build a school for children in the countryside who badly need it. Only this is not what the architectural portals will write about. We need to think about what we want. Is our goal to be on the covers and in the top 10 richest? That's why it's necessary to crack down on these phantasms. The sooner we get rid of it and start making ourselves and others aware that it doesn't look like that, the better for us, our environment and our work.
Alicia JS:Yes, we have a serious problem with public awareness of what an architect does. I think most of us are here for ideological reasons. We don't expect to be billionaires flying private jets right out of college. Rather, we go to these studies to create nice things, but also to simply give something from ourselves. How are outsiders supposed to know what goes on in closed architectural offices that don't show the day-to-day work? Instead, they get the catchy image that an architect walks into the office, sketches a building, which is ready three days later, and money is immediately poured in! The design and construction process is obscured, making the architect's work seem worthless. Maybe we should make a series for Netflix about what the job is like on a daily basis, so that it finally resonates.
Anna: "The Office" in an architectural version, that would have to be interesting.
Apolonia: During the Westival, we thought about how to show the design process using the example of preparing the work for the competition for the expansion of the Museum of the Deeds of the Uprising in Mount Saint Anne. Showing it to an audience that is in no way related to architecture, translating it into their language and still trying to get them interested in it proved to be very difficult. As long as people don't understand what an architect does, they don't have respect and trust in him. We are far from a model where a client comes to the office knowing his work, trusting him and entrusting him with some of the decisions. In Poland, we have a situation where someone comes and says "please do so-and-so," and there is no discussion. Design offices need to make money, so they agree to such conditions.
Jakub: In the West, you can choose an architect, because there are reasonable minimum prices set for their services. And in our market, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a bottom. The bottom is not even zero, because it happens that architects subsidize the business. So what if someone does a great design, if the investor selects someone cheaper? And this is how large estates are built. Pathology without a specific idea, just because it was the cheapest. It seems to me that this should be top-down - minimum prices, below which we do not go.
Anna: We have a regulation of architect's fees, that's what you can somehow rely on.
Jacob: And who sticks to that? No one!
Alicia JS:It's interesting that we talk about rates and the law, and neither of us has a practice. We are such student-workers at the beginning of our journey, some of us haven't graduated yet, and we already know that a lot of people are working below the absolute minimum wage. We don't say, "wow, but it's going to be great once we're these grown-up architects," we just talk about such sad things....
OSSA Vision, Lodz, 2018
continued conversation on next page