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Piotr Średniawa on the powers of the architectural profession

14 of December '22

In connection with the proposed amendments to the amendment and the petition "Let's Defend Architectural Permissions", we are asking questions to people associated with architectural institutions.

In the series have already spoken:

Piotr Średniawa—President of the Silesian Branch of IARP—answers the questions in a slightly longer form than usual.

1. is the extension of authority to civil engineers and construction technician graduates a threat to architects?

Looking from the position of architects' environmental interests, the proposed amendment to the Construction Law, with the final form not quite known at the beginning of December, will undoubtedly be unfavorable to our community. Expanding the possibility of designing single-family houses by construction engineers and technicians with so-called limited licenses runs the risk of taking away a large number of assignments from architects, especially those serving smaller towns. Trivializing the problem, after the amendment, single-family houses will probably be even uglier than they are now, although even now their aesthetics leave much to be desired. However, corporate interest must not obscure the much more serious public interest.

The amendment is also referred to as a deregulation of the profession, but it is really another deregulation of our country's space. Single-family construction is now a very large investment market. In some county offices, more than 70%—80% of building permits issued are for single-family housing. and nationally, 106,000 single-family homes were completed last year. Observing these investments of a very large quantitative scale, one gets the impression that they have completely broken out of any planning and urban planning control. The proverbial "doe urbanism," together with suburbanization are degrading vast spaces of our country, creating an image of chaos, spatial randomness and economic carelessness. Instead of taking measures to halt these processes and initiate a rational spatial policy, in addition, the amendment converts the procedures of the existing building permit only into a notification mode. The practical exclusion of architects with knowledge, training and qualifications in this area leaves this area of investment without any professional service. Entrusting responsibility for the shape of the not at all small development of our country into the hands of civil engineers and technicians qualifies as completely irresponsible, in view of the long-term spatial consequences. It is already difficult to say unequivocally who is responsible for the dire state of space, and after the amendment it will certainly be possible to answer that no one.

Another, yet closely related, problem is that this amendment goes across and against European trends. It contradicts the 2018 Davos Declaration—"Toward a High-Quality Baucaultur for Europe," also signed by Poland's Minister of Culture and National Heritage. Also overlooked in the populist drive is the fact that Europe is currently pursuing the "New European Bauhaus" program.

To quote President Ursula von der Leyen:

But this is not just an environmental or economic project: it must be a new cultural project for Europe. Every movement has its own look and feel. And we need to give our systemic change its own distinct aesthetic—to match the style with sustainability. That's why we will create a new European Bauhaus—a co-creation space where architects, artists, students, engineers, designers will work together to achieve this.

These are not just verbal declarations, but now concrete programs that are being realized and implemented in many European countries. Certainly, the current amendments to the Construction Law are not part of these trends. It seems that, contrary to declarations in actual actions, however, we do not want to be a European country.

2 What should be the focus of the discussion on reforming the architectural profession?

This question is a fragment of a much broader problem, which should be formulated as follows: what regulations at the level of laws and regulations should be changed in order to stop the growing negative phenomena in spatial planning, urban planning and architecture, and thus causing the degradation of the architectural profession in our country? A reliable answer to this question can only be one: all of them. Starting with the de facto dead Law on Spatial Planning and Development, through the permanently amended Construction Law that no longer regulates anything in the field of space shaping, to the convoluted regulations of the Minister of Infrastructure on the technical conditions to which buildings and their location should conform, there is nothing to fix. This is only the tip of no longer a mountain, but a heap of legislative junk. There are at least 50 other regulations related to zoning, along with special laws such as ZRID and Lex developer. This thicket of incoherent laws and regulations creates an unreadable mélange and incoherent picture of the regulation of our reality in which planners, investors and officials are littering.

"The more Pooh looked inside, the more Piglet wasn't there." This now-classic quote from "Pooh's Hut" perfectly illustrates domestic legislative activity. The more laws are processed and passed, the more legal chaos ensues, unfortunately transferring to permanent and physical chaos in the space of our country. The joyful creativity of our parliament in creating and amending laws has the character of a chronic incurable disease. This also applies to laws directly or indirectly related to spatial management, urban planning and architecture, Our architectural community associated in the SARP and the Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland is practically constantly inundated with more or less nonsensical draft laws and regulations, trying with the help of professional laundry service to give opinions and "straighten" the most unfavorable provisions not only for architects, but above all for the quality of space. Unfortunately, very often with mediocre results, as this legislative fever is subordinated to current political interests, or to lobby groups with decidedly greater leverage and clout. Such a situation has for years resulted in practice in only reactive actions by the SARP and the Polish Chamber of Architects, leaving no time or energy to develop coherent views of their own under the pressure of the current legislative rush and fever. Unfortunately, the quite sensible initiative to create a Building Architectural Code died a natural death a few years ago, as did the Act on the Architectural Profession, which was kept in the parliamentary freezer. As a result, we as a community are quite accurately able to point out which regulations are senseless or even harmful, while articulating the desired changes and directions would cause great problems, even if there were such an opportunity.

So why does this happen, despite widespread awareness of the frailty and inefficiency of our legal system. It is not a problem to build a hierarchical legal system regulating land use in its broadest sense, from the macro scale at the city scale to small architecture and advertising. It would only require the reintroduction of a more or less authoritarian political system, which certainly no one wants anymore after the experience of communism. The problem is how to construct an effectively functioning system in a democratic system and a free market economy additionally subject to globalizing trends. We must remember that the construction of such systems in countries such as France, England or the Netherlands is not the result of ad hoc measures, but of a decades-old, if not centuries-old tradition. However, changing the current quasi-legal system in Poland is absolutely necessary, in view of the growing spatial chaos. Amendments to the current legislative regulations will no longer lead to any positive goals unless the fundamental purpose and value system are restored and formulated. These values are elementary truths that space and its quality is an inalienable cultural and civilization value, and caring for its condition is the duty of the entire society including democratically elected authorities, and the destruction and devastation of this space is unfortunately irreversible and its repair will require the efforts of several generations. In fact, these questions posed at the outset are only specific and the answers will boil down to attempts to causally fix the current ailing legal and legislative system. The right questions are not about the need for major or cosmetic changes to the current legal system, but about what kind of space we want to live in, what quality of space we want to create and what kind of space we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren. The repair of the current ailing legislative and formal system should begin with the answers to the fundamental questions thus posed. Finally, it remains to pose the rhetorical question of whether we as a society really want to live in high-quality space, or whether these are unfortunately only verbal declarations.

Piotr Średniawa

The vote has already been cast