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Primacy through coercion?

27 of February '23

The column is from issue 02|23 A&B

These were the biggest embarrassments: school and university primes. Half bad when they glared from behind thick glasses and had pimples; then it was possible to abjure their successes. Worse, when they looked to the point, had a lanky look, and topped it off by yanking stogies around the bushes. You can't help such a one. An equivocator and a smartass all in one. And still the old ones torment you to take an example from him. Do you know? You know.

The pranksters could still be laughed at. For the others there was only one way. To like and use. To take an example, rather not, because it takes effort. But to write off an assignment? To pull off in a written exam? Pair up with a sadist professor on an oral and pull up your grade? That's as good as it gets. And just wait until those eagles get tired, or life pulls a fatter trick on them. Do you know? Noooo. No one will admit to such ploys. And if a person doesn't admit it, he can do so later in life.

Perhaps that's why we sometimes have a poor example to follow. Also in matters of architecture and arranging space. Local governments are sometimes the best in this area. Not always, but often. Heaven forbid that a decision-maker should be publicly shown good practice from another city or region, the worst—from one that for years has been a source of inter-city complexes or resentment.

Such an official will pretend that he hasn't heard our instructions, or recite a whole litany of hastily concocted objections. He will chew them in his teeth for so long until he believes them and convinces himself that there is no point in exploring the subject. Then a few years will pass and—when everyone has forgotten the source of his inspiration—he will con coct something similar, proclaiming that it is his great idea. Only that he'll construct without much understanding. Instead of taking the example, he will write off the task, and thus let the vicious cycle run its course. An idea copied one to one, but under different local conditions, may turn out to be a failure. Also good. Then you can announce that it is an inspiration, and that it was known from the beginning: in our country it will not work like that. Enough of these copycat fancies.

Likewise with investors. Just let a building of an above-average level stand somewhere. At first, everyone hopes that now no one will dare to lower the bar, that they will try—to quote, what the hell, Khrushchev—to catch up or even overtake the level of an extraordinarily successful realization. However, investors somehow don't have the athletic vein and don't want to break records. So they continue to reach for the schoolboy ways. If a project is successful, but has a few pimples, you point them out loudly ("well, maybe it's good, but..."), absolving yourself from any attempt to set an example.

If the pimples are absent and the fly doesn't sit down, then it's good to put something mediocre next to it and marketingly plug in the success (see: getting in with a more capable colleague/talented colleague for an exam). "Five minutes from the city's newest icon," copywriters will choke out. And an extraordinarily good-quality object will either continue to stand out in its surroundings, or it will succumb to them, become decrepit, nailed down and cease to irritate investors without ambition.

Here it is time for a not uncommon dilemma. Are good examples followed by more successful specimens, or, on the contrary, doespoor context drag down a successful object? There is no simple answer, but observations and hunches suggest that the first case is rare in our country. We used to chat about it with Beata Hyczko, who hired me a decade ago to co-create three series of the TV series "Book of Space." The program had a cheerful message, we only showed successful contemporary realizations. However, the more we analyzed our architectural raisins, the more we saw that the crumbling around them was not turning into the likes of them. For every good house in the neighborhood, there were at least a few poor newcomers.

It is apparent that—as in Polish law—in architecture, too, precedents do not influence subsequent practice. Well, maybe with the exception of single-family houses erected by increasingly conscious individual investors (although even here the dull copy-paste principle sometimes works). A significant part of local government and developer implementations stick firmly to poor standards, because no one is forcing investors to raise the bar either. And shaming or stepping on ambition do not work.

An example? Here you go: the so-called Landscape Law. Its creators contrived in good faith that municipal and city landscape resolutions would not, like a study, be mandatory. Local governments, following the example of the brave pioneers, ashamed of their backwardness, were supposed to quickly sort out the aesthetic and advertising chaos on their own. But, darn it, somehow they didn't go. The resolutions went into effect sluggishly and in few localities. In a large number of cities, their drafts are being processed indefinitely. In others- not at all. A good example? It's already there. So what.

So: compulsion? Why not. If only someone would like to study the genesis and circumstances of good practices, and then—based on them—rewrite the laws and regulations in such a way as to force the emergence of better space and architecture! Patch up the loopholes in the law in such a way as to give the least possible combinations. Tighten the screw in such a way that profitable ease will be discouraged. That the cries of zamordyism will start? Well, they will start, sure. But when they banned smoking in pubs, there was also an uproar, and now almost everyone is happy.

So what, take it by the mouth and don't bother promoting good practices? Nothing of the sort. But here, too, innovation is needed. It's not enough to show pretty pictures or announce the winners in the ranking for the architectural wonder of the season. You need to clearly explain why something is good, accurately show in photos or videos without icing, discuss floor plans and sections. And don't be afraid to point out shortcomings even in the highest-rated implementation. And it is best to give the opportunity to experience good examples in person: give a tour, discuss, discuss on the spot. And as an incentive, throw in the fact that if they give an example for free, it's stupid not to take it. Promotion.

Resistors, of course, there will be no shortage, but the list of arguments against taking the example of the primaries will shrink to excuses at the level of elementary school: because, ma'am, they shone so brightly with this example that it blinded me.

Jakub Głaz

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