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Recovered reconstruction

05 of June '23

Interview from A&B issue 01|2023

Ideas for the reuse of building materials and elements rarely go beyond the experimental phase. Zofia Jaworowska and Petro Vladimirov have shown that it doesn't have to be that way. In a few months they collected more than six hundred windows in Poland and sent them to Ukraine. And they don't want to stop there at all.

Petro Vladimirov

Petro Vladimirov—Ukrainian architect and multidisciplinary artist. Project leader at Direction office. Graduate of the Faculty of Architecture at the Wroclaw University of Technology. During his engineering studies he was an exchange student at the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University. He worked in Ukraine and Denmark at the Henning Larsen office. He participated in art and research projects in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Denmark.

Zofia Jaworowska

Zofia Jaworowska— Social activist for years associated with the third sector. Graduate of MISH at Warsaw University, social anthropology at Goldsmiths' College in London, screenwriting at Prague's FAMU and the Wajda School. At the intersection of activism and creative work, she developed communication strategies and coordinated projects at the Prof. Roman Czernecki Educational Foundation, the Kosciuszko Foundation and SEXED.PL. She developed the Refugees Welcome Poland program; this experience she later turned into founding and coordinating the work of the Resource Group, one of the most recognizable and effective initiatives supporting refugees from Ukraine in Poland. She founded BRDA to expand the space for good, safe and accessible housing.

Alicja Gzowska: What did you do before the war?

Zofia Jaworowska: I worked and continue to work as an interpreter, that's my livelihood, but I've also always been active in various NGOs in parallel. For a long time I wanted to establish my own foundation, which would deal with peri-housing issues. When the war broke out, I focused on the housing needs of Ukrainian refugees in Poland. I really wanted to turn this activity into something long-term, also addressing the needs of those left behind in Ukraine.

Petro Vladimirov: I worked as an architect, the longest in Denmark. I returned to Ukraine a year before the war broke out. I did some architectural and urban planning projects for areas near Kiev, after which I started to toil—and still do—in consulting services at Direction's office, and more specifically product design in the real estate industry.

zespół pakowalny


© BRDA Foundation

Alicja: Why did you take up windows in particular?

Petro: A lot of my friends stayed in Ukraine, and I keep in touch with them all the time. Many of them work in industries related to architecture. Two conclusions came through from our conversations together: first, windows are destroyed first as a result of the explosion, and, second, no windows are manufactured in Ukraine, at most plastic frames are produced. All other materials, primarily glass, came from outside. Up to 80 percent was imported from Russia and Belarus.

Zofia: When the number of arrivals from Ukraine began to decline and more and more people were returning to the country, I began to wonder what kind of housing conditions awaited them there. Since, one way or another, the carbon footprint of this reconstruction will be gigantic, we considered how to minimize the waste of resources that are already available. Hence the idea to help with re-use materials.

mycie okien przed pakowaniem

washing windows before packing

© BRDA Foundation

Alicja: Where did you start?

Petro: We mapped organizations in Ukraine involved in grassroots reconstruction. When we started in July, talking during the ongoing war about reconstruction was quite controversial. Initiatives at the time were few and far between, they were spotty and usually had a variety of models of action. We tried to gather all of them, see what they were doing, how they were operating and what they needed. One such partner for us was the Metalab Foundation's project, Co-Haty. Female and male activists within Co-Hats are renovating and reworking vacant houses in Ivano-Frankivsk, where a lot of people from eastern Ukraine have resettled.

Zofia: The Co-Hats team converted a dormitory and then an old hotel, creating small temporary housing units in them. Since they realize that a „temporary” shelter usually functions for much longer than we assume, they took great care in working with the residents to set up, for example, common spaces and outdoor activity areas.

pakowanie pełną parą

packing full steam

© BRDA Foundation

Petro: We worked experimentally and tested different models of cooperation; our closest partnership was with the District #1 Foundation. The foundation goes to a specific place, clears it of rubble and rebuilds it almost from scratch.

Zofia: We asked them what they needed, how we could help them. Our intuition told us it would be windows, but we wanted to verify this. All Ukrainian NGOs unanimously agreed that the scarce commodity and the first need was windows.

magazyn opróżniony

warehouse emptied

© BRDA Foundation

Alicja: Windows for reuse. How did you determine where they were?

Zofia: We asked manufacturers and distributors to give us old, unused windows, such as returns from shipments or mis-measured windows. This got quite a response, mostly from small manufacturers. Even small family-owned companies had dozens of unused and unneeded windows in their warehouses that they were unable to sell. And a few dozen windows for us is the glazed front of a large apartment building. The second source was individuals who found out about our project from the radio, online articles or social media. It was from them that we obtained most of the windows. When we got a lot of requests from a particular region, we would arrange with the irreplaceable Robert Godlewski (Solideco company) on a fixed day to drive his van and my car to pick up the windows. To this we rented trailers (I learned to drive with a trailer and it's quite a challenge!) and hit the road to collect the windows.

magazyn fundacji BRDA w Warszawie

BRDA Foundation warehouse in Warsaw

© BRDA Foundation

Alicja: The largest single transport of windows?

Zofia: The biggest one was helped by Piotr Jarosinski, a driver recommended to us by Envio Group, with whom we did all the transports, somewhat cheaply and often on terms that are not usually particularly welcomed. This is not a transport of goods from point a to point b, but a complicated route with many stops and loadings. We had such a transport that we went to Opole, then to Katowice via Wieliczka, Chorzów and Kędzierzyn-Koźle. We then needed Peter's additionally rented truck and brought more or less two hundred and fifty windows to Warsaw. Lodz, Mazovia was also very fruitful—there are a lot of windows around Radom, a great place on Earth!

Petro: I contacted people running a similar initiative in Switzerland. They were surprised by the social side of our project. We did a lot ourselves, but we had a lot of friends and people helping. To pay for the transports, we organized a crowdfunding campaign. We promoted the drop on the radio and in newspapers to reach as wide as possible. The project is not based on volunteerism, but has a very social character.

Zofia: Yes, the strength is in the community. That's what you can draw energy from in difficult times, to nevertheless not give up and move forward. This project attracted wonderful, warm people. They were happy that something that stood pointlessly in the garage and took up space would be of great value to someone else. We collected these windows in a warehouse, which was accessed by small stairs, so everything had to be carried. Sometimes we had help to do it, sometimes we didn't, so you can imagine how those two months drained us physically. Then we cataloged these windows, which turned out not to be very helpful to our recipients in Kiev, who sorted it all their own way and measured it again. This showed us how difficult it is to coordinate such Polish-Ukrainian cooperation in wartime.

okna pakowane na drugą ciężarówkę i wyjazd

Windows packed onto a second truck and leaving

© BRDA Foundation

Alicja: You weren't looking for replacements for something as fragile as windows?

Zofia: No. We also didn't want to haul the windows themselves, because with such a grassroots campaign and transport to Kiev, many of them would simply break. It is more difficult for people who have no experience to glaze a window than to insert a complete one with a frame. We tried to simplify the process as much as possible, to avoid searching for the right frames, cutting and so on. People usually dismantle windows in their entirety during renovations; these windows can't just be thrown away, you have to pay for waste pickup, so they are usually kept in garages and basements.

 przyjazd pierwszej ciężarówki z oknami do Kijowa

The arrival of the first truckload of windows in Kyiv

© District #1 Foundation

Alicja: There is no certainty how long such windows will serve. It may happen that only a few days....

Zofia: Yes, this is possible, but it's no reason to give up action. First of all, we don't know for sure if it will happen. Second, if it happens, we will collect from scratch. And a few days, weeks, months longer in our own home is a great value.

Petro: Reconstruction initiatives most often operate in territories liberated from occupation, where residents are already returning and where rocket attacks are virtually gone. What's more, if we have a two- or three-pane window, it's more durable and resilient than the most common post-Soviet wooden, single-pane windows.

Zofia: Packing the windows for transport was a very cool and fun endeavor. A large group of male and female volunteers gathered, including some great guys who immediately got to work and carried for four-five hours at a time without a break. You could see that they exercise every day, so for them it was a form of fitness, but with an added social element. There was music, pizza and a lot of friends and people who simply signed up via Instagram. There were various tasks, not just carrying, also packing, strapping, nailing pallets—everyone found one they were comfortable with. Work went from 9 almost on tape and by 3 pm everything was packed. At the pale dawn the transport left and a few days later it was already in Kiev, at the warehouse, where it was taken care of by the District #1 Foundation, with which we are already planning further activities.

 magazyn District #1 Foundation w Kijowie

District #1 Foundation warehouse in Kiev

© District #1 Foundation

Petro: Today [20/10/2022—editor's note] they published a post that they are giving away the collected windows and you can claim them. We, for our part, are helping them reach out to those in need, encouraging Poles who hosted Ukrainian families who have already returned home to write to their guests and inform them of our action.

Zofia: We know that one window and balcony door has already been picked up by a family [as of 20/10/2022—editor's note], these photos of the „new owners” of the windows on Instagram will start to arrive soon. We're starting to see how the project is really making an impact, whether it's really an effective aid, how many of these windows will be used. This weekend we're shooting a tutorial in Ukrainian on how to install a window that's a little bigger or smaller than the previous one, or how to install a window sash without a frame, because we sent one too.

Alicja: What is the cost of shipping one window? From receiving to unpacking in Kiev?

Zofia: About 100 zlotys. And we transported a total of six hundred and thirty windows.

okna wkrótce zostaną zainstalowane w budynku szkoły podstawowej w Hostomelu

The windows will soon be installed in the elementary school building in Hostomel

© District #1 Foundation

Alicja: How much does it cost to buy and bring a new window to Ukraine?

Zofia: A new window in Poland costs from several hundred to several thousand zlotys—depending on the size and parameters. Plus transportation. By force, a used window is incomparably cheaper. Plus you don't use energy and other resources to manufacture it.

Alicja: What ideas do you have for continuing operations?

Petro: We are thinking about more window shipments. After we took windows to Ukraine, we showed that we are effective, and manufacturers are starting to approach us. Perhaps the next part of the project will be based on closer cooperation with them, while receiving woodwork from private individuals.

Zofia: We are doing a research project with the National Institute of Architecture and Urbanism. We are trying to assess how much recycled materials (not only windows) there are in Poland and Ukraine, who has them and what they are. With the invited experts we will think about what can be done with such resources and how to distribute them further as, for example, an aid tool and a form of support for vulnerable groups (low-income households, victims of war or disaster, fire).

Petro: We will also think about activities along the line of producer (having recycled materials)—architect/designer—client (developer/construction company). This path is very difficult in Poland. We imagine that an architect could have access to a fairly comprehensive database of recycled materials. Described according to parameters that will allow him to find out whether he can use them—but not by fitting them into his design, but by creating a design based on what is already available. That is, somewhat reversing the typical creative process.

Zofia: That's why we will also talk to architects about what would make it easier for them to design taking into account the use of such materials. Certainly it's the parameters and how to obtain knowledge about them. Recently, thanks to a friend from the Cyrkl platform, we learned that in Poland there are almost no laboratories for testing samples of building materials. They are usually sent abroad, which involves costs. Perhaps this can be done at the legislative level in Poland? Perhaps it may be worthwhile to assist with advocacy efforts in this area?

Alicja: One can expect problems with the structural strength of such materials?

Zofia: We're no longer thinking about piles of bricks in someone's backyard, but rather on a larger scale: manufacturers and distributors who have—as we discovered with the windows—large unused resources that are in good condition and that have not been considered so far. For example, one Rotterdam-based design bureau made playgrounds and urban furniture out of windmills dismantled from a wind farm [Wikado Playground, proj.: 2012Architecten, project continuing under Superuse Studios—ed. note]. They cut them into different pieces and created beautiful places. There are plenty of playgrounds or outdoor gyms being built. Of course, first you need to know that you have such a fantastic resource as decommissioned windmills, and how many there are. Fifty? You can make fifty playgrounds, which local governments are putting up anyway. But you do it twice as cheap.
At the same time, we try to point out that the topic of reconstruction in Ukraine should be approached subjectively. We may have resources to share, which will be used there according to the needs. But we don't want to impose projects or our vision of reconstruction on the people in Ukraine. The farther away from danger, the easier it is to imagine Ukraine as a playground for architects and builders. It's great that people are thinking about this. But we want to give tools with which people on the ground will do what they themselves think is right. They are the ones who know best what they need.

 plac zabaw Blade Made w Terneuzen, zrealizowany w 2016 roku przez Superuse Studios; pierwowzorem był plac zabaw Wikado w Rotterdamie z 2009 roku

Blade Made playground in Terneuzen, realized in 2016 by Superuse Studios; the original was the 2009 Wikado playground in Rotterdam

© Superuse Studios

Petro: There are a lot of initiatives at the moment. Some appear, others disappear or transform. It's an ongoing experiment. For example, someone who knew how to lay bricks is acting as a supervising engineer a few months after the war broke out. Everything is in progress, everything is the art of flexibility and adjusting to the situation. We were anxious to get the windows to Kiev before winter. Now, in autumn, no one builds outside anymore, temperatures drop, initiatives focus on interior renovations. Our research project and subsequent window plans are also about constantly monitoring what works and what doesn't.

Zofia: There is a global debate about how to act on reuse of resources on a larger scale. And what comes to mind so far are changes at the legislative level that simplify the use of recycled materials. I envision an institute for qualifying and inventorying the materials used in projects, which would create a sort of nationwide registry, a database. Everyone who builds would be required to state exactly what materials they use. When that building is dismantled, it would be easy to see which materials could be reused.

Petro: The result is designing in a completely different way. If you know that your building will be dismantled in fifty years, you try to facilitate the recovery of these materials, you create documentation accordingly. That's why we focus on architects, because taking this approach changes the way we do architecture in general.
Zofia: Okay, making recycled stuff available cheaply to architects, builders is one thing. The other, equally important, is making things available for free to people who need them. When we were collecting windows, we were approached by several people from Poland needing to replace their windows with airtight ones, or just windows, because they have had plexiglass put in instead of woodwork for ten years. By helping others, by engaging social energy, our project has a chance to gain serious scale. Not to be just an experiment of a few crazy people, but to resonate more loudly as a way of realizing useful activities in a double dimension—social and environmental—at the same time.

Alicja: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Alicja GZOWSKA

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