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Robert Konieczny on the condition of the architectural profession

31 of March '22

The article appeared in the April issue of A&B.

The architectural profession is and will always be associated with great responsibility, and this can weigh heavily. The more ambitious a person approaches the profession, of course, the more so. At KWK Promes, we know what this pressure is. However, something else hurts me: the rates for architectural projects in Poland are embarrassingly low, and here no one else is to blame but ourselves - the architectural community. This is something that simply does not fit in my head.

We design in various places abroad, at the moment in Germany, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, among others, and everywhere these amounts are more or less 10 percent of the value of the investment. In our country it is valued much worse. When we were looking for a partner office for the PLATO Contemporary Art Gallery project in Ostrava, we found that regardless of the rank of the studios, the rates were more or less the same, ranging from very good offices to the very average ones proposed by the city.

It kills me that it is common to do concepts for free. It's especially sad that this is also practiced by people from whom we wouldn't expect it, people who head large studios, established architects. First the concept, then only the signing of the contract. This gets clients used to the idea that it costs nothing to think.

From the Garden House

From the Garden House

Photo: Jakub Certowicz, © KWK Promes

Let me cite an example that makes it clear how we ourselves as an environment shoot at our own goal. We were invited to a closed competition for a residential building in Katowice. In addition to us, the investor turned to two more studios from Silesia and two from Warsaw. All quite well-known. The project at this location already had a longer history. We were provided with documents for this project, part of this documentation was already lying with us in the office. We were after discussions with the investor, who was convinced that he wanted to carry out this investment with KWK Promes, but came up with such a closed competition to compare different solutions. I thought: OK, sure, why not? The investor asked all the studios to prepare bids for his proposed scope of development. We sent a quote. After some time I received a phone call from the assistant, I was somewhere on the road, and heard that someone from that company had arrived and taken the project documentation. I knew what was up. I always take a swipe at such customers, but this time I decided to call the head of that company.

At the outset I heard something like this: "Mr. Robert, I am shocked, I did not expect this from you. All those who approached this competition did not want any money at all for preparing this concept. One Silesian company demanded reimbursement only for the visualizations. I have the impression that KWK Promes is trying to stretch us."

From the Garden House

Photo: Jakub Certowicz, © KWK Promes

What does he want to show by citing this story? It was absolutely normal for almost everyone to do this for free. Just this investor was not aware of this, but he quickly asserted himself. And after all, we could have even agreed on simple rules together - remuneration or at least reimbursement for the work done and time spent. Because that's how it should work.

What did I reply to that man? I told him thus: "Listen, I have a proposition! The weekend is coming up, come by my place in the Ark, we'll sit down, I'll tell you something and show you." Indeed he came, not alone, with partners, with whole families, campers. I spent the whole day making them aware of what design, especially conceptual work, is all about, and that it is absolutely the most important part of any project. I explained to them that if someone doesn't get paid, it means that they don't have the time to spend -nineteen, -tens or -hundred hours to come up with something specifically for them, they just go for the easy way, meaning they either decalcify something or do something wrong. I used several examples to show that some of the realizations they know have their counterparts in the West, only those there are usually a little better and were created much earlier. I explained to them that by acting in this way, they themselves become hostages to how things are designed, and this is unfortunately common in our country. This is a big problem of Polish architecture. In fact, it is not talked about at all. Even among architectural critics, no one writes about it, no one deals with it, and no one dares to speak about it loudly, because all hell would break loose. But this is a separate, extensive topic. Coming back to the story, I managed to open the eyes of these investors, to show that by taking such offers seriously, they are more than likely condemning themselves to copy-paste solutions, rather than the top-quality architecture they expect.

From the Garden House

Photo: Jakub Certowicz, © KWK Promes

I could tell many more similar stories, which shows that as an environment we have managed to deplete ourselves. And the sad thing is that the heroes of such stories are even top names. So what can you expect from young architects, people who are just beginning their professional path or lesser-known studios? The worst thing is that the consequences of doing concepts for free or underpricing affect us constantly. I recently heard again that our pricing of design work is much higher than average and that we should revise it. Interestingly, this is happening at a time when prices in the construction market are rising like crazy, and I really can't fathom why this isn't causing our rates to rise naturally. I keep saying, and even more so today when there is so much work, that it is better to do less and decently for good money than wholesale and shoddily for a pittance.

When we opened the exhibition in Paris, one of our guests was the architecture critic writing for "L "Architecture d "Aujourd "hui" Jean-Philippe Hugron. He gave a very interesting opening speech. Some people in the Polish part of the audience felt offended by this speech. Jean in a very funny, but also brutally honest way characterized Poland as a country without interesting reference points. Actually without any reference points for designing something interesting.

He concluded by saying that my studio acts like Rem Koolhaas, who designs without such reference points, only he does it on purpose, and we have no choice. Personally, I don't agree with his view and I think he puts things too harshly, but that's his right, because he's a critic. He has been to Poland twice, and I also didn't know that he stopped by my lecture when I was admitted to the Academie d "Architecture two years ago. Our country has long interested him, because he is also an architectural historian. Why do I mention him and what he said in the context of what I mentioned above? Because treating the time we are supposed to spend on concepts, on creative thinking, in such a way that we sell it for free results in something like this. This, of course, is not the only trouble.

From the Garden House

Photo: Jakub Certowicz, © KWK Promes


Not much has changed in this regard over the years. I hope that those younger than me will read this, although it is hard to hope that they will not act this way. Because they, after all, have it the hardest. If the environment spoils from the top, from people who seem to be authorities, I understand how hard it is for young people without a name to act differently. In my youth, I myself was ready to almost bust my balls to get an assignment, to make a name for myself. Only now I can also afford to do projects for ideas and visions, often dedicating long months or even years to them. But that's another thread and a topic for a separate conversation.

So let me conclude with something obvious: we need to value our time and our work. If we don't respect ourselves, no one will respect us. I have been saying this for a long time and nothing, in my opinion, is changing. Such a seemingly simple matter, to do one's job well with clear rates and decent pay, is impossible in our country. The labor unions have not done anything effective on this issue for years either. At the moment, I explain our self-defeat only by some genetic defect, an affliction of this particular Polish land, because I cannot explain it to myself in any other logical way.

Robert Konieczny
KWK Promes

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