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The critics' sadness - a polemic against the text by Tomasz Malkowski [A&B 01/2021].

05 of March '21

Tomasz Malkowski's very engaging text on the hits and putts of 2020 prompted me to reflect briefly. While the polemical value of this text is not negligible, the overtones are quite sad. Especially for someone who, like me, is active in the areas that the text addressed: architecture criticism, training of adepts, organization of competitions (for example, within the framework of successive editions of the International Architecture Biennale conducted by the SARP Krakow Branch) and jurying in competitions.

The melancholy comes not from being the object of attack (not personally, but as part of the attacked environment - this in our profession is the result of public action, even the norm of competition), but rather from regret. It comes from the fact that an undoubtedly talented and gifted author with a light pen falls into classic traps, of course, completely failing to see this, but seeing, in his opinion, the mistakes of others. My reaction to the accusations that both architectural criticism and the choices of competition juries should be classified in the (beautifully named by the Editor) category of "putty", I will present in a few points.

First, I am saddened that Tomasz Malkowski considers as a criterion for lack of success the fact that the architecture awarded in Poland has not "resonated with some louder echo in the world." Stanislaw Witkiewicz and his famous statement about "a pile of garbage carried by the wind from the world "* immediately comes to mind here. With all sympathy for the ambitions of the author, who certainly wishes Polish architecture the best, I believe that one should do one's own thing here and now, and the opinion of the world comes or not; either with time or not at all, depending, for example, on fashion. At the same time, I am neither an advocate of autarky nor an enemy of worldliness, fully sharing Tomasz Malkowski's aversion to socialist realist propaganda. What's more, I share an aversion to absolute political correctness - however, I appreciate, and appreciate a lot, civility.

Secondly, it is a pity that the author did not notice the realization competitions, for example, the competition for the Pomeranian Philharmonic in Bydgoszcz, settled in May 2020 with the cooperation of SARP. Among the many works responding to very difficult, limiting conditions, the jury selected an excellent work by Kozień Architekci of Cracow. It is implementation competitions that set the tone of architecture, certainly no less than the summaries described by Malkowski. Anyway, in my opinion, the urban marina located in Bydgoszcz is really excellent, subtle architecture - regardless of the publication in Wallpaper. Ignorance is bliss, though they lose a lot by not knowing, one might say.

And third, I find it sad that Tomasz Malkowski, while disavowing the choices of others, does not, it seems to me, attempt a philosophy of action: conducting and judging his own competitions. Establishing an association, a foundation, a private company (like the publishers of the serious magazines "Architektura-murator" and "Polityka") organizing the described competitions, or cooperating with a public formation in a competition would give the author the opportunity to influence reality. Besides, they would have made him aware of how difficult the undertaking is - from securing financing, negotiating the terms, agreeing on the composition of the jury, and finally selecting the works themselves from the existing pool.

It would also show a thing that is quite obvious, especially to a supporter of rationalism, individualism, freedom, which, logically, a supporter of Ayn Rand's works should be: a voluntary and especially private organizer of a competition has full freedom of choice, since it is he or she who has the means to carry it out. And even if he or she is guided by categories that others do not share or vividly protest - he or she has every right to do so. What's more, he doesn't have to share Tomasz Malkowski's opinion on "the role of native competitions" or how to implement it. He doesn't even have to choose the forms of architecture at all - I assert this with a love of beauty - but he may want, for example, to inspire potential investors to a certain course of action. Acting in the field of organizing competitions would provide the author with pragmatic experience - there's a reason why wise men recommend that a revolution should always start with oneself. And his taste, however, looks revolutionary, since the text mentions a progressive "leap far ahead," "struggle," that "Utopias can be one of the tools, models or scenarios for building a better world..."

In closing, I will quote another sentence by Tomasz Malkowski: "What once seemed unrealizable, in time, thanks to technology, will become possible." With this opinion of the author, unfortunately, I have to agree - and probably completely contrary to his optimistic, as I can guess, intention. The reality of 2020 (and the beginning of the next year) is, in my opinion, a veritable desert of the real, as Baudrillard wanted, if only existing for understandable, noble reasons of protecting health, safety, life. Technology has enabled not so much utopias, but dystopias full of real isolation, surveillance, digitalization, as described in the 20th century by brilliant classics, from Orwell to Lem.

Therefore, the hit - for the undersigned - is that while following the recommendations to protect noble health, one's own and the public's, we continue to persist, cultivating our beautiful, extremely difficult, field of architecture in all its varieties. In 2020 we operated under conditions of complete reorganization. All the more credit to all the organizers of the competitions - however they took place, none of those criticized by Malkovsky laid down their arms! I think it is not an abuse to say that as an environment we are constantly striving for even more competitions, especially implementation competitions.

What's more, despite all the advantages of online conferences (and even the meetings of competition juries, award presentations and post-competition discussions in this mode), many of us work, stubbornly not giving up the dream of returning to the world of personal meetings, inspirations, studies in a direct form, discussions, lectures, performances, concerts. That is, about returning to creativity under conditions of complete freedom. And I consider this action and this great dream to be the real hits of 2020.


Krakow-Strzyzno, February 2021


* S. Witkiewicz, Styl zakopiański, "Kurier Warszawski" 1891 [in:] tegoż, Pisma zebrane. Art and criticism among us, vol. 1, Cracow 1971, p. 721.

Marta A. URBAŃSKA - Dr. Eng. architect, critic, architectural historian, professor at the Cracow University of Technology. She lectures at home and abroad. Author and editor of publications, translations of architectural literature and exhibitions. Juror of competitions. Conducted field studies of the architecture of historic Polish lands. Member of the Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland, active in the Association of Polish Architects. Winner of awards for public service.

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