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Sink and soar: A summary of the year 2022 in architecture (Part I)

02 of January '23

The end of December—because that's when we finished preparing the January issue—is the best time for all kinds of summaries. And like every year, we ask practitioners and architecture critics to write what they consider a success and what they consider a failure in a given year. We do it in the convention of Sink and Soar. We give our Authors freedom of expression and do not moderate this discussion. Rather, we are very curious about it.

Oskar Grąbczewski in Sink and Soar 2022 from the A&B 01|2023 issue.

I would like to set aside for a moment the affectionate title „Hits and Kits” and reflect on things far beyond the scale and problems of our architectural mini-world.

Without a doubt, the worst thing to befall us in 2022 is the war at our borders—Russia's brutal, thuggish assault on Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of casualties, millions of refugees, destruction of entire cities, torture, rape, looting—we learned about such a war from the history books of World War II and hoped that it would never return to our side. Unfortunately, the thesis of the end of history turned out to be untrue. One by one, more myths are collapsing before our eyes—about a predictable Russia, with which, such as it is, it is worth doing great business and having a dialogue, mocking, by the way, the anti-Russian phobias of the dastardly Polish and Baltic right-wingBaltic right-wingers, about the infallible European Union, which under the leadership of wise, generous, supportive, noble Germany will build a new, better world—a green deal based on Russian gas... China, let into the world's living rooms, which was supposed, according to all the wise men, to follow the fast path of democratization and liberalization, has just pulled the reins, short-circuited the ranks and extended, in a truly Putin-like fashion, the term of office of its president and one-man ruler, increasingly called the new emperor. This is a very painful insight.

In the midst of all these bitter disappointments, a small ray of hope: fortunately, the myth that had been hammered into our heads for years about xenophobic, dark, stingy and backward, and sometimes even „fascist” Poles also turned out to be completely untrue. It turned out that in a moment of real trial, we showed great heart by opening not only our borders, but also our homes, parishes, hostels, community centers, bishop's palaces and religious houses to millions of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Regardless of our differing political, moral, worldview issues, from right to left we behaved as we should. Our state, too, by acting as an advocate of the Ukrainian cause from the first moments of the war, providing massive military and financial assistance and acting as a giant hub transferring international support to Ukraine, rose to the occasion. May this realization be an opportunity for us to look back on our identity with pride, may it allow us to endure difficult moments, may it not deprive us of self-criticism, but at the same time prompt us to look reasonably and critically at thelies spread about us, regardless of whether their authorship is foreign or domestic, and whether the cause is bad intentions, a desire to make a good business out of our infamy, provincial complexes, masochism or sheer stupidity.

And what can I say about architecture in the context of all these events? The first handful of reflections are, of course, directly related to the war. Blocks of apartment buildings destroyed by artillery shelling, through torn or perforated facades showing the interiors of dwellings, ruins in which terrified people seek protection from shells, remind us of the most important and often forgotten function of architecture, which is precisely to give shelter. Criticized so readily and widely, concrete has again become a symbol of safety and durability. And at the same time—a beautiful act by Polish architects, who, under the auspices of Shigeru Ban, created with their own hands arrangements of cardboard and fabrics of abandoned halls for temporary shelter for refugees. Concrete and cardboard—such extremely different materials used for the noblest purpose—to provide people with protection, to create living conditions, to survive.

In May, during Millennium Docs Against Gravity, I had the honor of opening the screening of a film about the extraordinary Ukrainian architect Florian Yuriyev. „Infinity According to Florian” tells the story of the struggle of the artist, who is standing over his grave, terminally ill, to preserve unchanged his magnum opus—the building of the Institute of Information, also known as UFO, from the characteristic shape of the auditorium. It's a story we unfortunately know a lot of: a prominent building neglected for years, a feisty developer building a giant shopping mall into whose area he wants to incorporate an unwanted monument, remodeling it as he sees fit, and even more willing to demolish anything he deems unnecessary. And facing the omnipotent business shark is a ninety-year-old ailing man, making a pilgrimage in defense of his work from Annas to Caiaphas, taking stock, under the camera's eye, of his uneasy life and extraordinary multifaceted work—architectural, painting, music—for which he was persecuted in Soviet times. Although the outcome of this showdown seems obvious, a miracle happens in the finale. The building avoids destruction, the architect dies with the knowledge that he left his mark on the earth.

I don't know if Yuriyev's building will also survive the turmoil of war. I wish it would, and that it would serve for many more years. I would like to see all of Ukraine rise from its wartime devastation, and I would like this to happen with new, ecological and human-friendly architecture. I would like to see the highest quality buildings—new and rebuilt, forming a beautiful, harmonious whole. I realize that this is far-fetched naiveté on my part, pure water dreaming. But the story of Florian Yuriyev teaches that it's worth fighting to the end, against all odds, that you just have to stand up for what you believe in, stand by your beliefs, don't give up. This is what I wish for both Ukrainians and Poles.

Oskar Grąbczewski—architect
OVO Grąbczewscy Architekci

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