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Sink or Soar, or a summary of the year 2022 in architecture (part XV)

23 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 or Soar. We give our Authors total freedom of expression and do not moderate this discussion. Rather, we are very curious about it.

Previous episodes of the series featured:

Robert Konieczny in Sink or Soar 2022 from A&B 01|2023 issue

This year was very intensive for us, we divided our time mainly between Poland and the Czech Republic. Pleasant moments, such as being accepted as honorary members of the Architects of the Czech Republic or the opening of the Miedzianka Shaft, compensated for the hard struggle during the final stage of the conversion of the old slaughterhouse into the PLATO Gallery of Contemporary Art in Ostrava, or the stress of two important projects: the redevelopment of the Fluss factory in Příbor for residential purposes and the expansion of the iconic spa in Ustron. The latter project, on which we are collaborating with Maciek Franta's Franta Group, is primarily aimed at significantly increasing treatment and lifesaving capabilities.

With such a workload, it's not easy to keep track of what's going on in our backyard, but the after-hours work we've done with Tom Malkowski to create the "Archi-Guide to Poland" has helped. The book, which is meant to promote contemporary Polish architecture, was completed literally by a toss-up with a concert hall in Jastrzębie-Zdrój by SLAS architects and a house in Mława designed by James & Mau. And it is these projects that I would like to proclaim the hits of the past year.

Besides, it's been a long time since the projection of a house surprised me so positively. And it made me want to think about it and discuss with the authors why they didn't do it in a more radical way. I guess it's a shame that the building didn't make it to the cover of "A&B" in the domek.pl issue, because it beats the rest of the company to the punch with its interesting space, and that's what architecture is all about, after all. I'm already tired of formal show-offs, behind which there is often absolutely nothing or very little.

And with that, I'd like to move on to putty 2022. An amendment to the construction law, which will come into effect from the new year, will allow technicians and civil engineers to design buildings. The very fact that this is to happen is really weak. But equally weak is the need to create a grassroots petition to prevent this from happening, because at this point I'm starting to wonder again what our Chamber, SARP, is doing, and what kind of a hearing our community has at all, if this keeps happening. Last year I think I wrote about houses up to 70 square meters. The question arises, what influence do we have on real policy? Who is to explain the essence and role of our profession to decision-makers? How many of our representatives sit in parliament, for example? Because doctors or lawyers are certainly not lacking.

I am reminded of the existence of the Chamber of Architects when I have to pay a fee and when "Profession: Architect" comes to the office. Only it's a bit too little, because I don't feel any support from this organization when it comes to important issues for the whole environment, nor the help I would expect as a member, which is the situation I find myself in. For years I have been writing and urging people not to do concepts for free. When one of my clients, after raving about the concept they received, finally disclosed the budget they had, we offered to reduce the area because it was no cheaper. They then asked for a second concept, and when we refused to work without compensation, their lawyer sent a complaint to our Chamber. I imagined that someone would write to us or call us and ask if maybe we didn't need support in the form of, for example, legal assistance, because having paid dues for years, I would expect that. Meanwhile, we received an unpleasant letter demanding an explanation within a short period of time. I decided to call, but we couldn't get any direct phone number for the District Professional Liability Ombudsman, and I had to wait politely for a week, because you can only call the Ombudsman's landline one day a week with the caveat that if it's busy, he won't come to the phone. In the end, I managed, calmly explained everything, but I was asked to email. When we sent letters from the lawyers of both parties as agreed, we again received a call saying that the email sent did not meet the requirements for explanation. It turned out that it had to be by letter... So we sent it. When I thought the topic was already closed, it turned out that two letters came from the Chamber. By priority. I quote an excerpt from the first one: "we call on you to provide written explanations [...] and evidence to support your claims within 14 days [...]", and the second: "we call on you to appear on December 14 at 16:00 at the headquarters of the Silesian District Chamber of Architects to provide oral explanations [...]". Interestingly, both signed by the same person. Like from the Court, only there at least are scenotypes. At this point, I had already begun to seriously wonder why the Chamber was there at all.

I've always been closer to SARP, because it's an organization in which one is not in by necessity, but by personal choice. More elitist by design. Unfortunately, the increasing signals of internal disputes and quarrels coming to me from various quarters have left me increasingly surprised.

I was similarly surprised recently after an article in "A&B" that was an offshoot of what is often, it seems, talked about in our environment. And the talk is about whether PR in architecture is a good thing or a bad thing. The whole article and the statements of those asked were about whether architects should write about their successes and which competitions are important and which are not. Really. In the context of the constant, as I recall, complaining of virtually everyone in the community about the lack of public understanding of how important and difficult our profession is, how poorly paid and how we are undervalued and misunderstood. Is there any logic in this?

Its absolute lack is best demonstrated by the story of one of the many requests I received to publish a post urging people to sign the aforementioned petition. A lady with the nickname "Simple Architect" very much asked me to support the action on the grounds that I am recognizable and have a huge following, which should help the cause. She didn't bother to speak out at the same time in an article about PR in architecture, mocking and making fun of those whose projects and themselves exist in the media, accusing them, in short, of evil itself. I was also asked to publish this post by a colleague from the Chamber, and coincidentally did so when I received the aforementioned priorities from the institution. I told him then that perhaps it would be unwise on my part to make the post available, because when in a while the Chamber, to the glory of Polish architecture, will expel me from its ranks, I will have to go underground to practice this profession. And maybe then I will somehow be able to enter the ranks of technicians and construction engineers to legally do at least houses up to 1,000 cubic meters.

À proposing PR still: when doing the "Archip Guide to Poland", we tried to show each of our colleagues' buildings as well as possible. This was also in order to make as many people as possible fall in love with Polish contemporary architecture. The result was an album with beautiful photographs of exceptional quality, the price of which would have exceeded 400 zlotys like nothing, meaning it would simply be unsellable. The Ministry of Culture is unlikely to help publishers, but fortunately the book was supported by Audi, asking in return to show its new eco-friendly models against the architecture. After difficult talks bordering on withdrawal of support, we ended up with a few photographs, because I know that less is more and everyone benefits then. The price of the book in Empik now does not exceed 100 zlotys, a well-known company instead of advertising, for example, rallies supported architecture, and the book sells, promoting Polish buildings. So it seemed that everyone should be happy. And yet they weren't. Reading the review posted in your esteemed magazine, we learned that the book is more of an Audi- rather than an Archi-guide. What can I say beyond that, while working on this book, I realized even more how difficult it is to publish architecture magazines of such quality as yours, for example. And that without advertising it is absolutely impossible. For me, it is still important that they keep a high level, adequate to all the content.

The argument of the author of this review fits me into the general lack of logic of the situation and contexts I mention here. Unfortunately, these are kits that did not start or will not end in this 2022. In truth, I don't believe this situation will improve anytime soon. The only thing I can do to improve sometime in the future is for the Chamber not to act, to turn these internal disputes in SARP and the energy it devours into agreater openness to the outside world, and to someday end this self-corruption of our environment, is to appeal to the young students of the profession. To their common sense.

Every action not only on oneself is beneficial to each of us. Every success of a colleague described in the media translates into an increase in general awareness and, as a result, serves us all. I could write a lot more, but I will say briefly - in unity strength.

Robert Konieczny

architect, KWK Promes studio

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