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Urban chaos as a spatial problem. A conversation with Marek Kaszynski

18 of September '23

The article is from A&B issue 7-8|23

Urban chaos is the biggest spatial problem in Poland. Marta Kulawik discusses the problem with Łukasz Drozda, who speaks from the perspective of a political scientist and author of several books on urban planning, Piotr Mazik, who answers questions as an art historian, high-altitude guide and, above all, a Zakopanian, and Marek Kaszynski, recently chairman of the council of the Malopolska Regional Chamber of Architecture.

Marek Kaszyński

Marek Kaszynski - IARP and SARP architect. Chairman of the Council of the Małopolska Regional Chamber of Architects since April 2023. From 2019 to 2023 President of the SARP Krakow Branch. Judge and competition secretary. He runs the author's studio Marek Kaszyński Studio Architektoniczne.

Marta Kulawik:InApril of this year, you were elected Chairman of the Council of the Malopolska Regional Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland [hereinafter: MPOIA - editor's note]. I will ask you about issues that happened before, but now you are, as it were, the voice of the Chamber. Has the Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland [hereinafter: IARP - editor's note] done anything to stop the harmful law allowing the construction of houses of up to 70 square meters without a permit?

Marek Kaszynski:Indeed, I would rather talk about plans for the future than about past events. The Chamber of Architects took a position on the issue of single-family houses of up to 70 square meters, highlighting all the risks associated with the proposed legislative changes - both risks for architecture and urban planning, as well as for architects and investors. This took place within the framework of a broad debate, with the participation of the National Council of the Chamber of Architects in consultation with the district chambers.

Marta:What are the effects of these regulations coming into force? I mean the effects on the architectural industry and the prestige of the architectural profession, because the landscape effects are already visible to the naked eye.

Marek:In my opinion, the prestige of the architectural profession does not depend on parliamentary laws, but on the ethical principles we set for ourselves - these remain unchanged, the duty of an architect is, quoting the Code of Ethics of the Architectural Profession: "to uphold the highest standards necessary for the development of culture and the built environment."

Marta: Another controversial law is lex developer. This is a housing speculative law that has been in effect since 2018. What comments have been made on this bill by the architectural community, including the Chamber representing this professional group? Were any of them successfully pushed through?

Marek: As in the case of single-family houses with a construction area of up to 70 square meters, the extensive debate on the housing specs bill took place five years ago, and it is impossible to summarize it in a single answer. The Chamber of Architects took positions on the speculative law, pointing out the many dangers of deepening chaos, both legislative and spatial-building. These dangers have not changed, although it should also be acknowledged that there are cities - such as Warsaw - where successful projects are being built on the basis of the spec law.

Marta: Which of the existing documents creating spatial policy in Poland make sense and have a real impact (positive) on what is currently being created?

Marek: The shape of space depends in equal part on architects who design things, on teachers and schools at all stages of education that train these architects, on officials, bureaucrats and architectural and construction regulations, as well as on the recipients, orderers and investors. A real positive impact on emerging realizations can only come from a widespread awareness of the importance of the quality of the built environment in which we live, and how this quality can be achieved.

Marta: Does MPOIA have any ideas on how to curb the emergence of doe urbanism on the outskirts and suburbs of Krakow?

Marek: Catchment urbanism is the result of many elements, but among the most important are the ownership structure and the conditions set in development plans or zoning decisions, which MPOIA has no direct influence on. One of the program points we have set for this term, however, is to work on positioning the role of architects in local government structures, including strengthening the functions of chief architects of cities and municipal commissions for architecture and urban planning. It should also be noted that education has a great role to play in increasing architectural and urban planning awareness; this is a field of action for both IARP and SARP or the media.

Marta: In your opinion, should architects who practice a profession of public trust take a more active part in political life? Why is the voice of this professional group so ineffective in Polish legislation, even those directly responsible for the progressive urban chaos in the country?

ruiny zamku w Melsztynie oszpecone tablicami informacyjnymi

The ruins of the castle in Melsztyn disfigured by information boards

Photo: Marta Kulawik

Marek: It should be remembered that buildings and the spaces between them - streets, squares - or green spaces designed by architects should serve all users, regardless of their political views. As a rule, architecture should remain apolitical. It should be mentioned, however, that there are architects who, while becoming politicians, have given enormous services to architecture - a great example here is Janusz Sepiol.

Marta: Until recently, you were president of the Cracow branch of the Polish Architects Association. From your perspective, what is the difference in the functioning of SARP and IARP? Which of these groups is more activist?

Marek: The basic difference between the activities of SARP and IARP stems from the division of tasks as defined in the statutes of these organizations. SARP is an association whose goals include the development of quality architectural work and its protection. The IARP is a self-government that acts in matters related to the practice of the architectural profession. In my opinion, the proper positioning of the architectural profession is only possible on the basis of synergy between the two organizations, since their goals are complementary. I do not undertake to assess "activism", because SARP and IARP act together, not competitively, and activities are undertaken in various fields related to the profession.

Marta: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed by Marta Kulawik

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