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We should have more influence

06 of October '23

Ewa: The reduction in space also applies to apartments?

Jakub: I think it does. On the other hand, it would be good for urban housing to be offered first. This is the case in France, Germany or Austria, where the private sector builds for the city, region or national agency. In the Paris HLM [habitation à loyer modéré, or moderate-rent housing - editor's note], a form of public housing, every project is thought through in detail. Let's also look at Vienna: a well-conceived planning and construction process in the public sector makes it possible to respond to the real needs of residents with different wallets. Meanwhile, in our country, the PRS [Private Rented Sector - editor's note] offer is often not tailored for the people, it is often created by sales departments with investment funds in mind.

ekspozycja wystawy podczas wernisażu i oprowadzania przez Jakuba Szczęsnego

The exhibition display during the opening and guided tour by Jakub Szczęsny

Photo: Bogna Kociumbas-Kos

Ewa: Because housing has become an investment.

Jakub: Indeed, apartments are being built that serve to increase in value and don't even have to be lived in. In large urban centers, prices are skyrocketing, and you don't even need to put an apartment on the market to "make money." We see such bubbles all over the world. Spain fell victim to this in 2008, and it is now beginning in Poland.

ekspozycja wystawy podczas wernisażu i oprowadzania przez Jakuba Szczęsnego

The exhibition display during the opening and guided tour by Jakub Szczęsny

Photo: Bogna Kociumbas-Kos

Ewa: An important theme of the exhibition at the Gdynia City Museum is the role of design and that it can be for everyone.

Jakub: This may not last forever, but in design we still have a large and diverse range of different expressions. For we are talking about furniture, cars, bicycles, combs or household appliances. Within this offer, we may have to deal with both purely capitalist mechanisms, such as the mechanism of competitive struggle, as well as community fads, which sometimes result from coincidence, placing a given product in the sphere of interest of a given group. Design, in its broadest sense, is first and foremost used to fulfill real needs: we need to cook on something, eat something, hide somewhere so it doesn't rain on our heads.

We can realize these needs today with means that, first, can be varied in quality, second, do not have to be expensive, and third: do not have to be ugly. The second important thing is education. We have a very big field to educate people that they don't have to act only according to one or two models, they can be more proficient in choosing products and services, but also create their environment themselves. On the other hand, one of the problems of design are the fads offered by low-quality lifestyle and social media, usually associated with creating an impression of luxury.

instalacja Drabina Jakubowa, Wrocław

Jacob's Ladder installation, Wroclaw

photo: Alicja Kielan

Ewa: Fads?

Jakub: It's easier to find fake breasts and eyelash extensions in social media than an Alvar Aalto chair. Excess and glitter are considered the canon of beauty and markers of status. The equivalent of these extensions is bling in interiors.

Etgar Keret w Domu Kereta, Warszawa

Etgar Keret at the Keret House, Warsaw, Poland.

photo: Bartek Warzecha

Ewa: And good design in space - what benefits does it bring?

Jakub: A bus stop can be a very durable, simple, but at the same time nice object that doesn't cost millions of zlotys. Our house doesn't have to be gigantic, it can be non-ostentatious, unobtrusive and properly hidden on the plot. In the same way, we don't have to drive a giant SUV. For example, our family has been driving a Fiat 500L for the past ten years, a model popular in Italy that we hardly meet on the streets of Poland. That's probably because it's a weird tuber, it's Italian, not German, and the front grill doesn't look like it's going to bite the asses of those driving in front of us. And it's simply perfect for the city: with its small dimensions, it has the trunk capacity of a much larger SUV with the looks of a bodybuilder, it has a sliding and split bench seat, a non-perishable engine without too many electronics. Bravo to the designers!

kawalerka na Tamce

studio apartment on Tamka

Photo: Radek Wojnar | Styling: Eva Milczarek

Ewa: Haven't you ever been tempted to change your car for another one, according to the spirit of consumption?

Jakub: Tempted, many times. Only each time I realized that I am as an entrepreneur in such a logic that when my lease is over, I must have a bigger trophy car. Even if it will still fulfill the same purposes as the previous one.

Moja Stodoła, domek rekreacyjny

My Barn, a recreational house - photo: Dariusz Radziewicz © Radoska Village

Eve: "Look, I've achieved a lifelong success"?

Jakub: In our approach to design, there are a lot of psychological mechanisms used by large corporations, mainly American, which have created a model of consumer society. Such a society is in debt all the time, buying not only things it really needs, but also gadgets that we are addicted to acquiring. As a result, they are of increasingly inferior quality, because the idea is that the factory can spit out as many of them as possible and that they "die" two days after the two-year warranty period expires. What's more, they are consciously designed this way, it's part of the policy of the big manufacturers.

instalacja Benches w ramach serii Taburete Towers, Warszawa

Benches installation as part of the Taburete Towers series, Warsaw, Poland.

photo: Andrzej Stawinski © Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute

Ewa: But responsible design and sustainable development resonate strongly in the exhibition in Gdynia. Where does your commitment and opposition to over-consumption come from?

Jacob: My ecosystem is large, because I have a sizable family, a lot of social and professional relationships. I've come a long way from being an inbred illustrator to working in architecture and industry, where I do projects of various scales, usually not very large. Mentally, I can't embrace large projects because it justweighs me downterribly, but I realized that I have to be involved and, willy-nilly, take responsibility for my own decisions, especially design decisions.

Eve: Will you explain?

Jacob: We architects are integrated in the process of implementing architecture with other people, for example, developers, engineers. We can have an impact by saying: listen, let's make something that goes in front of the facade, so that it's in the shade. Or: let's make a retention system, even if the regulations don't yet require it, and use the rainwater for internal circulation for the designed house. And so on. We can't expect our client to be smarter than us when it comes to architecture and construction. We are there to make suggestions, because we are also often treated as experts. Anyway, it seems to me that the average architect's client, i.e. a representative of the broadly understood middle class, is more open-minded nowadays, has already read some books, watched programs about building houses on TV.

 ławka, moduł instalacji Benches fot.: Andrzej Stawiński

Bench, Benches installation module photo: Andrzej Stawinski

© Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute

Ewa: The exhibition addresses the issue of the future and place of the architectural profession. In your opinion, will it change, will architects really take on more responsibility?

Jacob: I will insist that our professional group should be more causal. And in different ways. We should have more influence and not just be the barking dogs of developers. I once had a conversation with a developer friend who said: listen, but we know better than the architect what we need, and we're basically doing the whole project ourselves, and the architect is supposed to, in the words of Marcin Mostafa of WWAA, "drape it in ink" for us and push it through the authorities.

This is the kind of moment when architects have, and should have, more cards in hand to find non-frustrating, and usually that means causal, niches for themselves in different spaces.

Eve: What kind of cards are they?

Jacob: Not only design, but also social negotiation, being an expert, an advisor. It can also be investor activity, manufacturing or production related to architecture. I know of several examples, especially foreign architects, who have decided to become fabricators making materials for architecture, based on technological innovation.

Right now, as a professional group, we have one very big advantage, that is, we get a non-specialized education. After the architecture department, we can do many things. Please see how many designers there are after architecture: set designers, developers, graphic designers, filmmakers. Of course, after a few years of study we go out into the real world, and we need to have personal compasses that will lead us in a particular direction.

How to do this and which way to go is a separate issue. But undoubtedly, an architect's education predestines us to have a wide field of maneuvering. Let's take advantage of it!

Ewa: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Ewa Karendys

Illustrations provided courtesy of the Museum of the City of Gdynia.

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