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We should have more influence

06 of October '23

The interview is from A&B issue 9|23

The exhibition "Jakub Szczęsny. Polish Projects Polish Designers" is open at the Museum of the City of Gdynia until June 2, 2024.

"One of the problems of design are the fashions offered by low-quality lifestyle and social media, usually associated with creating the impression of luxury. There, it's easier to find fake breasts and eyelash extensions than an Alvar Aalto chair," Jakub Szczęsny the protagonist of the latest exhibition in the series "Polish Designs by Polish Designers."

Jakub Szczęsny

Jakub Szczęsny - Born in 1973, graduate of the Warsaw University of Technology, architect, author of installations. Artistic director and advisor to the Paged Wood group. He gained popularity in 2012, when he erected the Keret House in a narrow gap between a block of flats and a tenement near the intersection of Warsaw's Chlodna and Zelazna streets. Jakub Szczęsny's oeuvre is not only thought-provoking installations or temporary objects designed to improve the surrounding reality. The architect has to his credit also more "standard" house projects. Among other things, he designs for Simple House, a company that sells single-family buildings made of wood construction, in energy-efficient and passive standards. A&B columnist.

Ewa Karendys:You offer people structures that are smaller than they think they need. Where is the line between a small space that is good for living, albeit one that involves giving up some convenience, and apartments that are less than 25 meters and impossible to register, built by developers?

Jakub Szczęsny:I believe in adequacy of means. For a student, an apartment close to the city center or the center where he studies will be adequate. Another example is a couple with children who want a big-city style, or vice versa: they want to live close to nature and be able to enjoy their own piece of garden. To this we can add single people of working age, but also seniors, or so-called emptynesters, people in their fifties who often radically change their way of life after their adult children have moved out of the house. Decisions can vary, and each of these scenarios has both positive and negative responses in the markets: housing, detached houses and structures that can be bought and erected on a given plot of land.


Jakub Szczęsny. Polish Projects Polish Designers

CURATOR: Anna Sliwa
DESIGN TEAM: Małgorzata Bujak, Katarzyna Gec, Maria Kamenska, Mateusz Kozielecki, Olga Lewandowska, Marzena Markowska, Michał Miegoń, KarinModer, Joanna Mróz, Rafał Frankowski, Ewa Siwek, Ewa Skelnik, Weronika Szerle, Robert Szymanowski, Patrycja Wójcik, Yulia Yukhymets, Gabriela Zbirohowska-Kościa

CO-OPERATION: Aleksandra Godlewska, Renata Maj, Natalia Wielebska / Traffic Design
PLACE: Gdynia City Museum
TIME: July 2, 2023 - June 2, 2024

Ewa:We tend to lump the negative ones into the "pat-developer" bag.

Jakub:I am far from demonizing developers. Because in Poland after 1989, it was the poor dysfunctional state that was unable to fulfill its constitutional obligation to guarantee a roof over the heads of its citizens. As a result, it was mainly developers who built, and continue to build, our reality.

It seems to me that the line is not mechanical, it does not run between saying that everything public is good and everything private is bad. Nor does it depend, for example, on whether one is a small or large developer. Mistakes and bad practices simply happen everywhere. In the work of a doctor, policeman, lawyer or architect.

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

Eve:Suppose a developer comes to you and says: "let's squeeze what we can out of the plot, let's make a housing development with micro-apartments". Do you accept such an order?

James: I'm surrounded by developers, because I have them in my family and among my friends, but programmatically I don't work with them. These types of topics have never really interested me. I have the privilege that I usually do things that excite me. I wouldn't undertake this project, although for several years I lived in a twenty-one and a half meter apartment, the interior of which was decorated according to my design, and I remember those times very well. It's just that at that time I was a single father living in Powisle, with access to all possible services, the transportation network and my child's nearby kindergarten. It was the perfect solution for me.

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: Is it possible to approach such a project in a creative way, to escape the predictability of negative patterns?

Jakub: Whether we can develop this space by design or we have to conform to an imposed layout, it is important that it offers something "extra". A balcony, a view, anything that will give an extra perspective and not squeeze us into this cramped space. And I was lucky in this case, because this bachelor apartment of mine on the top floor of a cooperative point building from the 1960s had one window overlooking the Royal Castle and the other overlooking the Swietokrzyski Bridge. It was an absolute luxury.

I am convinced that designing a well-performing small apartment is a very cool task for an architect. But let's not delude ourselves, these apartments are not for a family, but for up to two people. Only then can it be an adequate means to the goal set, unless you are attracted to the possibility of squeezing a family of four into a micro-apartment, or you have no way out - and I know such cases!

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: At the exhibition in the series "Polish Projects by Polish Designers," visitors can see, among other things, modular micro-houses and a replica of the Keret House, or "the narrowest house in the world." After the pandemic, developers, commenting on new trends, repeated like a mantra: people want bigger apartments with gardens. Meanwhile, you argue that we don't need more and more all the time.

Jakub: I recently browsed through the offer of developers building in Praga Południe and was impressed that thirty-two-meter studio apartments had balconies where you can put at least a table and four chairs. At the Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology, we were taught the principle that even the smallest apartment should have such a balcony.

For me, the basic theme is individual houses, which can be discreetly hidden in the landscape for climatic or ecological reasons. These types of houses work on a similar principle as a studio apartment with a balcony or a garden. The fact that we have greenery around us means that we get a "green room" that complements the small space. I think the direction will not be to build large spaces at all.

 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: It won't be?

Jakub: We were sick of it after 1989, making up for years of cramped apartments and building houses of 400 meters that are difficult to heat and sell. I think we will be moving towards what is the norm in Western Europe, where a house of 100 meters easily accommodates three bedrooms and the average European family, which is smaller today, by the way, than in the 1980s.

kuratorka wystawy Anna Śliwa i Jakub Szczęsny

Curator of the exhibition Anna Sliwa and Jakub Szczęsny -,

photo: Bogna Kociumbas-Kos,

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