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Shadows and glows of collective work. A conversation with participants of the Westival in Szczecin

09 of May '22

May 11 marks the start of this year's 14th edition of the Westival of Architecture in Szczecin, to the co-creation of which the event's curator, Piotr Śmierzewski, has invited architects and architects representing the youngest generation. Eleven studios from all over Poland jointly prepared the exhibition "Young Poland". - a record of work on the competition design for the expansion of the Museum of the Deed of Uprising in Góra Świętej Anny. Does collective design have a chance to replace the dominant image of the architect-demiurge over the years? What pitfalls lurk for designers trying their hand at architectural competitions? What would be worth changing in this formula?

14th Westival Art of Architecture
The future of Polish architecture I look forward to
Lentz Villa, Wojska Polskiego 84, 70-482 Szczecin
You can find the Westival program here

14th edition of the Westival of Architecture in Szczecin14th edition of the Westival of Architecture in Szczecin14th edition of the Westival of Architecture in Szczecin

Representatives of the eleven studios invited to the Westival prepared a total of five competition proposals - nine offices entered the competition together, submitting a total of three projects (there was a design cooperative consisting of: Marta Tomasiak, Tomasz andMonika Trzupek, Aleksander Wadas, Zygmunt Borawski, Martin Marker Larsen, Furio Montoli, Srdjan Zlokapa, Milena Trzcińska, Łukasz Stępnik, Igor Łysiuk, Karolina Matysiak, Matylda Gąsiorowska, Katarzyna Bilik, Wojciech Mazan, Bartosz Kowal, Bartłomiej Poteralski, Apolonia Slesarow, Mirabela Yurchenko, Zofia Piotrowska, Andrzej Olejniczak, Hugon Kowalski, Agata Kotlicka, Iwo Borkowicz, Adam Siemaszkiewicz, Kamila Lorenc-Ptasznik, Marta Pruszyńska, Dominika Wilczyńska and Barbara Nawrocka). The k3xmore (composed of Magda Orzeł-Rurańska and Kinga Bączyk) and P2PA(Aleksander Blicharski, Paweł Floryn, Łukasz Kaczmarek, Maciej Marszał, Jakub Podgórski and Maciej Popławski) studios also submitted their individual works. The competition was won by a proposal from the P2PA office in Wroclaw, and one of the design cooperative's proposals won an honorable mention.

projekt competition project submitted by P2PA studioprojekt competition project submitted by P2PA studioprojekt competition project submitted by P2PA studio

competition project submitted by P2PA studio, 1st Prize

© P2PA

We talk to members of the design cooperative about professional rivalry, challenges accompanying teamwork and demands to organizers of architectural competitions.

Ola Kloc
: As part of the "Young Poland" exhibition being created at the Westival - Art of Architecture in Szczecin, you decided to prepare competition works together - as part of a design cooperative. Why did you take on an architectural competition, why a competition organized by SARP and finally - why this one?

Milena Trzcinska (RZUT): When Piotr Smierzewski invited us to take part in the Westival, we knew from the beginning that we didn't want to do a presentation of our previous works. We preferred to do something together. Many ideas were floated, but in the end we decided on a competition. We thought it was interesting not only in terms of our collaboration, but also potentially a broader story about how our profession works. Competitions are an important part of an architect's work. Competitiveness and rivalry are built into this formula. It's individual work where we don't share our thoughts with others. We wanted to see if it could be done differently and if it was really the most sensible model for working on architecture. We decided on the SARP competition because, from our perspective, it is the most trusted institution that organizes competitions. The design of the Museum of the Deed of the Uprising seemed quite intriguing to us. Many and many of us said that we would never have come up with the idea to enter the competition. So it was an opportunity to face a topic seemingly distant from our activities and to show our attitude towards historical and patriotic museums.

: You mentioned the rivalry that accompanies competitions, how was it in this case, with most of you working together and two teams individually?

Alexander Wadas (Alexander Wadas Studio): There was no rivalry within the collective, in fact we all worked a little bit at a time on each of the works until we split into teams. As for the rivalry with offices that did projects on their own - I silently hoped that we could beat them [laughs].

Bartosz Kowal (PROLOG): Combining and finishing all three works turned out to be so challenging that I don't think anyone thought about any competition. We wanted to finish all the projects on time and do it as well as possible. It seems to me that the competition went downhill. It's a different thing when you do the competition yourself....

Wojciech Mazan (PROLOG): In the videos she prepares for the exhibition, Pola [Apolonia Slesarow - editor's note] P2PA says that waiting for the results was more exciting for them than with previous competitions. So I think the competitive element was present, but outside the design cooperative. What the collective has managed to create is trust between the nine studios, which was somewhat lacking in the relationship with the others when it came to preparing the exhibition itself. There were scrapes. We didn't have access to all the works until the results were announced. But we will talk about what legal forms you can put around your work at the exhibition.

Barbara Nawrocka (Miastopracownia): The cooperative didn't wait that long for the results. We were already all a bit frustrated that the collective work turned out to be longer and more difficult than the one carried out alone. So the sure end of the process was to hand in the competition works. Trying to keep all the rules of the regulations, we could not submit three works as nine studios. We divided up randomly. As a result, someone else drew the concept, someone else signed it, and someone else sent it in. Usually authorship is very important to me. Here it came down to the background.

projekt competition design submitted by k3xmore studioprojekt competition design submitted by k3xmore studioprojekt competition design submitted by k3xmore studio

competition project submitted by k3xmore studio

© k3xmore

: I have the impression that college doesn't necessarily prepare you for teamwork on a project. How did you handle the challenge in such a large group? Would you repeat it?

Wojciech: At PROLOG, we usually work in a larger group. There are five of us and we are still practicing among ourselves how to talk about projects. Westival is our third exhibition that we are doing as a team. We created the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in cooperation with six studios from different countries. Similarly, we realized SKRAJOBRAZ in the Zodiak Pavilion in Warsaw. At the exhibition in Szczecin, there are more groups, as many as eleven. It wasn't much more challenging, but we were surprised, or perhaps disappointed, that we couldn't organize ourselves more effectively. To answer the question of whether we would enter such a process again - probably yes, because we are naive and don't learn from our mistakes [laughs]. But we also derive joy from it. I, for one, see a lot of positives in such a process. Of course, there are two sides to a medal, but overall I think it's worth working this way.

Bartosz: In the two mentioned exhibitions we were curators and organizers, and in Zodiac we were also responsible for production. In this case, we were on the Program Council on the one hand and participants on the other. We had a lot of responsibilities and got very deeply into the process. It's harder to make decisions from the position of a participant than when you're only looking at something from the outside.

Milena: We entered the classic roles that always arise when working in a larger group. Some people withdraw because they don't really know how they can join in the process. Others - the moment they don't lead - don't feel responsibility and stop working. Natural leaders also emerge. We wanted to create a process that was as democratic as possible, so programmatically no one was designated as a leader, and this makes it difficult to work in such a large team. We had little time to develop a model of cooperation. Everything was done online, we didn't know each other beforehand. Today, we already know what problems are involved in the cooperation of so many people, and I think that only now we could create a system that would function more smoothly. I don't want to judge the whole thing in terms of success or failure. Experimentation and prototyping of the process are governed by their own laws.

Barbara: With Dominika Wilczynska, we enter competitions in consortium with other offices. We enter various collaborations and this is a typical form of business for us. I remember a project where several architectural offices were invited to create concepts for an area in parallel. The competition involved only an initial selection, then the five teams no longer had to compete with each other. The first stage included a participatory element. All participants were able to meet for a site visit to talk to residents and get the information needed for the design process. It turned out that no one wanted to ask questions in front of the other participants, as this would already somehow betray the projects' intentions. As part of our work on the Deed Museum, we thought about the rules and regulations and the questions we could ask the organizers. I remember that there was also a suggestion there that some questions should not be asked in the forum, so as not to sell your ideas to others. It seems to me that this blocks the design process to some extent. The way the design cooperative worked for me was proof that you can produce knowledge collectively. You can advise each other, give each other opinions on ideas, check the correctness of solutions, and at the same time do three completely different concepts in parallel.

projekt competition project submitted by design cooperativeprojekt competition project submitted by design cooperativeprojekt competition project submitted by design cooperative

competition project submitted by design cooperative, honorable mention

© design cooperative

: What have you learned through this experience about competitions in general? Would you like to comment on the results somehow?

Milena: There were a lot of elements in our process that could be incorporated into the competition formula, or at least consider whether competitions need to look the way they do. At the preliminary research stage, landscape architect Marta Tomasiak told us how the landscape is formed in the place where we designed. What is cultural in it, what is natural, what are the soils, what are the geological layers. Someone else delved into the historical topic. With ideas and suggestions from people with a pro-social approach, we thought about how we could create a facility that would be more than a museum with exhibits. It was very inspiring and interesting. It seems to me that there are stages of the competition that do not need to be developed by all teams separately and in secret. Knowledge about the context and potential of a place can be produced more communally.

Wojciech: P2PA did a great project, and if it comes to fruition, it will certainly be a good solution for the current museum institution. But the results quite clearly show the line of the jury. They were looking for a building that will be firmly in context. It will expose the existing buildings. The selected works are similar to each other to some extent, which shows that the jury imagined a solution and looked for an answer.

projekt competition design submitted by design cooperativeprojekt competition design submitted by design cooperativeprojekt competition design submitted by design cooperative

competition project submitted by the design cooperative

© design cooperative

Milena: I participated in the competition for the design of the Museum of the Ex-Clausted Soldiers. During the announcement of the results, the jury admitted that they agreed at the very beginning that the building should be hidden underground. So they rejected all the works that did not fit into this vision. Shouldn't such decisions have been worked out before the competition, either in the form of a workshop or a larger debate, so that studios would know the guidelines when they began work on the project? Many elements of competitions could be worked out collectively. Collectively generated knowledge would then serve all teams. Otherwise, each participant has to go through the same stages, which seems to me unreasonable from the point of view of workload to effect.

Barbara: In the regulations for the Museum of the Deed of the Uprising it says that the designed body should be compact and as compact as possible. One of our works fully met these requirements, two stood in contradiction. As it turned out during the evaluation of the works, this provision was completely irrelevant.

Wojciech: With every competition, the question arises about the responsibility of the court for its decisions. To what extent does the cost of implementing the winning work correspond to the amount specified in the regulations? And if it does not correspond, is it the responsibility of the jury? In German-speaking countries, the processes of participation or broader discussion are present at the question stage. A site visit is organized where problems or concerns can be openly discussed. It would be worth recommending such solutions to SARP.

Alexander: In my opinion, the maximum amount included in the regulations for the construction of the Deed Museum is completely unrealistic. The longer I do competitions, the more I become convinced that budgets are deliberately understated in order to pay less for design documentation. That this is a conscious and deliberate practice of the procurers and organizers of the competition.

projekt competition project submitted by a design cooperativeprojekt competition project submitted by a design cooperativeprojekt competition project submitted by a design cooperative

competition project submitted by a design cooperative

© design cooperative

Barbara: Nowadays, with every competition, in addition to the project, you have to submit a statement in which you declare that your project can be realized for the amount that is stated in the regulations and that you will be able to draw up all the documentation for a fee that is a specific percentage of that amount. This is a formality. Everyone signs it and no one verifies it.

Alexander: At the stage of the actual cost estimate, the ordering party often increases the budget, so an implementation that was supposed to cost 30 million, for example, costs twice as much, but the project itself is done for 1.5 million, not 3. This is a big saving for the organizers or ordering parties, and, as I mentioned, I feel that it is not accidental.

: To sum up, we have three requests to the organizers of the competition: transparency in terms of the budget, the possibility of joint discussion and collective work at the initial stage, and a clear statement of the organizers' expectations of the results of the competition.

Alexander: There is another thing that Milena mentioned. The same work after the competition is announced is done by about 50 design offices, and could be prepared once by the organizer. This includes building a 3D model of the site, photos from a drone. This would be a huge saving of time and resources for architects, who ultimately always add to the competitions.

Wojciech: We also have a good example from our closest neighbor. In the Czech Republic, a sizable number of competitions are organized on a bilingual basis, which opens up the market by giving offices from abroad the opportunity to participate. In Poland, a competition in English is a holiday, something completely unheard of.

Bartosz: I think that the question about the cost of potential implementation should not be asked to the contestants. The amount should matter to the jury, but it should be calculated by one person for all works. This is, of course, what happens in Western countries. I remember a competition in which one team was disqualified simply because they gave the true cost of implementing their project, which exceeded the limit of the contracting authority. There was no discussion. Too expensive? Goodbye!

Barbara: I'll also add the topic of ecology. In the design cooperative, we were constantly evaluating our ideas in terms of their interference with greenery, with the entire ecosystem. In the jury's opinions on the awarded works, I did not read any arguments involving ecological aspects. I don't know if they were analyzed during the deliberations. I am curious to know to what extent (and if at all) during the judging of competitions the projects are evaluated in terms of their impact on the local community, on the ecosystem, on the climate.

Ola: Thank you for the interview!

Ola Kloc

Read more about architectural competitions in the May issue of A&B.

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