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22 of February '24

The column is from A&B issue 11|23

It's October again and the machine has gone into motion. Polish universities began to process thousands of architecture students. It is known that these thousands are a drop in the ocean, after all, there should be one Polish architect per Polish project per year, but we must have enough of that as well.

Fortunately, architects no longer have to design single-family houses in Poland, the good MPs have freed them from this torment, so perhaps we are not yet in danger of a shortage. But even this is nothing certain, because already younger and younger designers are fed up with their work, are threatening to desert, or have already rolled up their dummies. Who will replace them on the road to professional disappointment? Even the multitudes of university-produced graduates may not be enough. Especially since, as lecturers in various cities report to me, students often don't know what all the architecture is for. They were good at math or drawing, well, they went into architecture - knowing little or nothing about it, which is not surprising when you think about school education. Or they thought they were going into interior design. So they land after three or five years of study far from that architecture. Those in calculus are coding in IT, and those in pictures are slamming visualizations. Soon AI will win them over, but for now the bread is light, secure, nutritious and always on time. Admittedly, life knows examples when architecture students from chance later became masters, but these are eccentric exceptions. Instead, there are more of those who did great things in college and then did them for the last time. Of course, this is not the rule, some succeed (and what's more - they know how to design), they even enjoy not only their work, but also their lives, get awards and don't get a heart attack. More: they leave this world many years after the national average. After all, we know an astonishing number of architects who have achieved more than a lot in life and lived to be under ninety. With a razor brain, energy, a cigarette in one hand and a cognac in the other. Please, how architecture solidifies, the young pumped up then say hopefully and - they continue to gut themselves.

However, these superseniors and superseniority are not, as is often explained, proof of the invigorating power of the architectural profession. On the contrary. They are proof of its debilitating power. Only the healthiest individuals can face it. If they enter the profession with success in their youth, nothing will knock them down later on and they will enter the ninth or tenth cross with a dancing step. Four hours of sleep? A psychopathic investor? A ghastly conservationist? A behemoth of a contractor? What doesn't kill, makes stronger. Good genes, a heart like a bell, a head like a store - and a ready indestructible old man architect. Talent is one thing, but horse health is essential.

It is therefore necessary to sift out the weaklings at the outset. Math and drawings may be good for something, but without tests of fortitude, forget about studying architecture. As a warm-up, triathlon, hundreds of push-ups, boxing, cage fighting. In the breaks, starvation, sleep deprivation, ratting with a squeaky ratler. Then the trial by fire: twenty-four hours with a frustrated architect in one room. Then exposure to the radiation waves of the ego of the bloated doyen of the profession. Finally, (note, drastic!) watching TVP, which will prove immune to the biggest nonsense uttered by investors or officials. Those who pass this sieve and don't go crazy may get the honor of exploring the secrets of drafting geometry, what used to be called "countryside" and is now called rural architecture, and many other attractions. However, this is a pipe dream. Where to get such sadistic trainers? So let's reject the happy pipe dream and - this time - let's
this time seriously - let's think: how about a zero year? One that is not yet teaching the making of architecture, but actually studying it. A time when a potential student learns what architecture is and what it can become in the future. How is it done? How is it experienced? What are the risks of practicing it? What does it look like in our country, and how in other countries? How much effort does it cost? All rather than in lecture halls, but on the move: on educational walks, expeditions and detours that will help you learn to experience and understand space. With visits to design offices, construction sites, material stores, even - this is the horror - to the office. Plus meetings and conversations with active architects, historians, researchers. Finally, learning to discuss, because - as I hear from lecturers - with the willingness and ability to exchange insights in person is getting worse and worse among young people.
All this without an index, grades, design. In order to make the hard studies of architecture start really consciously. Or not to start them at all. The losses? Almost none. Whoever, after such a zero, decides to enter the modes of the university machine, will have a lighter life. Those who do not enter will save themselves time and disappointment, while gaining knowledge that they can infect others with. By the way, it will make room for the truly determined.

The university staff will also take a breather, getting a less numerous, but encompassing fry. Well, unless, however, the cadre prefers quantity to quality, that raison d'être of the existence of some academic jobs. The cadre may also not be ready for the sweeping change in teaching that such a zero year detached from the university routine might force. Because someone or something should force it. One hears too much from architects of all ages that their "university didn't teach them much of anything."

Who will pay for that? Who knows if it won't come out cheaper to have this kind of zero-rating than to finance the education of dozens or hundreds of random students for several years. Who knows if the long-term gain in the form of a smaller number of informed and well-directed architects or peri-architectural specialists from the beginning won't be more important.

However, there are many indications that in our realities and year zero may turn out to be a pipe dream. So let's continue to produce those thousands of architecture graduates unprepared for professional perturbations. However, let's then ensure that like the uniformed services - they can retire very early. There will be someone to replace them. After all, every October, universities will snatch another unwitting victim into their cogs.


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