Interview with Marcin Szczelina and Hugon Kowalski for Linea Light Group

Mr. Kowalski,  Let’s talk about Garbage comes from your graduation thesis, how did you approached this issue?

Hugon Kowalski: The main message of the project was to improve the comfort of life of the people living in the dump, but without changing their daily habits. It was not about creating something that would disregard the needs of the local communities. The research process was very important. I was looking for information concerning the living conditions in Asian slums. For instance, in Beijing in the 90s, the center of the metropolis was occupied by a vast slum. The authorities decided to eliminate it, and its residents were relocated to typical blocks of flats. After 10 years, it turned out that the majority of people didn’t live there anymore, and that the remaining people complained about poorer social lives they had previously enjoyed, living in the slum. We must understand that people from outside Europe have a different approach to privacy, space, habitation. Architects tend to impose their way of thinking, forgetting that it is the other human being they are designing for. However, the project I am presenting at the Biennale with Marcin Szczelina, is not a continuation of my diploma work, or even its extension.


How did the collaboration between you come about?

H.K.: I think that the dividing line between architecture and other disciplines is currently very liquid. Therefore, I often work in interdisciplinary teams. I met Marcin several years ago and I appreciate his way of thinking about architecture. I can always count on his critical opinion, sometimes these opinions are brutally honest (laughs), but still honest. Plus Marcin had worked with Aaron Betsky at the 2008 edition of the Biennale. I think that this is why we were able to establish such good relations, which result in interesting projects that expand our fields of interest. We have recently prepared a design for the revitalization of Warsaw’s Zodiak Pavilion and the new Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki. The competition jury for the latter received more than 2 thousand entries. I remember that we contacted several years ago, when Hugon received the international award for his diploma. I wrote an article about him. I was surprised by his fresh and innovative outlook on architecture. Since then, we have been cooperating to develop smaller and larger endeavors.

Marcin Szczelina: In its basic function, the Biennale is an overview of the latest events in architecture – projects completed, new ideas and trends. The Biennale shows us how architecture is evolving and presents the paths it will follow in the years to come. However, if we stopped at this, the event would resemble a multitude of events in the world. Fortunately, the Venice event is an attempt at pondering the essence of architecture and the world in general. Since the beginning, the Biennale has been trying to extract architecture from the shackles of walls, ceilings, concrete and steel – showing that it is more than just building design.

HK: This is why we decided not to show any of my projects. We wrote to Alejandro Aravena that we would like to create a project that would be perceived in a broader context and which would not be limited to a specific object of architecture.


Entering your installation the visitor perceives two diametrically opposed worlds. How did you obtain that? Did the choice of the right type of lighting influenced the achievement of your goal?

H.K.: We decided to confront the western and Asian approaches to waste processing, show the differences – hence the two walls. We are surrounded by processed items, we live among them. There are plenty of construction companies using recycled materials. Waste is used to produce roofing tiles, bricks, insulation materials and many more products. Our approach to people dealing with waste processing is also different. Our housing estates have enclosed rooms for trash bins, because we are annoyed by people scouring our refuse. Such people are not welcomed or appreciated – we perceive them as intruders, unwanted guests.

MSz: In turn, in India, we talked to the Mumbai City Planner, who noticed that we discard our refuse to black bags in Europe. After that, we are not interested in the bag. In Asia, everything that makes it to the bag is a good, which is why we presented the “two worlds” in the exhibition. The black wall refers to the aforementioned black bag, and the other side presents the stories of waste.

HK: The people who look inside this black bag in Asia are an important link in the processing chain. In Mumbai, primarily thanks to the residents of the Dharavi slum, raw materials are recovered from nearly all types of waste. The slum residents are the true ecologists – they not only contribute to cleaning the city of waste, but also, thanks to their elaborate and specialist knowledge of recycling and segregation of precious and recyclable materials, they contribute to the prospering of the Indian economy.

MSz: However, architecture exhibitions are like a perpetual motion machine – they are created although they are doomed from the outset, as we know that the natures of things are impossible. How do we present architecture, which is a medium in itself – e.g. models, photographs, films – these do not express the spatial and complex character of architecture. Therefore, architecture exhibitions pose a fundamental problem. They cannot be prepared like art exhibitions are – where the exhibition space comprises proper works of art. An architecture exhibition must therefore be a substitute of architecture, a reminiscence, a representation, since buildings cannot be placed in galleries. In turn, presenting projections, models and photographs of buildings doesn’t have a point, since, as Le Corbusier used to say – we have to look at a thing in itself, come close to the essence of the object. Exhibitions always mimic space and the situations created by architecture. They create temporary para-architecture that transpires and then flees. It is more or less authentic. We could be saying a lot about this, but, in general, exhibition space is about sensing, experiencing, living … which is why lighting is one of the most important elements of an exhibition. The type of light we choose – its color, intensity – will determine the character of the exhibition. By selecting the lights, we gave the exhibition an intimate character.


Thinking about the forthcoming 20 years, in your opinion, which technologies will help in reducing the environmental impact and energy consumption of our society, in order to reverse the trend that has characterized our last 50 years?

HK: If we knew the answer to this question, we would be rich (laughs). It’s a difficult question, but we think that the exhibition we are presenting at the Biennale, is one of the possible paths. Recycling and the inclusion of architecture in waste reduction is currently the best answer to the question of effective care of our environment. If, in the upcoming years, we are able to develop a way to do it at the lowest costs possible, then recycling has the biggest chance of reversing the current trends.  

Which features of the LED technology do you consider interesting for the architectural design?

HK: Using the LED technology in the industry and in architecture allows us to reduce not only the costs of electricity consumed, but also to illuminate strictly defined areas, e.g. in factory halls, in assembly lines, or particular elements of machines with continuous light, without causing the adverse stroboscope effect. The LED technology has become an interesting substitute to traditional Sodium and Mercury lamps, due to the absence of the said stroboscope effect.

MSz: Although the technology was known in the 60s of the last century, the real breakthrough in the development of LED solutions happened in the last decade. In result, we are now able to apply LED lighting in various rooms. However, the biggest advantages of the LED technology are its energy-saving properties and low environmental impact.


How can architecture help developing a culture of reuse?

HK: We are trying to answer the question with our project. Let’s talk about garbage takes on the problem of waste overproduction. Contemporary consumerist societies neglect the “afterlife” of their mass-produced commodities, tight-packed in successive layers of plastics. Let’s talk about garbage presents alternative strategies in handling the flood of waste pouring through our cities. How can architecture stimulate waste amount reduction? How can architecture participate in the process of recycling? – these are two of a multitude of questions they are trying to answer.

MSz: The answer can be the black wall of our installation. We decided to take a look at architecture as an industry, trying to determine its condition at the angle we were interested in. Despite developed pro-ecological awareness, has the construction industry contributed in any way to the reduction of waste in the world? Millions of produced are produced every day, used to build houses. These are roofing tiles, bricks, windows, flooring materials. Do we even think about whether they are eco or not? We decided to check it. We sent inquiries to the largest construction companies from all over the world, whose products are sold. Unfortunately, the conclusions were very upsetting. Despite their vast productions, the majority of companies did little to care for sustainable development or to reduce the amount of waste. Construction companies have to understand that they responsible for the environment we live in, their children and grandchildren will be living in. This is why our project is so important, as it promotes such ideas as recycling or sustainable development, presenting alternatives for architecture.