#5latCDP - Five Years of The DCU: Interview with Robert Konieczny

'I wanted this place to get lively' - an interview with Robert Konieczny, an architect, the founder of KWK PROMES architecture office, the creator of The Dialogue Centre Upheavals building in Szczecin. 

A couple of days ago, when it began to snow, children took possession of the roof of The Dialogue Centre Upheavals. The best public space in Europe turned out to be the best sledging slope in the city centre,as "Gazeta Wyborcza” wrote. Had you expected that?
I was glad about that. My friends sent me photos. They reminded me of my children sledging down this slope with me and how much fun we had. I published the photos on my Facebook profile.  
Have you really sledged down the DCU roof?
I went sledging there, I went riding a bike and and roller-skating there. But I have never went skiing there... When we were about to start the work on the design, it wanted to create not only appropriate, architecturally interesting seat for the institution that was to be a museum recording the newest history in Szczecin, a dialogue centre, a location for meetings and debates. We decided to design The Dialogue Centre Upheavals in a way that would ensble it to still play the role of a city square: lively, visited by the city residents so that they could meet their friends, walk with their dogs or ride a bike. Children playing on the roof prove that we succeded in making it happen. 
The meaining of this place is historic. The memories of December ’70 dramatic events still arouse emotions. Had you come across such circumstances before? Does this limit or inspire an architect?
Since the beginning we were conscious of the uniqueness of this place and of its meaning in the history of Szczecin. But each particular place needs its own best solution. Designing The Dialogue Centre Upheavals we took a close look at history. We took into consideration that before World War II air raids it had been a tenement square and a part of the city centre. The dramatic air raids and Szczecin being atken over for Poland, tragic events of December '70, history and tradition of an untamed city and the city of frredom, which Szczecin has always been. It was necessary to consider urban conditions: iconic Philharmonic building on one end of the square, one of scarce surviving relic churches on the other, noisy road beside. We were creating an architecturel hybrid, both the postwar place and the tenement quarter from before the war. We had to join the past and the present and to reconcile various architectural traditions and histories. And we had known that we would have to created something monumental but lively at the same time. A monument, but also a place being a part of contemporary dynamic city. The place for celebration, reflection but also for relax, fun, sport. And suddenly this combination of motives, seemongly different or even conflicted, beacame unified. We had had to learn and understand a lot.  
Plac Solidarności became a new new city Agora. If the city residents want to gather in one place to express their opinions in favour of or against crucial matters, they choose to do it there. 
I am glad about this. Once we had a photo session to record hoew this place lives, how children play there, how young people tend to meet there, how great concerts are held there. When I first saw a crowd listening to music on the DCU roof, I was anxious. I called the constructor to make sure how big load had been assumed for the roof. For a while I was wondering if the constructuion was durable enough. I made sure that we had planned more than necessary just to be on the safe side and all is safe. The construction was carried out by SKANSKA so I am sure that all the works were pwerformed with greatest diligence.  
I admit that we were surprised about this all. Sometimes we get photos of of smaller or larger destruction: cracks, crumbled concrete worn out by skateboarders, but they are natural consequence of this place being alive. I prefer the lively square which is a little destroyed than a place that is sterile, beautiful and stately bu devoid of life.  
'We decided to step aside to the second plan with our museum design'. This is what you wrote on KWK PROMES website in the section dedicated to The DCU. You referred to the Philharmonic building. But this "second plan" facility in 2016 won European Prize for Urban Public Space won the best building award at World Architecture Festival. 
This humbleness towards the environment in which The DCU was created was justified, conscious and - as it turned out - right. When designing the Centre, we knew that the building of the new Philharmonic would be extraordinary. It was already expected to become an icon. You don't have to be an expert in architecture to be aware of the uniqueness of this work. It is impossible to pass by it indifferently. We couldn't propose an equally spectacular design, it could have led to spatial chaos. That is why we decided to step aside to the second place with our museum. There is a small souvenir shop next to The DCU, on the way to the Castle, on the other side of Trasa Zamkowa. I peered there for several times. When I first asked about a souvenir related to "Upheavals", the seller did not know what I was talking about. The third time I bought something. The Philharmonic will always shine like a diamond. The DCU will always be in its shadow, but together they create a wonderful, unique urban space.
There were more awards for The Dialogue Centre Upheavals.
It is true, but the most important thing is that thanks to them, for the second time, in a short period, Szczecin became famous: The DCU was awarded shortly after the successes of the Szczecin Philharmonic. Szczecin has become a city where you can see world class unique architectural works, it is one of the reasons for visiting the city. Importantly, after the success of both of these projects, Szczecin already knows that good architecture pays off, is attractive, attracts tourists, and has a positive impact on business. More interesting objects are created, thanks to which Szczecin can become famous again. The competition for the development of Łasztownia has gained considerable publicity, and a building is being built on the Odra River bank, resembling a ship moored at the quay [Maritime Science Centre]. This proves that Szczecin is a progressive and dynamic city that wants to develop. It is very important.
What are your memories of that time after five years?
In terms of professional job, it was one of the most difficult periods in my life. I commuted from Katowice to Szczecin where The DCU was being created, but also in Brenna near Cieszyn my "Ark” was being built [Arka Koniecznego - Robert Konieczny's private residence]. It used to happen that i visited both construction sites on one day and at night I returned to Katowice. It was a killing pace. Fortunately, both projects succeeded and I am glad of both of them.  
I took to Szczecin and I like coming here. It is a great city. I wish it to keep on developing.  
Thank you. 

konieczny