5 QUESTIONS TO: Grzegorz Layer about the project “Plac na Glanc” and restraining the ego
Give us a courtyard and we’ll make it beautiful – it is a kind of a motto guiding a group of Silesian designers who have been regularly working with residents since 2013 to transform neglected spaces into welcoming ones, as part of the Katowice – City of Gardens Culture Institution.
Ithe previous editions of the project “Plac na Glanc” (Beautified Square) 7 squares and courtyards underwent a metamorphoses. Greenery, colours, tables and comfortable seats, rocking chairs and other components of small architecture have replaced mud and thickets. This year, in October two more courtyards were “beautified”: one next to Strzelców Bytomskich Street in Dąbrówka Mała and another one next to Pośpiecha Street in Załęże.
One of the assumptions of the project is to use new solutions to set new directions in design. But there’s much more. An equally significant aspect – the social dimension, accompanies the aspect of revitalization of space. The project “Plac na Glanc” is founded on the contribution of residents, it encourages them to participate. The purpose of the project is to create a “model space that would inspire residents of other tenement houses to change their surroundings, if possible”.
Will the “action revitalization” in Katowice bring permanent change, or is it just a successful PR action? – Architecture Snob asks Grzegorz Layer, who has been part of the project since the very beginning, alongside Ewa Labus and Michał Centkowski.
Architecture Snob: Does a nicer courtyard mean a nicer life?
Grzegorz Layer Yes, of course – the environment we live in has a fundamental impact on our lives. We tend to focus on private space and the space of our homes, and to forget about the surroundings, which are equally close: the neighbourhood and semi-public spaces, such as courtyards.
Did the previous editions of the project “Plac na Glanc” confirm that a transformed courtyard changes the dynamics of the residents’ lives?
We are closely monitoring the situation at the squares from previous years and our conclusions are very positive. Our presence serves as a catalyst for change. The joint workshops and construction work are integrating the residents who are actively working together to achieve change, and in turn to take the responsibility for common space.
The issue of technical durability is also very important to us. We attempt to design courtyards to last for at least a few years. This is possible despite our modest resources – the first “Plac na Glanc” from 2013 can serve as proof. But the most important aspect is everything that happens between the residents of these courtyards from the very beginning, from the very moment in which they decide to submit their square to the project. In fact, architecture is a kind of pretext.
What did you find to be the most difficult and what to be the most rewarding during the revitalization of “this year’s” courtyard?
To tell you the truth – it is never easy. Each project “Plac na Glanc” begins with a meeting of a group of people who have different tastes and expectations, and who have to develop a coherent vision of revitalization of their closes surroundings, so there have to be tensions and arguments. Also for us, the authors of projects, it is an exceptional lesson – work with a client who comes to us looking for an architect because s/he likes what we have done so far, s/he knows our realizations, etc. is completely different. Here on the contrary, we meet and work with diversified customers. One has to learn to restrain one’s ego.
What was the difference between this year’s courtyards and previous editions?
This year, we were working on the largest courtyard so far, with a large group of residents of all ages. The biggest challenge was to convince a part of them that it is a good idea to replace some of the parking spaces with recreational spaces, despite the fact that there are not enough parking spaces. The most pleasant moment was the opening night spent together with them, with a barbecue in the former parking space.
What contributes to a well-designed square or courtyard?
There is no one ready solution. With each yard, we begin by investigating the space; we look for its flaws, but also its advantages and its history. We listen closely to the residents’ voices; we look for new functions and work out optimal solutions together. A well-designed square serves its users well – it cannot be designed without their active participation. Each time we work with different people, so each courtyard is different.