The United Nations Climate Change Conference COP24 has just opened in Katowice. The most important task facing the states is setting the rules for the implementation of the first global climate agreement, namely the Paris Agreement. The agreement purports to prevent global temperature increase in order to avoid the threat of climate catastrophe that is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, which result in 80 percent from combustion of fossil fuels. According to statistics, 33 out of 50 European cities with the highest air pollution are located in Poland. Smog impacts the lives of all Polish residents, and particularly of people living in the southern provinces (7 Silesian cities are at the forefront of the shameful list). We would now like to present the point of view of one of the most outstanding Polish architects, Robert Konieczny, who has recently designed a multi-family residential building Unikato with a façade inspired by smog.
Ladies and gentlemen, on the basis of my own observations and of partner websites, I have come to the conclusion that the subject I intent to address here is of little interest in Poland. Therefore, I’ve decided to present it from a slightly different perspective associated with my job.
For me as an architect, space between the walls has always been more important than the walls creating this space. Well-designed space is functional and pleasurable to live in, both in micro and macro scale. However, space also means air – the air that we breathe, the air that is terrible in Poland. It is killing all of us at a slower of faster rate. In my city air leaves traces on walls. Walls that have not been refurbished have blackened throughout the years.
Low-stack emission is the worst. It is the pervasive smoke from house chimneys, burning low-quality coal, coal dust, but also plastic, foil, garbage and no one really knows what else. The meter readings show that the levels of low-stack emission rise in the afternoon, they tend to peak after dusk, but in the morning the situation is not much better. The problem does not disappear in the warmer months! For over six months the norm of the deadly PM 2.5 and PM 10 are exceeded even several hundred times! Let’s be clear: we are talking about the entire country. It is also shocking that the maximum level of PM 2.5 in our country is 2.5 times higher than in other European countries! In accordance with the principle: if it’s bad, let’s increase the norm.
The above is compounded by cars – mostly old, worn out, and imported, including a lot of diesels with removed DPF filters. It is a common, uncontrolled phenomenon. They are poisoning our air notably. Cars dominate the growingly depopulating centre of my city, because people use them to commute to work from the suburbs.
Certainly, industry also contributes to pollution, as well as the shocking procedure of burning enormous quantities of garbage brought to Poland from all over the world. Every now and then we hear about a cloud of black smoke, which has taken over the sky in various places in our country. Such info on the news that no one responds to!
I want to live in a normal country where the air does not cause the irritation in my throat and not in a country that I simply cannot see! When I come back to Poland, even from the Czech Republic, I start suffocating as soon as I cross the border, because I enter the area of eternal smoke. Our neighbors have dealt with this issue, while we are stubbornly continuing with coal and tilt at windmills.
Ostrava, similarly to my hometown Katowice, is a post-industrial city, but it has completely different air. We want to preserve the dirt that corroded the bricks in the building of the old slaughterhouse, which we are transforming into a modern art gallery, as a trace of that time. It is normal there. I don’t think it will be normal in Katowice any time soon.
We have designed low-budget Unikato in the increasingly desolate centre of Katowice, despite many obstacles brought about by banks that did not believe that people would like to live there. It is a residential building that might reverse this negative trend. All the apartments have already been sold.
Unikato draws inspiration from Katowice’s modernism but also from the dirt that has been covering it for years. We borrowed the color of the building from the neighboring pre-war tenement house stained with smog! It’s this kind of a city. Unikato blends into its surroundings; it is a genuine local building. And it will not get any dirtier… at least visually.
It’s the same with people – you cannot see it either. Toxins from the air settle on our lungs and other internal organs. They penetrate into our entire bodies with blood. As a result, our children and we smoke the equivalent of several packs of cigarettes per day with an even longer list of deadly ingredients. Please take a look at the picture of the filter taken out from the mechanical ventilation after 3 months of operating in my Ark, which is located in the mountains, in a region associated with cleanliness!
I have learned from conversations with people who attempted to use subsidy programs to ease the transition to more environmentally friendly power sources, that they are fictional to a large extend, because those people were forced to struggle with piles of problems that were only meant to discourage them. There are many examples!
We’ve been told about drones that were supposed to fly and chase people who burn the worst garbage. But has anyone seen them? I haven’t. All I see and smell each day is smoke in the air. Nothing changes or it even gets worse.
I do not know how much shorter our lives will be because of the air we are breathing, but I know that we should all begin to speak with one voice: that’s enough! Enough with lies and quick fixes resulting from shortsighted politics. In my opinion, none of the ruling parties has done anything to solve this problem, so we have to do it ourselves. We are taking about our life and health and the life and health of our children.
It is the beginning of the climate summit in Katowice. I usually wait for the wind to disperse the smog, but this time I wish there was no wind. I would like our guests to experience in the following days the air that we breathe. It may help us. It may be our opportunity for salvation.
Regardless of the current situation, it is most important for us to be aware – this is why I am writing as a citizen and as an architect, asking you to reflect upon my words and to act.
Let us remember that buildings are much more durable than us…