JEMS Architekci and Tomasz Trzupek: Painting the Project
Text by Aleksandra Kędziorek Images by Tomasz Trzupek
To celebrate their 30th anniversary Polish architectural practice JEMS decided to commission a set of paintings from architect Tomasz Trzupek. Working with collaborator Monika Trzupek, Tomasz has produced a series of graphically abstract interpretations of a selection of the JEMS back-catalogue, drawing on both their built and un-built projects. Aleksandra Kędziorek’s introductory text from the catalogue which accompanied the ensuing exhibition, together with a selection of Trzupek’s paintings, is presented below.
At a time when architecture’s significance is increasingly measured by the reach of its media presence, there is a hint of contrarianism in the decision to celebrate a firm’s 30th anniversary with an exhibition of paintings which are closer to geometrical abstractionism than to polished renderings. Such a decision speaks volumes about the architectural office which combines a rational approach to market and professional realities with a commitment to its own values.
Founded in late 1988, Warsaw’s JEMS Architekci does not base its works on preconceived theses or manifestoes. Its designs do not share a set of typical elements’ which would serve as the studio’s trademark; also it does not have a catchy motto which would ensure its recognition in industry professional publications. JEMS does not have a single leader. The design office is run by a group of architects which includes founding partners Olgierd Jagiełło,Maciej Miłobędzki and Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski who established JEMS with Wojciech Zych, an economist. The other partners: Marcin Sadowski, Paweł Majkusiak, Marek Moskal and Andrzej Sidorowicz joined the company in the intervening years. They operate under an office-workshop model which allows them to maintain their diverse ideas and opinions while drawing from a broad range of experiences. While they consciously avoid defining their oeuvre – believing that it carries the risks of simplification and self-satisfaction derived from a false sense of confidence, the designs created by their firm share a common base. They are cohesive in terms of attitudes and values: an awareness of architecture’s complexity, respect for the surrounding environment and people, a commitment to rational, restrained and appropriate architectural forms and a sensitivity to matters of materials and context.
JEMS Architekci was among the first privately-owned architectural firms established during the period of Poland’s political and economic transformation. Facing the new market economy’s realties, they were able to maintain a clearheaded approach and commitment to values in the face of their profession’s weakened condition caused by the constant pressures from investors, markets, media and an ever-growing collection of procedures, norms and directives. “In light of contemporary European realities, we are unable to radically alter the conditions in which architecture is practiced, nor our position in the construction process or to ensure our closer contact with reality,” wrote Maciej Miłobędzki. “However, we can seek to prevent the dissolution of our intentions and ideas in a routine defined by standards,procedures and impersonal processes.”(1) JEMS does not question the existing reality but looks for ways to work with it. They remain faithful to experimentation, professional development and confronting new design challenges in all of their historical and cultural complexity.
Tomasz Trzupek’s aforementioned paintings are a part of the drive toward professional experimentation and growth. Based on his architectural and artistic background, Trzupek has developed a personal style which expressively illustrates the nature of JEMS Architekci’s designs. This collection of paintings does not represent a list of canonical projects from the last 30 years. For example, it does not include 1988’s winning entry in the competition for an urban design of Warsaw’s Victory (Zwycięstwa) Square (now known as Piłsudski Square) which led to the firm’s establishment. Nor does it contain 2002’s Agora S.A. media group’s headquarters which marked a breakthrough moment in JEMS’s existence. His paintings are also not optimized to attract maximum media attention. Through their restrained geometrical forms and limited range of colors, which are the hallmarks of his paintings, Trzupek is able to communicate more about the architecture than most photographs. Trzupek – an architect who has collaborated with JEMS – has a deep understanding of the firm’s uniqueness. The paintings capture the architecture’s physicality: its structure, mass, texture and choice of materials; its composition: the rhythm of the façades, the buildings’ tectonics, the dynamics of interior spaces and the spatial relations between various parts of the buildings.
Among the paintings we will find the shimmering façades of the 2017 office building on Warsaw’s Bobrowiecka Street (see Bobrowiecka 8 above). The cladding framework consists of overlapping prefabricated concrete and graphite aluminum elements which create a three-dimensional effect on the façade’s surface. In Trzupek’s vision, the vibrating and shimmering texture recalls marble’s veins. While this association is not founded on actual similarities in the materials used, it does reflect the building’s refined nature: in the hands of lesser architects its appearance could have easily become either dour or needlessly showy. There is a similar shimmer in the façade of the ‘Trio’ mixed-use residential building on Stawki Street in Warsaw. It is located on a corner lot and its stepped structure calls to mind the expressionist architecture of the 1920s. Its characteristic vibrating effect is achieved thanks to the rhythm of the vertical windows and fiber-cement cladding boards. Other paintings invoke the dynamic nature of the diagonal beams which make up the façade of the Polish Pavilion for Expo 2015 (see Expo Milano above) or the contrasting nature of the solid brick Amber Museum in Gdańsk (Muzeum Bursztynu, a 2010 competition entry, see below). The design called for the museum to be built on the foundations of historic granary ruins and to fill-in the geometry of the old Hanseatic city’s existing architecture. The structure was to be based on arches – an architectural element strongly associated with the proposed building material – and form a robust yet restrained presence in the urban landscape.
JEMS designs architecture which does not need to scream in order to be noticed. Often, their designs incorporate themselves in the local environment in a way which suggests that they always stood there. However, this does not mean that they are either neutral or invisible. Their 2008 Hoover Square pavilion discretely claimed its space among the historic architecture and monuments of Warsaw’s Krakowskie Przedmieście boulevard while creating a new, human-scale public space. Likewise, the 2014 expansion of the Academy of Fine Arts (see ASP below) building on Warsaw’s Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie street was not intended to fade into the background. The new structure entered into a dialogue with the adjacent early 20th century building and the expansive park across the street. The new building partially filled in a gaping hole in the street’s frontage but also created a new public space by introducing a diagonal opening between the new building and the existing historic one.
The context-driven aspect of JEMS’s building designs is also a focus of many of Tomasz Trzupek’s paintings. The office frequently designs commercial architecture for disintegrated urban environments where its buildings (as in the case of Agora S.A.’s headquarters in Warsaw’s post-industrial Lower Mokotów (Dolny Mokotów) area) quiet down the visual chaos and introduce order through their robust form. Meanwhile, the firm’s designs for public buildings are strongly affected by their location in areas of compositional, historical and cultural significance. The architects at JEMS give great consideration and care to these issues.
Frequently, a JEMS design for a single building can develop into a project involving the design of the larger surrounding area. This has particularly been the case within the last decade. Trzupek’s paintings often include the motif of a passage, path or canyon. This can be seen in his representation of the Academy of Fine Arts building in which the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the dark space between the new building and the old one. It is also present in the four paintings which depict the unbuilt Polish History Museum (Muzeum Historii Polski). The project received an award in the Museum’s 2010 design competition and took the form of an urban-planning and landscape conception rather than a strictly architectural one. The proposed building was to be criss-crossed with paths which connected the museum’s interior with existing urban axes and arteries including: the Warsaw Escarpment and its parks and the Ujazdowski Castle, the historical Stansławowska Axis as well as the Trasa Łazienkowska thoroughfare running below the museum building. A similar function is performed by a ‘green canyon’ incorporated into the International Conference Centre in Katowice completed in 2015. The building is part of the large-scale Culture Zone (Strefa Kultury) conception which also includes the recently built Silesian Museum (Muzeum Śląskie) and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. The conference centre building references the nearby modernist and historical structures in its immediate vicinity. The valley, which appears to have been formed through tectonic processes, connects previously separated elements of the urban landscape while acting as a welcoming new public space.
‘Authenticity’ is a term which is often used to describe JEMS’s designs and one which the firm willingly embraces. In practice, however, there is not a single universal recipe for it. Achieving ‘authenticity’ requires an individualized approach to each challenge, it demands careful attention to the needs of investors and intended users, it calls for a serious consideration of the existing context and a commitment to avoiding shortcuts and remaining true to one’s convictions. “Nothing releases us from seeking authenticity, eliminating the gaudy, the banal and the kitschy, even if the demands of the market expect them,” recalled Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski. “…we should not get excited by fashions and slogans, but rather by the best possible development of the things which historically shaped us, which constitute our culture, that which is the essence of our perception, with an understanding of the sources and nature of current changes and an acceptance of their irreversibility.”(2) This demanding professional ethos runs counter to global trends and is accompanied by an awareness of the responsibility to people, urban spaces and culture. This is why JEMS does not only focus on future projects but, in celebrating its anniversary, carefully reflects upon previous accomplishments, remaining conscious of the need for spatial and intellectual continuity. Trzupek’s synthesizing paintings help elucidate the essence of earlier designs and allow future ones to be built upon these experiences. For JEMS, design is “a long-term processes of continuing growth, in which individual projects are simply events along the way and never its conclusion.”(3)
Footnotes: (1) Maciej Miłobędzki, O ciągłości poszukiwań, in: JEMS, Muzeum Architektury we Wrocławiu, Wrocław 2013, p. 47
(2) Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski, O potrzebie autentyczności, in: ibid., p. 29.
(3) Od Wydawcy, in: ibid., p. 5.Published 30th May 2019.
Thanks to Maciej Miłobędzki and Tomasz Trzupek for their help in compiling this article.
This text is taken form the catalogue of the JEMS Architekci / Tomasz Trzupek exhibition held in Warsaw in March 2019.
The text is translated by Krzysztof Ścoborski.