Interviewed: Aleksandra Wróbel, Agnieszka Witaszek, Kamil Owczarek.Can you tell us more about your team?
We all completed our Bachelor studies in Poland - Agnieszka graduated from Warsaw University of Technology, Aleksandra and Kamil from the Cracow University of Technology. Still, we met each other only last year when we started our Master's Programme in Architecture at the Delft University of Technology. Soon we have found out that we are not only good friends but also we share common language and values concerning architecture and ways of designing it. A decision to participate in the competition came naturally when we realised that we complement each other's skills. It became particularly valuable when current circumstances forced us to communicate remotely.
What was your feeling when you knew you were the winners of the competition?
Information about winning came to us as a surprise - we were all in different cities and countries. When we called each other with the news, our first reaction was a shock, which quickly turned into great exultation - we jumped and shouted overwhelmed with joy, accompanied by our families.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
Given the unpredictable and severe consequences of emergencies, we focused on those aspects of the design, which will make it possible to provide immediate relief after the disaster. Introducing the structural system made out of identical wooden boards that slide one into the other we achieved the construction that can be easily transported and quickly assembled and disassembled on-site as well as is adaptable to changing needs. Moreover, the architectural quality of the shelter was equally essential for us as we believe that the identity of such a temporary structure has the power to bring back affected communities together.
The aim of the competition is to create a place that protects people during emergencies. How important is this theme today? According to you, what could be the role of architecture for emergency?
The current situation of the pandemic that has affected all countries in the world made us realise that emergencies of the XXI century are not necessarily restricted to developing countries only and that their unpredictability questions all the values we were used to. Given the fact that from the past few months, we are confined to our domestic environments, more than ever did we understand that architectural shell is a natural and inseparable extension of our lives. In the case of emergency, architecture is the first means to fulfil our fundamental feeling of safety and provide us with a certain notion of identity.
Can you briefly explain the concept of your project and which is the relationship between it and the emergency?
A dialogue in between our design and a case of emergency is based on the construction system of prefabricated wooden boards with indentations that by sliding one into the other create waffle-like walls. Such a structure can be quickly assembled and disassembled even by unqualified workers which is a crucial aspect when the engineers are not available on site. Moreover, the dimensions of each board make it possible to load all elements on one truck and transport them to the desired site immediately. This system also provides a wide range of flexibility – if needed, each wall might be easily adapted by adding or removing horizontal and vertical boards. The structure has also a purely utilitarian function: it is a storage space for packages that arrive at the shelter and can be arranged freely to provide enough privacy inside.
How did the material choice affect your design?
Due to the unpredictable conditions that may threaten the Sub-Saharan region, we understood that using materials available on-site or coming from the emergency itself creates a certain danger of introducing a construction containing harmful particles that may seriously affect people's health. Therefore, we approached the subject of sustainability with a hygienic and durable structure that can be reusable multiple times. This is the reason why the ease of transportation and a non-destructive disassembly process were key factors in our design.
Has your project been inspired by anything-in particular, by some project in developing countries or past projects of Kaira Looro?
In our design, we were mainly inspired by the nature of humanitarian help itself - by the transparency of its actions, the way how affected people are treated with equality and respect, and by the perspective of rebuilding the identity of broken communities. We compared these notions with a basic element that is inseparable from providing aid - a simple box in which various goods are transported to the shelter. Looking at the ways how storing packages can be integrated into an architectural structure became our main inspiration for the project.
How your idea of architecture can solve emergency in developing countries, and how the community concerned could perceive this architecture?
We are aware that emergencies which affect developing countries have very complex environmental consequences and that with a single building we cannot simply solve all of them. However, we believe that architecture has the potential to tackle one of the most important aspects concerning a post-disaster situation, namely building back the identity of broken communities. We translated this issue into our design through an open and transparent structure which manifests help that is provided there. It functions as a framework which is not imposed on the community but rather invites everyone to co-create it and as such gets a certain identity that is later taken over by the society itself.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of architects in dealing with complex issues such as emergencies or architectures in developing countries?
In our opinion, one of the most crucial aspects when designing for emergency conditions is to put ourselves in the position of future users and translate all of our empathy and professional knowledge to the project. It is not only necessary to design a low-tech building which can be easily assembled by local people but also it should translate certain atmospheres like domesticity and care which increase the level of mental health of its users. It is also important to remember that designing a temporary and low-budget structure should not affect its architectural value.
The aim of the competition was also to improve the research on the topics of sustainable architecture with natural and recycled materials. How do you feel that contemporary architecture is approaching these topics?
We are conscious that a notion of sustainability in regards to contemporary architecture has to be questioned and redefined again because of an accelerating pace of changes that we have observed in recent years. Also, the current situation of the pandemic may irreversibly change social distancing and the way how we are used to gather in public buildings. Therefore, we see that sustainability is not only about building from natural or recycled materials but is more about using them in such a way that elements can be easily adapted to changes of the space. In this way, we can be sure that even the most sustainable design does not end up in the landfill when its fixed system can no longer be used.
Your fee, such as all fees of the competition Kaira Looro, is a donation to the no profit organization Balouo Salo that helps people in disadvantage area of Senegal. How it has affected you approach to the competition?
When we got to know that our registration fee will contribute to Balouo Salo organisation we realised that the objectives of the competition are solely focused on people in need and not on commercial benefits. This information made us realise that this project has a real chance to improve living conditions in developing countries and is not only created for the sake of designing.
Your prize is an internship at Kengo Kuma & Associates, one of the most prestigious architecture studios in the world. Can you express your feelings about it?
We are overwhelmed with joy and gratitude to be honoured with an internship at such a prestigious architectural practice as Kengo Kuma & Associates is. We identify ourselves with the aesthetics of their projects and therefore, we are looking forward to experiencing how designing such a humble yet elegant architecture looks like in practice. We eagerly await to contribute our knowledge and skills to the office.
The first edition of Kaira Looro has won by another Polish team, do you know the winning project of that edition and its team?
We are familiar with this project as its poetic approach caught our attention when the results of the first edition were announced. We are proud of a young generation of Polish architects whose projects are more and more often appreciated on the worldwide architectural scene in regards to their high quality.
The aim of the competition is also to give professional opportunities to young architects, and we wish your team the best achievements for your career. How do you think you will be in next 10 years? According to you, how much will this award affect your future?
Above all, we regard the internship as a chance to see how one of the world's most reputable architectural practices functions. We believe that the experience that we will acquire there will be a highly valuable source of knowledge. Later it may become a base for us to start our own practice as this competition has proved that we complement each other at work.