Centrala (The Central)

Centrala (The Central)
Keret House by Centrala

Working out of a family attic, Malgorzata Kuciewicz, Krzysztof Banaszewski and Jakub Szczesny first started working together at a student festival in the mid-nineties. As Centrala, a designers’ task force, their first joint competition wasn’t till 2001, when they won second place for a project to redesign a public square in Warsaw. Since then their work has crossed into art, architecture, urban planning and furniture design.

Although headed by three principal Warsaw-based architects, Centrala’s numbers swell as the need arises. When that happens, Kuciewicz, Banaszewski and Szczesny have a multi-disciplinary network of professionals to call on to assist them.

Graduating from Warsaw Technical University (WAPW), Szczesny’s past is also in visual communication and illustration, working for the Polish edition of Playboy, lifestyle magazines and ad agencies. Graduates too of WAPW, Kuciewicz and Banaszewski bring other skills to the table. Kuciewicz is an “excellent composer when it comes to landscape,” says Szczesny, “and when it comes to small scale objects, like furniture or hedonistic gadgets. Krzys [Banaszewski] is a great analytician and strategist, able to design and plan structural objects or engineering processes.”

At the beginning, what brought the three together was a common interest in taking a “critical approach,” says Szczesny, “towards both the reality left by murky years of communism and mindless reproduction of commercial practices in architecture who dominated new Polish reality with their massive production.”

While entering competitions, Kuciewicz, Banaszewski and Szczesny also wanted to stir up public debate on the city’s disappearing architectural heritage. Between 2002 and 2006, their four ‘decoy projects’ in the press sparked discussion about how to save buildings, particularly modernist works, from the developers.

Centrala’s four provocative proposals outlined ways to reuse buildings around the city. It wanted to show how saving the works would provide ”cultural enrichment,” says Szczesny, “through maintenance of a multilayered historical structure.” Ideas included turning a petrol station into an architecture and urban design gallery and a glass pavilion into a tourist information centre. The buildings were demolished nonetheless.

The group’s built work ranges from a rapidly redesigned apartment interior to the conversion of a train station ticket office into a cultural centre. And while teaming up with Polish firm Bulanda & Mucha architects, they designed a curvy blue tent-like temporary pavilion for the future Museum of Polish Jews.

Wanting to bring constructive change to Poland, Centrala has spent nearly a decade focusing on “colour, sensual experience and broader reflection,” says Szczesny. “This is how we landed on the edge of architecture, design, urban design and art.”

Published in Domus.

Centrala (The Central) is not a firm, it’s more a platform composed by three architects with different backgrounds and interests or preferences that compensate together: Gosia for instance is a excellent “composer” when it comes to landscape and, as opposite, when it comes to small scale objects, like furniture or hedonistic gadgets, while Krzys is a great analytician and strategist able to design and plan structural objects or engineering processes (maybe because of his family background too: his father was the head of mechanical department in Rucker, working mainly for Volkswagen).

Jakub Szczesny

We compose and recompose ourselves for each assignment choosing cooperators from a large pool of freelancing architects with different profiles.

Jakub Szczesny

What has put us together was a critical approach towards both the reality left by murky years of communism and mindless reproduction of commercial practices in architecture who dominated new Polish reality with their massive production.

We chose to distance ourselves a bit from our collegues and try to think in more idealistic terms about how to constructively change Poland – not really for patriotic reasons, rather that we haven’t see other opportunities, and didn’t really manage to blend ourselves into realities offered by places where we studied, such as Finland, Germany, France or even Barcelona.

We hated polish greyness and ignorant money-making of that time and we wanted colour, sensual experience and broader reflection. This is how we landed on the edge of architecture, design, urban design and art. And we like it. Our copperation [sic] started with a student festival in eastern Poland (2002?), than we’ve established a diploma workshop in Krzys house working on our graduation projects, than, after getting our degrees we started with architectural contests.

Jakub Szczesny