In Warsaw, our troubled society has reached a peak exemplary of this 21st century of contradictions, where contrasts like past and future, or connection and disconnection to tradition, coexist. The Garden of Tears presents a design for a forum for Polish sorrows, traumas and complexes, as a mirror of contemporary Polish society.
Can you explain your choice of subject?
In recent years we could observe the declining integrity of the European Union as countries return to nationalism. It is related to a worldwide process of globalization and homogenization, which prompts the reinvention of local and regional histories and cultures. The identity crisis is particularly visible in Poland, a country that has witnessed unprecedented suffering, horrifying events and the eradication of culture and tradition. Poland is still trying to cope with its own turmoil, history and blurred identity.
At the centre of the capital city Warsaw there is an undeveloped square which used to be a site for socialist parades. It remained abandoned for more than 60 years. With its Soviet palace, it forms the centre of gravity for Warsaw and symbolically the centre of the country. Stalin’s Palace of Culture is a scar and a reminder of the difficult past. Its existence and prominent location is a violation of Polish culture and tradition, still casting a shadow over the city.
That’s why it was important for me to start acting and set the tone of the discussion. A polemic design about the contemporary Polish cultural and political situation. A manifesto seemed appropriate. The idea of the Forum — Warsaw’s urban park of the 21st century — works as a mirror of Polish society, using national symbols as a form of remembrance and self-reflection. This is an attempt to deal with trauma and give Polish people hope and perspective for the future.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly elaborate on them?
There is not one source of inspiration that influences my work. I’m intrigued by people, nature, the cosmos, history, music, art… Nature and culture keep me thinking and exploring new things. Nature for me is an endless source of inspiration. Of course, there are also architects and landscape architects whose work and attitude inspire me. So far, I have been fortunate that some of them were my teachers, and some I could collaborate with professionally.
For my graduation work, I was fascinated by my home city of Warsaw. Layers of discontinuity made it an intriguing architectural phenomenon with a multitude of meanings. Its turbulent past, eradication and rebuilding turned it into a palimpsest. Nostalgia for the once beautiful city became a search for a lost paradise. Exactly this atmosphere gave me a creative push. The key image that fascinated and influenced me was a photograph of a girl running in the rain in Warsaw, taken in the 1960s by Zbyszko Siemaszko, a famous Warsaw street photographer. It is full of passion and the unknown. It conveys a narrative of freedom and lightness, even during difficult times. It is about opening minds for spontaneous acts, dealing with the difficult history.
In addition, I was inspired by the paintings of Jacek Malczewski, a 19th-century Polish artist. Two paintings in particular made a big impression on me: ‘W tumanie’ (In the clouds) and ‘Polish Hamlet’. They reflect the unstable time, constant struggle, uncertainty and unknown, and a constant search for the Polish identity.
Can you point out the key moment in your graduation project?
This was the moment I realized that cities are a construct of our mind and imagination. That helped me to look at the park from another perspective. Despite the heavy subject matter, Warsaw’s forum and urban park can bring delight and happiness, and shape people’s image of themselves and the image of the city for the future. It’s a garden behind a closed wall, a hidden paradise where a new form of identity, based on the past, can emerge.
It creates an image where fantasy and reality intertwine, an image of what we see, what we imagine and what we remember. Taking the form of an urban park in the post-Soviet city core of Warsaw, the Forum seeks to create a better understanding of this traumatic period crucial to Polish identity and channel the emotions it evokes. The Warsaw Forum reveals layers of history enabling us to deal with and eventually overcome the traumatic experiences. The park acts as a mirror of Polish society, using national symbols as a form of remembrance and self-reflection. It evokes Polish national characteristics which become anchors for the design. Among these are a strong affiliation with Catholicism and evocations of the Polish landscape including illusions of a forest, a river and agriculture.
The Forum can therefore be regarded as a contemporary monastery, a hortus conclusus. The idea of the nation is represented in an abstract way, leaving plenty of room for the spectator’s imagination. Some parts of the trauma can be regarded as ironic, some as bitter and others, such as the contradiction between modernity and the values of rural society and the church, as provocation. All these unusual components interact to highlight an honest and authentic representation of the Polish nation, so that The Garden of Tears becomes a powerful symbol of today’s troubled Polish society.
Łukasz K. Bąkowski
Wageningen Universiteit en Researchcentrum / Landschapsarchitectuur
When started graduating
When finished graduating
What do you do now?
I am a freelance landscape architect. Currently, I collaborate with an office Inside Outside – Petra Blaisse in Amsterdam. Recently I also worked with OMA in Rotterdam for an exhibition ‘Countryside – the future’ at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
What hope/want you as a designer to achieve in the near and/or distant future?
The narrative is one of the most captivating and important elements which influence my work. I try to see every project as a unique experience that should be tackled in a different way with respect to the observed context. Projects, like The Garden of Tears, that narrate an important story, have a soul and are timeless. As a professional, I want to design landscapes that work well but also bring poetry and have meaning to people. Combining engineering and poetry in a design is significant for me.
“[…] The project succeeds in touching the Polish soul with a compelling collage bristling with components. It does overshoot the mark somewhat in that respect, such as in seeking to incorporate every Polish landscape type in the park. This does nothing to detract from the park’s beautifully crafted elements and poetic places, evidence that a talented designer is at work here. […]”