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The Warsaw Voice » Real Estate » November 18, 2009
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Friendly and Profitable
November 18, 2009   
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The E&L Architects studio has won the Commercial Architecture award in the CNBC Arabiya Europe & Africa Property Awards 2009 competition for its design of the Tulipan House office building on Domaniewska Street in the Mokotów district of Warsaw. Piotr Cegiełko, director of E&L Architects, talks to Magdalena Fabijańczuk.

What makes the award-winning Tulipan House stand out among other office buildings in Warsaw?
We designed it to be human-friendly, which explains why it is the lowest building in the neighborhood. It only has four floors, which is what I call human scale, and its architecture is user-friendly instead of overwhelming. We did not take full advantage of the opportunities this plot of land presented for construction. That was a rare thing to do when design work was under way a few years ago and these days it hardly ever happens at all. The Tulipan House is the latest building our studio designed that way with the go-ahead from the investor.

Tulipan House is part of the public space of the street it stands on. It's as if the square in front extends into the interior of the building with only a glass wall separating the indoor section from the outside, to protect it from cold weather. We came up with this idea sympathizing with all the people who come in rushing in the morning, drink their coffee from paper cups in elevators, reach their desks and stay there for the next 10 hours. These people do not really live over that time. The arcades and the atrium of the building encourage interpersonal relations and I am convinced that in the final analysis, this improves the quality of their lives and the efficiency of their work.

The sides of the square are marked out by two sandstone-covered cubes where the offices are. Sandstone makes buildings look warm and cozy and it is a traditional building material used in Warsaw for decades.

Back to the large atrium, it is not exactly a highly commercial idea- what was the investor's opinion about it?
It is true that the area or, shall I rather say, the volume of the atrium-which stands 14 meters tall-does not bring any immediate profit. Still, the occupancy rate is very high and I believe the tenants have chosen Tulipan House because, other than being a place to work at, it offers a certain added value. We told the tenants we were in touch with as the designers that the atrium was not an extravagance, but a useful platform for communication that helped establish and strengthen interpersonal bonds and relations.

Still, it sounds like a risky idea. Did the investor agree right away?
We outlined over a dozen ideas for the building, including a tall office tower. Together with the investor, we came to the conclusion that the plan we eventually went ahead with would be commercially viable. We were wondering how much we could shrink the atrium without compromising its social function. We prepared dozens of evaluations. I must say that we were very much helped by the customer's attitude and their commitment to the idea of building lasting value and having the building stand the test of time over decades.

What about the attitude of the designer? Are architects concerned about the commercial success of their buildings?
Commercial architecture is what we do. Our customers are not users of the buildings we design, but developers who build for their customers and want to make a profit. Their success is our success. Our customers expect us to have specialist knowledge of what the market demands from buildings we design. Designs are born from analyses of the commercial condition of locations, from identification of the target customer and their needs and, consequently, design ideas, the standard of the future building and the budget. This is the analytical part, but then there's the creative part, the one an architect works on. When a building is relatively well designed, but banal or even ugly, it does not have to be a commercial flop, although perhaps it should. But we believe that the added value a creative architect contributes is what makes the difference between architecture and mechanical construction and that is very important. It is not just about culture, but also marketing, because it increases a building's value in the long term and adds to the prestige of the designers, owners, tenants and inhabitants, as well as the street, city and country.

Buildings shape streets, streets shape cities and so on, but how do you reconcile the desire for architectural freedom with the need to comply with city planning requirements?
These ideas neither contradict nor compete with each other. The way I see architecture, buildings are not products of geniuses working in seclusion somewhere in the attic, but they are part and parcel of culture and the product of the communities that construct them. Like no other objects of art, buildings reflect the condition of societies with their aspirations, complexes, affluence and attitude to tradition, universal values and so on.

When you think of what is known as spatial order, which Warsaw lacks badly, then perhaps this situation is a reflection of our nature. Designers and their unbridled individualism are not really responsible for the lack of order. The only building in Warsaw whose "individual character" indeed disturbed the spatial order of the city is the Palace of Culture and Science, but it was built under different social and political circumstances. Still, it went on to become an icon of Warsaw and stands as testimony to both our past and our ability to deal with it.
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