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How can Architecture help communities? Grzegorz Oleniecki’s project and vision

How can Architecture help communities? Grzegorz Oleniecki’s project and vision

1.1 Grzegorz Oleniecki Photo by M. Reitsma 1 Grzegorz Oleniecki photo by M. Reitsma


Would you tell us more about what happened after the course Architecture for Humanity?

After taking the course in Architecture for Humanity, I had the opportunity to go to Africa and actively participate in a project conducted by Anna Heringer Studio. Specifically, I had the unique possibility of providing supervision of the construction of the Earth Educational Campus located in Tatale in northern Ghana. The Earth Campus is a vocational school project aiming to shift the current paradigms and put sustainable architecture and equal development of the local community at the front of the agenda. There are challenges to overcome, but the project is paving the way for using architecture as a tool for local sustainable development. I was there for a few months and, apart from supervising the construction of new campus buildings, I got to know the community members and the necessities and opportunities of this remote area near the borders with Togo and Burkina Faso. All this has truly motivated me to kickstart the Architecture for Hope project, which I will describe in more detail later on.

00 First Classroom Elevation C Grzegorz Oleniecki

What influence do you think that your experience in Ghana had on your professional and personal life?

The opportunity to stay in Ghana had a significant impact on my professional and personal life. First and foremost, it allowed me to dive deep into the essentials of the architectural profession. Although I have been working in various countries around the world earlier, Ghana taught me to look very carefully at the immediate surroundings. And by saying immediate, I mean a radius of a few kilometers around the site. This is where the vast majority of the materials were coming from for the campus project. It also allowed me to explore how to do more with less, because the resources were extremely scarce. It sharpened my vision and reinforced my approach of looking at scarcity as an opportunity to dive into the essentials of architecture. With all the projects I have developed in my career, I wanted to convey the message that good architecture does not need to cost a lot, and my stay in Ghana has strengthened this idea. It also restored my belief in architecture as a discipline, and the belief in societies, as even the smallest architectural intervention has a huge impact on the local community in Tatale. 

Plastering C Grzegorz Oleniecki 1

Because of the course, you met Anna Heringer. How would you describe your experience working with her? Is the collaboration still going on?

Working with Anna Heringer was a very interesting experience. I understood and saw how an architect can firmly stand up to the self-established principles and believe in change. Introducing principles of equal development for everyone, not only through finished architectural projects, but also by the specific community-centered construction process along the way, was present in every situation. Introducing women to work on site for an equal wage might be one of the many examples of the fight not only for gender equality but also for the attempt to create a sustainable future for everyone by reducing social inequalities. While working in extreme situations, the benefits of construction should affect the immediate community, not the large providers in the construction industry. Because in that way, it really contributes to community development. And I can confirm that it has worked in Tatale. Through the choice of architecture, materials, and construction techniques, income and development have been distributed within the community. This is what I admire about Anna Heringer’s architecture.

16 Construction  Mud Forming C Grzegorz Oleniecki

We have heard that you have set up an online platform after attending the course at YACademy which is called Architecture for Hope. Please tell us more about this project. How did you come up with the idea and what do you expect from it?

Indeed, I have set up the Architecture for Hope platform. Its goal is to deeply present and support socially very specific architectural projects and interventions that truly dignify lives and erase inequalities in a crowdfunding-like style. The aim is to provide specific support toward specific architectural goals. On the platform and Instagram, one can get to know architectural projects, like the Tatale Earth Campus, and the impact they create on marginalized communities, which is huge but largely unknown to those who have not been there. Therefore, the impact is always presented in the form of interviews with the community members so that they can be heard directly, without any third parties. Our primary focus is on projects tackling education, healthcare, climate change, housing, and sustainable workplace projects which reduce inequalities. So far, the project has been a success, and at the moment we are looking for partners to develop the crowdfunding platform further.

10 Future Students Looking Through the Window C Grzegorz Oleniecki

Is this project limited to a specific area or is it meant to cover more countries in the world?

The aim of the project is not related to any specific area. The location does not matter. What matters is the marginalization of the community and the impact of the architectural project. The first chapter of Architecture for Hope has been done in Tatale in Ghana. Currently, the second chapter is taking place in Mexico. Here, the project is a little music kiosk in the marginalized district of Mexico City where kids and teenagers can learn classical guitar music with the help of Kithara Foundation. The building is made entirely from recycled and donated materials designed by TO arquitectura. I hope that one day I will be able to support an architectural project related to a dignified living space for disabled people, as this is a very complex topic that requires urgent attention even in the developed world. There are a lot of single mothers with disabled kids; unfortunately, they pass away, and often less-able people cannot live a dignified life alone in normally designed buildings.

06 Restroom Facilities Elevation C Grzegorz Oleniecki

There seems to be a substantial connection between the course you attended at YACademy - Architecture for Humanity - and your career after that. How did you get interested in these topics? 

These topics have interested me because I have seen and experienced inequalities in various places around the world. There is no possibility of treating inequalities as a non-existent problem or a problem that does not impact everyone. The recent phenomenon of migration is one of the examples that the world cannot function as it has been functioning so far. As an architect, I believe that architecture can dignify lives and reduce inequalities in the long term. I am also aware that architecture can not do this on its own; therefore, I am aiming to create projects like Architecture for Hope, where architecture that can change the status quo is also financially backed up by a community of like-minded people ready to share their energy to achieve a common goal.

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