Kazimierz Kwiatkowski – Architectural Quack
portrait, Kazimierz Kwiatkowski, photo: the archive of J. Matuszak / Polish Embassy in Hanoi, center, dsc04115_2.jpg
A qualified architect, he started his career by designing housing estates and single-family houses. However, he paid the most attention to preserving Vietnam’s architectural heritage. Thanks to his efforts, the most valuable historic buildings of this country ended up on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.
Building the new versus protecting the old
Born in Poland’s Lubelskie Voivodeship, Kazimierz Kwiatkowski possesses a great talent for fine arts. He cannot decide whether he should develop it at the Academy of Fine Arts or at the Faculty of Architecture so he applies to both institutions. In the outcome, he chooses the latter. In 1969, he defends his thesis, graduating from the Faculty of Architecture at Kraków’s University of Technology.
After leaving university, he starts work at the Urban Planning Department at Lublin’s Provincial Office. Later he becomes the director of the ‘Miastoprojekt’ Research & Design Construction Bureau. He designs, among others, the ‘Słoneczne’ estate in Zamość, creates urban plans and single-family home concepts. However, he becomes more and more interested in buildings erected in the past. His first task connected to this passion is the inventory of historic folk architecture created for the newly-opened Lublin Open Air Village Museum.
In 1979, he decides to fully focus on historic buildings: he becomes a designer at the State Studios for Conservation of Cultural Property. At the same time, the authorities of Vietnam turn to UNESCO for help with saving the country’s heritage (which is at risk because of war activities). Poland has good relations with Vietnam and reacts to the call: the Polish-Vietnam Mission for Heritage Preservation emerges.
In 1981, Kwiatkowski becomes the mission’s director. He leaves for Vietnam and remains there until the end of his life. One should mention that the mission to the Asian country was the first venture of this kind undertaken by the Polish government, with Kwiatkowski paving the way. A few years later, Polish conservators also help in Cambodia and Mongolia.
To the rescue of temples
The Vietnam mission is difficult for him. He works in a country which, until recently, was a battlefield. He deals with a culture totally different from the one he knows from Europe and has to get accustomed to the tropical climate. Due to recent wartime destruction, the team does not have a proper place to live, so they sleep in a bamboo shack. Kwiatkowski educates Vietnamese architectural conservators: until his arrival, the country was visited by just a handful of specialists in the field.
The first historic buildings which he takes care of comprise a complex of Brahmin temples in the My Son Sanctuary, developed between the 7th and 15th centuries, long forgotten and devoured by the jungle. However, it was also the battlefield for many clashes during the war. Before Kazik (or ‘The Quack’, as the Vietnamese called Kwiatkowski after the local premiere of Jerzy Hoffman’s film due to his similarity with Jerzy Bińczycki who played the film’s protagonist) attempts to describe and make an inventory of the historic monuments, he oversees their mine clearance, digs for remains in mounds of dirt and searches for ruins in the deep jungle. The effort pays off: the invaluable heritage of My Son (also known as Vietnam’s Angkor Wat) can be marvelled again. In 1994, a museum is created at the site and in 1999 the sanctuary ends up on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.
Kwiatkowski leads the research of dozens of ancient temples in South Vietnam. He efficiently uses modern techniques such as, for example, aerial archaeology and photogrammetry which allows to recreate shapes of architectonic objects with the help of photograms.
The salvaged old city
His sensibility for the fate of heritage stays with him even during holidays. During leisure time by the sea, he visits the oldest part of Hoi An. He sees that the quality of the neglected 16th-century wooden buildings is valuable. He convinces the Vietnamese authorities that the estate, which was marked for demolition, is worth preserving. The area regains its glamour and quickly becomes one of the region’s most popular tourist spots. In 1999, it too ends up on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.
In 1989, Poland undergoes political transformation. The country faces new problems and no longer wants to finance the preservation of Vietnam’s heritage. However, Kwiatkowski knows that his mission is not yet over: he receives support from Stuttgart’s Society of Friends of Cham Culture. Thanks to his own persistence and sincere desire to preserve Vietnamese heritage, he continues his work. Among other places, he researches the Forbidden City and the complex of tombs of the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam’s former capital Hue.
Kazimierz Kwiatkowski dies in 1997. The Vietnamese remember him: his statue stands at the main street of Hoi An, the same city which he helped save. The only square in the city holding a statue of a foreigner is now commonly known as ‘Kazik Park’.
Translated by Patryk Grabowski