Architect whose interdisciplinary activity lies somewhere between architecture, urban planning, art and science. She designs houses, interiors, exhibitions and installations. Born on the 4th of October 1978 in Warsaw, where she now lives and works.
Architect and designer.
Aleksandra Wasilkowska was distinguished in the competition for the Pontivy garden, in the contest for the modernization of the Grzybowski square in Warsaw and in the competition for the information pavilion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
She designs, amongst others, for the network of institutions and activists Krytyka Polityczna and for the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.
In 2003 she obtained her diploma from the Faculty of Architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology. In 2005 she gained a diploma with a distinction at the Ecole d'Architecture de Bretagne. She was an intern at François Roche's and Stéphanie Lavaux’s workshop R & Sie(n) in Paris. Since 2007 she has been running her own design bureau in Warsaw. She is a co-founder (alongside Angelique Chedemois and Tam-Kien Dong) of the collective Meso which deals with issues linked to complex urban systems. Wasilkowska is a lecturer of the course Art/Space Public/Democracy at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities. She is also a guest lecturer at the Architecture Foundation in London and at the Chelsea College of Art & Design, amongst others.
Approach to Design
Aleksandra Wasilkowska analyses contemporary urban planning strategies and possibilities for collective action in public space. She perceives urban space as a place where two tendencies clash: the top-down, official one which is associated with order and the bottom-up, social one which is governed by chaos.
I think that the role of an architect is to give natural urban processes beautiful forms rather than to advocate clear and self-sufficient architecture that has a closed form which doesn’t need people – says Wasilkowska.
Her projects are interdisciplinary - they are the results of a search for links between the issues of broadly understood architecture and the problems addressed by sociology, complexity sciences, social psychology and other topics. She often invites people who deal with these scientific fields to collaborate with her. This makes a change of perspective and the viewing of urban or architectural issues from a new position possible.
In collaboration with the Paris l'Institut des Systèmes Complexes (Institute of Complex Systems) Wasilkowska devised a strategic project for Zagreb – MultipliCity Disorder (2008). The project referred to the fragmentation of Yugoslavia which occurred after the fall of communism (Multiple Personality Disorder is a psychological term that describes a mental illness in which a person has a consciousness split by a traumatic experience).
Wasilkowska’s projects include public space installations, buildings, interior and garden arrangements and socially meaningful exhibitions and experiments. Most of her works are created as a result of her interest in new ways of perceiving cities as social organisms, in which participatory techniques, mechanisms of creating informal public spaces, self-organisation and group sub-consciousness play a big role. Wasilkowska analyses these phenomena. In her works she makes use of scientific tropes as she searches for new ways of understanding and organising urban spaces.
I consider one thought to be especially close to my heart – a city should organise itself on the basis of interdependence, never-ending negotiations – Wasilkowska said in an interview for the periodical "Krytyka Polityczna”.
She had more to say about this topic elsewhere:
Urban planning should be based on such principles as regulation and cooperation rather than on control and prevention. Tissues should be regulated in view of analyses of bottom-up processes (movements of human masses, fluctuations of proportions of functions, the amount and quality of links between these functions) and in view of climatic conditions (light availability, wind intensity or noise levels). The relatively traditional urban planning should be substituted by a new scientific field studying complex systems.
In my projects I reference Oskar Hansen’s Open Form, I refer to architecture capable of evolving which is understood as background. Projects are vessels into which users may pour their meanings. Bezinteresowna Przestrzeń Miejska (Disinterested Urban Space) is a project that revolves around global, top-down activity of the likes of: ‘we give you a covered urban landscape and you can locally take control over it in accordance to rules that have been worked out’ (no trade, but lying on the grass is allowed etc.). I call this strategy of incorporating users’ various needs into the building of space Genetically Modified Space. In spaces created according to this strategy seemingly contradictory functions may be merged […]. Such spaces would be sums of various needs: bottom-up ones which ensure the existence of bustling life and top ones that have predetermined functions – explains Wasilkowska.
Aleksandra Wasilkowska’s diploma work was entitled Miato symbiotyczne (Symbiotic City – 2005) and it addressed the analysis of “the conflict of top-down planning and bottom-up activities in the context of the Parade Square in Warsaw”. In this work the artist proposed to create in the space of the Parade Square “an architectural, elastic structure, which would start a dialogue with the (social and political) character of this place”. The strategy of the square’s evolution assumed that the bottom-up processes already existing in this place, such as the forming of shopping stands, should be developed. Wasilkowska proposed that a code of behaviour be created. All the investors would have to accept this code. It would state that 25% of the walls of the buildings in the square would have no openings. Thanks to this it would be possible to add buildings that would be adjacent to the existing ones, which would enable the forming of an organic structure with a publicly accessible roof covered with vegetation.
Disinterested Urban Space
In 2007 Wasilkowska and Krzysztof Żwirblis began to collaborate on the project Bezinteresowna Przestrzeń Miejska (+n). In the framework of this project Wasilkowska prepared an architectural concept. The creators of Bezinteresowna Przestrzeń Miejska (+n) suggested that an island of vegetation ought to be created in the place of the parking space, which may be found in the Constitution Square in Warsaw. This island of vegetation would be an area of recreation and free social communication. The project consisted of an architectural design that included plans of a system of ventilation and energy-efficient solutions, a concept of vegetation design (Karolina Samborska), a historical and town-planning analysis, a 1:50 model, an exhibition and social-artistic actions during which visualizations were presented and opinions were collected.
Unusually Rare Occurrences
In 2009 the architect was invited to participate in the exhibition Niezwykle rzadkie zdarzenia / Dystrybucja Nooawangardy (Unusually Rare Occurrences / The Distribution of the Nooavant-garde) which was organised by the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. This exhibition resulted from the collaboration of the curator Łukasz Ronduda and professor Andrzej Nowak with a young generation of artists and architects. Wasilkowska, together with the programmer Michał Piasecki, prepared the main structure of the exposition. The works of the remaining participants, Janek Simon, Agnieszka Kurant and Oskar Dawicki, were composed into this structure. As her material Wasilkowska chose aerated concrete manufactured by YTONG, from which a light, openwork construction was created.
The Biennale of Architecture
In 2010 Aleksandra Wasilkowska’s and Agnieszka Kurant’s project Emergency Exit represented Poland at the Biennale of Architecture in Venice (Elias Redstone was the curator of this exhibition). The materials of the organizers included the following statement:
Emergency Exit is an attempt to transcend the logic of urban reality by creating something of the likes of a portable teleportation hole. The title ironically references the safety rules and sanitary-health regulations that are set in buildings and urban spaces, which were introduced in order to attain a scheduled life, to control risk and to exclude what is unexpected and accidental.
According to the project a tall construction resembling a ski jump or a swimming pool diving board was to be built at the Polish Pavilion. Wasilkowska’s and Kurant’s structure was raised. The construction critically referenced the heritage of the modernistic architecture of certain, presently ruined, monumental sports facilities stood above a sea of white clouds. The clouds were so dense that there seemed to be a bottomless abyss below them. This view was supposed to make anybody who would stand on the top of the jump feel an air of mystery, risk, danger or even fear. Jumping down was, however, safe because a mattress ready to cushion falls was hidden in the clouds. Thanks to this jumping, from Wasilkowska’s and Kurant’s jump induced a feeling of pleasure which contrasted with the fear one felt before leaping. Anybody who came to the exhibition could experience jumping into clouds, which is a celebration of life.
Aleksandra Wasilkowska enjoys working with open spaces. Her installation The Temple (2014) appeared in the Millennium Park in Zielona Góra. Wasilkowska toes the line between the sacred and the profane. The park is both a burial site, containing remnants of graveyard architecture and also a place where people 'answer the call of nature'. Wasilkowska tracked places in the park where memory meets purely physiological needs and marked them by planting flowers.
In 2015, the artist prepared a project for public toilets located in one of Wrocław's parks, using minimalist containers covered in copper plates. Moreover, Wasilkowska chose not to divide the toilets according to gender. She instead developed a pavilion, which suited everyone’s needs, including parents with small children and people with disabilities.
Wasilkowska also worked in Krasnogrudzki Park, where she designed an installation for kids, entitled Ogród Gucia Zaczarowanego (Gucio’s Enchanted Garden). There, she also created a project for the exhibition Szukanie Ojczyzny: Świadectwa I Propoctwa Czesława Miłosza (Searching for the Homeland: Testimonies and Prophecies of CzesławMiłosz).
Wasilkowska's interest in multifunctional spacesthat elude labellingis also found in the Bazaristan project. Bazaristan is an imaginary country, inaugurated in 2012 in a market space onPtasia Street in Wrocław. It's a country ‘founded’ by artists, architects, activists and market vendors. Wasilkowska explores the extremely sensitive space of the market, emphasising not only its commercial, but also sociological dimensions as a place of direct exchanges and interactions situated in the urban tissue. Artistic activities are woven into the usual space of the marketplace:Some of the stands have been transformed into white cubes, others filled with plastic cheese cubes while performances take place between the stalls.
In 2018, Aleksandra Wasilkowska took part in the Public Art Munich project. This edition presented 20 performances related to turning points in the history of Munich, moments that strongly influenced what the contemporary world looks like. Events such as the establishment of the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919, the Allied invasion and the beginning of denazification, the creation of Radio Liberty, democratic optimism during the inauguration of the Olympic Stadium in 1972, the welcoming of refugees at a railway station in 2015 and the beginning of the ‘Wilkommen Kultur’. All these events did not last long, but changed Germany, Europe and the world forever.
The participants of PAM 2018 were to create projects in the public sphere that would refer to one or many of these changes. The purpose was to see them not on a global scale but on a city scale, using the urban perspective, which witnessed radical ideological, socio-political and symbolic upheavals. Munich is a case study of the modern world.
PAM 2018 presented art covering the broadly understood public sphere. Artists had the opportunity to present their perspective on problems and topics that affect everyone. The PAM Pavilion at the Viktualienmarkt– Munich Market square remained as the only permanent location. Aleksandra Wasilkowska created a flying ceiling, which was installed in the illegally built church at the back of Olimpiastadion.
The East-West Peace Church was illegally constructed in the mid-1950s by a Russian hermit, Timofei, and his wife, Natascha. Seeking refuge in Munich after World War II, the couple built this small temple open to all forms of Christianity. Erected from carton, rubble, wood and paper, its convex ceiling was isolated with silver chocolate wrappers. After it was decided that the Olympic Park would be built in the area, the architect Günter Behnisch not only altered the stadium’s master plan to preserve the church, but also remained inspired by its twinkling, delicate roof. In this way, an unofficial edifice managed to influence one of Germany’s most impressive pieces of architecture.
Aleksandra Wasilkowska’s levitating and migratory ceiling pays tribute to the city as a social organism, where participatory techniques, informal public spaces, pieces of shadow architecture, minerals and inanimate matter play an equally important role as top-down systematised planning. It is a tribute to both a city that organises itself on the basis of interdependence and never-ending negotiations and the imagination of its newcomers, like Timofei and Natascha, who informed and changed the fate of the Olympic architecture, and those who today continue to alter Munich’s urban fabric. Finally, it is a flying ceiling, a cloud of breathing architecture, a sketch for a levitating roof—everything the Olympic Stadium aspired to be.
Wasilkowska discussed the PAM 2018 project during the Warsaw Biennale in 2019 on the occasion of the promotion of the book, A City Curating Reader. The panel contained Wasilewska, along with Joanna Warsza (curator of PAM 2018) and Agata Siwiak. The discussion touched upon the broadly understood issues of work in open space and in the public sphere.
That same year AleksandraWasilkowska designed the interior of Warsaw's most recognisable confectioneries – Lukullus at Rozbrat Street. However, this specific location focuses on selling ice cream and not pastries; the interior is also very different from all the other Lukullus patisseries. When designing, Wasilkowska was inspired by the 1980s and 1990s as well as Carlo Scarpa's designs and other realisations by the Memphis group architects.
installations in public space
museum of modern art in warsaw
Selected solo projects:
• 2011 – Wyspa (Island; the spectacle The Sexual Life of Savages), Warsaw; Time Machine– installation created at the Central Railway Station in Warsaw; Nie–pokój (Dis–Comfort) – installation created at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle (part of the project Laboratorium Przyszłości Akt 1 – "REGRESS PROGRESS"; Laboratory of the Future Act 1 – “REGRESS PROGRESS”
• 2010 – [No. Platform] – installation created at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art; Asamblaż w przestrzeni publicznej (An Assemblage in Public Space) – temporary construction created for the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London; Emergency Exit (with Agnieszka Kurant), Venice Biennale of Architecture; Zejście (Descent), House of Creative Work in Wigry
• 2009 – Warszawa jako struktura emergentna: Em_Wwa 1.0 (Warsaw As an Emergent Structure: Em_Wwa 1.0)
• 2008 – MultipliCity Disorder – competition project created for the city of Zagreb
• 2007 – Zmienny mikroklimat (Changeable Microclimate) – installation prepared for the Wrocław Festival Non Stop 2007
• 2005 – Miasto Symbiotyczne (Symbiotic City) – urban strategy for the Parade Square in Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions:
• 2010 – Baba Jaga Patrzy (Baba Yaga is Watching)– Avant–Garde Institute, Warsaw
• 2009 – Warszawa W Budowie (Warsaw Under Construction) – Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; Ekspektatywa (The Expectative) – Bęc Zmiana Foundation, Warsaw; Niezwykle rzadkie zdarzenia / Dystrybucja nooawangardy (Unusually Rare Occurrences / The Distribution of the Nooavant–garde ) – Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
In 2009 the Bęc Zmiana Foundation issued Aleksandra Wasilkowska’s book “Warszawa jako strutura emergentna” (“Warsaw As an Emergent Structure”) which was prepared in collaboration with professor Andrzej Nowak.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, April 2011. Translated by: Marek Kępa. Updated: HSz, April 2020.