JEMS Architekci needs no introduction as it is certainly one of the best known and most awarded architecture studios in Poland. However, JEMS is exceptional not only due to the number and quality of the buildings they have created.
architects, architecture studio
JEMS Architekci was officially established in 1988. Yet its founders – Olgierd Jagiełło, Maciej Miłobędzki, and Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski – had worked together a few years earlier within Spółdzielnia Pracy Twórczej Architektów i Plastyków ESPEA [editor’s translation: Cooperative for Creative Work of Architects and Artists]. It is important to remember that in times of the communist regime in Poland it was practically impossible to own a private company – architects worked exclusively in state-owned offices. But in early 1980s, due to the economic crisis, the law was liberalised and the regime allowed the creation of cooperatives of architects and, later on, private offices. JEMS quickly took the opportunity to establish their own studio, eventually becoming not only one of the longest lasting studios in Poland, but also one with the greatest impact on Polish architecture after 1989. Even though the name is derived form the first letters of the founders’ names, it doesn’t create individual stars. In fact, the studio works more like a cooperative – co-operation is more important than the individual success of each designer. All the projects are consequently signed by JEMS, and no architect is more ‘famous’ than the others. Such an attitude is a rarity in times of ‘starchitecture’, when the quality of studio is measured by the popularity of its chief architect.
Nowadays JEMS Architekci is managed by eight partners. Since the beginning, the team has consisted of Maciej Miłobędzki, Olgierd Jagiełło, Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski, and Wojciech Zych (an economist and the CEO of JEMS). In the following years Marcin Sadowski, Marek Moskal, Paweł Majkusiak, and Andrzej Sidorowicz joined the team. Apart from these, the studio hires several dozen employees; among young architects JEMS have a reputation of a place where one can truly learn a lot. Many architects who now successfully run their own studios have at some point co-operated with JEMS studio.
JEMS’ first important project dates back to the beginning of the 21st century. Earlier, in the 1980s and 1990s, the financial crisis and the lack of knowledgeable investors hampered the creative potential of the designers. Once financial possibilities improved and more materials were available, JEMS began to create buildings of an outstanding quality. Around 2000, they designed two constructions to later be built in Warsaw: a quiet housing estate, Biały Kamień, located near Pola Mokotowskie, as well as Babka Tower – a skyscraper containing offices and apartments. Both of these realisations went far beyond the architectural standards of that time.
In 2002, the studio’s key project was constructed – an edifice which is considered to be one of the most influential for Polish architecture, namely the Agora Media Company headquarters. The building embodies the spirit of democracy and freedom. The design is open, with plenty of greenery and wooden finishings. What’s more, it takes into account the comfort of its users: this approach has set the trend which is still applied in office buildings today, but at that time it was kind of a revolution.
JEMS design buildings that are characterised by simplicity and common sense, at the same time refraining from spectacular forms or extravagancy. Their edifices are known for their interesting facades, made of concrete and stone straps placed vertically and horizontally, with windows in between, and thus, resemblant to a truss. Looking at designs that are created around the world nowadays, it is easy to find projects being some seemingly exciting visions accompanied by impressive visualizations, which, however, quickly become boring. JEMS’ buildings rarely astound, but do excellent in practice and age with class (after all, architecture is designed to last for years and therefore should age well). In brief, their buildings are rational, ageless, and temperate. The members of the design team says of their work:
JEMS avoid dazzling with form, we look for as much for the essence of the object as for the object itself. We refer to the things that are timeless: order, tectonics, fascination with the natural properties of materials, light, the passing of time, proportions and the rules governing the building of forms.
Many residential and office buildings can be found in the studio’s portfolio. In Warsaw’s business district (popularly known as ‘Mordor’) there are many office blocks erected by JEMS. Even without having a precise address they can be easily found among multiple corporate headquarters, as they stand out due to both their discreet forms and original, individual character. For instance, the Pixel office block on 17 Stycznia Street in Poznań stands out from its surroundings thanks to its characteristic shapes and carefully selected materials. Despite the fact that in recent years many new housing estates of good quality were erected, JEMS keep on raising the standards – the housing estate at 19 Dzielnica Street built in 2002 or a string of houses hidden behind wooden blinds on Wilanowska can serve as good examples (both projects were realised in Warsaw).
As for office and residential blocks, it is functionality and clarity of composition that counts the most, in the case of public facilities the urban context is also of great importance. This strategy is well illustrated in their design for an extension of the classicist Raczyńscy Library in Poznań: JEMS added an additional wing designed in a minimalistic and compact manner with a facade referring to the colonnade of the main building in a modern way, thus paying respect to the existing surroundings. They applied similar solutions while extending one of the buildings of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw: as they didn’t want to overwhelm or compete with the existing ornamental palace, they designed an austere edifice composed of prefabricated concrete and created an open section between the new and the old building.
The International Congress Centre in Katowice, opened in 2015, it was awarded many times not only for of its functionality and modernity, but also because it successfully fits into its uneasy context (the proximity of the iconic Spodek), refers to the history of the place (an intersection of two parts of the building echoes the direction of a formerly existing street) and creates a public space (green roofs, an observation deck, alleys, seats). Recently, another of JEMS’ designs was widely discussed, namely the reconstruction of the landmark Hala Koszyki building in Warsaw that had been earlier demolished by a developer. As the architects say: ‘We share the belief that the reading of culture, tradition, context of place and human needs is a condition and basis for creating architecture.’
The studio is going to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2018. Even though they have been on the market for quite a long time by Polish standards, the architects have firmly stuck to the principles they established at the beginning. They refrain from glitz, risking being accused of monotony, yet they keep on designing urban architecture of the highest quality.
Written by Anna Cymer, May 2017. Translated by Natalia Cichowska, June 2017.