Kazimierz Kwiatkowski, practically forgotten in his homeland, was known and respected in Vietnam. It was there that the Polish architect and conservator worked there for many years, saving numerous monuments that are now listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
19 March 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the architect’s death. To commemorate him, Polish Embassy in Vietnam, together with local authorities, organised several events. Important part of the festivities was the premiere of Jacek Zygmunt Matuszak’s book Kazimierz Kwiatkowski (1944-1997). Remembering Extraordinary Man. The book was funded with a grant from Foreign Affairs Ministry of Poland with support from Polish Embassy in Vietnam. It can be downloaded from Embassy’s webpage. The book was published in three languages: Vietnamese, English and Polish. The most valuable is, to be honest, the one in Polish, as even though the architect is widely known in Vietnam, in Poland he is completely forgotten. The book could spread the word about the conservator in his motherland.
Kazimierz Kwiatkowski was born in Lubelszczyzna. He graduated from Architecture Department of Kraków University of Technology in 1969. After that he went back to his hometown and started working in State Urban Workshop in State Agency in Lublin. For some time he was also working part-time in Design and Research Office of Construction Miastoprojekt. His first area of interest was certainly city planning, but after some time he started working on conserving monuments, which led him to work in National Monument Conservation Enterprise, with which he worked until 1997. In 1980, as a part of co-operation program between Poland and Vietnam, NMCE founded Polish-Vietnamese Monument Conservation Mission. The office was created in response to the call that UNESCO issued to Vietnam, asking it to help restoring and saving architecture of the post-war country. Kazimierz Kwiatkowski was named the director of this mission. He left for Vietnam in the very same year and stayed there up until his death in 1997.
Work in war-devastated region is not really a standard setting for a monument conservator. In order to begin their works, Kwiatkowski’s team had to firstly clear the monuments of mines... Kazik, as he was called by his Vietnamese co-workers, in his 17 years of work restored a great number of national monuments. Among his biggest achievements renovation of three ancient complexes – a temple complex My Son, medieval city of Fajfo (today known as Hoi An), as well as old capital of the country, Hue. Owing to Polish architect’s tremendous work, each of these is Listed at UNESCO’s list, but not only that, they are also tourist attractions that became trademarks for their corresponding provinces.
My Son is a complex of 70 Hindu temples constructed by the Champa, the peoples who lived in the area of Central Vietnam between VII and XIV century. Preservation of this compound, as well as documentation made in the process were vital to the commemoration of the Champa, a once large ethnic group that nowadays was reduced to a small minority. With the same purpose in mind a museum of these peoples was established with an exhibition of Champa arts. According to Kwiatkowski’s co-workers, in order to preserve the historic site of Hoi, Kazimierz Kwiatkowski had to wage a war on the authorities of Vietnam, who wanted to replace the wooden houses with new blocks of flats. In the architectural style of this city, probably owing to it being a port town, many styles merged and interplayed – Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese, French, Champa, Japanese. The Polish architect, understanding the significance of the place, managed to convince the officials to preserve the place in unaltered state. The hamlet was restored to its former glory, which in turn turned UNESCO’s attention to it, as well as attracted crowds of tourists, making it one of the most often visited places in Vietnam. Kazimierz Kwiatkowski was also in charge of documenting and conservatory works in the Forbidden City, Citadel and burial complex of Nguyen dynasty in an ancient capital of Vietnam, Hue.
Kazimierz Kwiatkowski is a famous figure in Vietnam, his struggles to preserve its culture greatly appreciated. He even has his own monument there, standing proudly by the main street of Hoi An, as well as memorial plaques in the cities where he worked. It is necessary to remind his native people about his achievements.
Written by Anna Cymer, April 2017, translated by AS