Exhibit displays evolution of architect’s diverse life

by David Anderson

Colored photographs of buildings marked the two decades Andrzej Piotrowski has worked and studied as an architect under Eastern and Western political systems.
With these photographs, his exhibit, “Structures of Memory: New Modes of Depicting Architecture,” explores unconventional ways of looking at design.
“Architects are taught the evolution of architecture through its pure style,” Piotrowski said. “On a daily basis, it is not that way. It’s much more mundane, much closer to people’s lives.”
As a young architect just out of Politechnika Warszawska, Piotrowski joined an architects’ association that protested the communist government’s housing practices in 1980, the year Lech Walesa conducted massive strikes in Poland.
“Practicing under socialist ruling was something completely different from practicing in America,” Piotrowski said.
Now an assistant professor and a researcher for the University’s Department of Architecture, Piotrowski is ambivalent about the freedom he and his compatriots enjoy.
“What is going on (in Poland) is promising,” he said. “But Polish architects are still living that initial dream of capitalism. Time will show them it’s not that simple.”
The photographs are displayed in a little square room in the museum.
On one side, 30 photographs depict subtle lighting changes inside Rome’s Pantheon.
“It’s just visually stimulating,” said Bruce Durand, a museum visitor. “(The photographs) make you want to look into them because of all the detail, and when you step back, you can see the pattern.”
On the other side, a photographic sequence depicts the ceiling of a parish church in southeastern Poland. The church design combines styles from conquering civilizations that occupied Poland over time, Piotrowski said.
“This hybrid architecture exists all over the world, but it rarely ends up being recognized,” Piotrowski said. “I believe there are riches of such architecture waiting to be discovered.”
Born in Gdansk, in eastern Poland, Piotrowski ran his own architecture firm for seven years after graduating in 1979. During this period, he developed an interest in new modes of representation.
In 1989, he moved to the United States. He earned tenure as an assistant professor at the University last year.
“I was invited (by the University) to teach for a year,” Piotrowski said. “I was trying to combine teaching and practicing. I realized it was very difficult to do both. For legal reasons, I needed to have full employment, so that’s when I decided to do research only.”
Since coming to the University, Piotrowski has traveled around Europe and the Americas, where his photographs were taken.
Piotrowski highlighted certain architectural elements through computer graphic technology. These elements provide the cultural perspective that can change the way architecture is understood, he said.
Relying heavily on memories and people’s perceptions of design, Piotrowski said he believes that computerized mapping can better underline the symbolic nature of architecture.
“Digital technologies can be used to explore modes of knowing architecture that have been in the domain of history, theory and representation,” Piotrowski wrote in an essay describing the purpose of his work.
Lyndel King, the museum’s director, met Piotrowski through the University’s Public Art on Campus committee. That meeting led to this exhibit.
“We focus on design and architecture as part of our mission,” said Karen Casanova, spokeswoman for the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. “We are interested in new ways of seeing things.”
The exhibit runs until Jan. 18.