UFO (Unexpected Fountain Occupation), Exyzt, Warsaw, Poland 2011
“UFO lands in Warsaw, Poland: a new attraction for the summer in the capital, at the Rozdroze Square”
Warsaw is a city full of history, yet in a different sense, compared to most Eastern Europe cities, which are presently re-discovering and re-narrating parts of their history. Warsaw is an extraordinarily modern city that suffers from phantom pain after the amputation of its historical materiality.
Warsaw, known in Polish as Warszawa, is the capital of Poland and also, the largest city in the country. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly 260 kilometers from the Baltic Sea and 300 kilometers from the Carpathian Mountains.
Its population is estimated at 1.711 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 2.666 million residents, making Warsaw the 9th most populous city proper in the European Union. The area of the city covers 516.9 square kilometers, while the city’s agglomeration covers 6,100.43 square kilometers. The population density is around 3,304 habitants/km2.
Warsaw is an Alpha–global city, a major international tourist destination and an important economic hub in Central Europe. It is also known as the “phoenix city” because it has survived so many wars throughout its history. Most notably, the city had to be painstakingly rebuilt after the extensive damage it suffered in World War II, during which 85% of its buildings were destroyed.
THE ACTUAL SITUATION
The nicely reconstructed Old Town is almost irrelevant as far as the daily life of citizens is concerned. Much more important are the voids, empty spaces and even the significant number of rather ugly structures. Therefor the Town Hall allowed, and even encouraged practices of appropriation, re-use and conversion of these spaces. These actions are one of the many initiatives that the local government has promoted to support its candidacy as Capital of Culture 2016.
Surrounded by the typical east Europe grey colored residential blocks, an old inoperative fountain from socialist times, detached from pedestrian paths by two busy roads, was chosen as a temporary hybrid location for this project for the length of every summer since July of 2011 to nowadays.
The fountain is situated in a roundabout located almost in the heart of Warsaw which acts as a connection between two important avenues of the city – makes connection with Ludowej Avenue, which is one of the connections over the Vistula River with the other part of the city, and Armii Ujazdowskie Avenue, taking the vehicle traffic over a bridge. The roundabout is located next to the Lazienkowski Park and Ujazdowski Park, which are separated by Armii Ludowej Avenue.
THE PROBLEM AND WHY EMERGES THIS PROJECT
Emerging as an promotion from the local government for the candidacy as Capital of Culture 2016, a good example of a creative way of dealing with urban voids and “dead spaces” typical for the young Warsaw artist/activist scene, was a project called “UFO: Unexpected Fountain Occupation”, realized in July 2011 by the French artist collective EXYZT.
The French architect collective EXYZT is a team formed by architects, graphic designers, and photographers, which are known for reviving forgotten places around the world. Architects and artists have their designs realized in several European cities including La Latina in Madrid and at 100 Union Street in Southwark, London.
The project is addressed to the architect Eva Rudnick (cultural animator, member SARPu, a graduate of the Paris Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette) and the foundation vlep(v)net.
EXYZT had chosen the Na Rozdroze Square, because it seems to be disappearing on the leisure map of Warsaw. As they put it:
“Mostly people pass by the square heading towards to nearby parks [Lazienkowski or Ujazdowski Parks]. We would like to use the potential of the square to create a lively venue on the artistic map of the city. UFO is there to remind all the Varsovians that left alone places in Warsaw have a new and unexpected potential”.
“We want to build new worlds where fiction is reality and games are new rules for democracy. If space is made by dynamics of exchange, then everybody can be the architects of our world and encourage creativity and to renew social behaviors.”
Above all what they wanted was to inspire residents of Warsaw (and visitors) to notice the potential that lies in the undeveloped area of interest.
Located between the avenues leading to the main city parks, in a spot which normally houses a fountain, a circle formed installation of assembled planks has been erected. The UFO-shaped wooden structure contains a tent which does not only house a café with beach-like feeling and a DJ booth, but also 13 rooms like a Japanese-style tube hostel for artists, residents or tourists, or maybe one should call them roofed cabins – it’s a one star hotel, which provide a roof over your head for the price of 100 zł per night (20 euros). The middle of the fountain has a small swimming pool where anyone can cool off on hot days.
The final design is prepared to match and adapt to the needs of the local activists – giving them the freedom to transform the place, depending on the nature of the events hosted there. Every day, from early July to late August, the UFO functions mainly as a cultural center. The program is formed by a great variety of acts and gatherings such as multimedia workshops, concerts, sport events, film exhibition of young designers, garage sales and many more. UFO also hosts different events organized by cultural animators and volunteers that attract artists and activists from all over Europe. The finished design is given local activists, who were able to freely transform it, as needs, and then events can take place there. Every day, from early July to late August, the plant served functions as a cultural center. In the program take place, multimedia workshops, concerts, sport events, film exhibition of young designers, garage sales and many other events organized by cultural animators and volunteers who are showing up for the duration of the project, and become as it were a part of it.
Immediately after its construction the dead space was suddenly filled with life, allowing young urban hipsters to hang out together with elderly ladies who are bringing their grandchildren to play in the pool. For the summer months, the dynamics of the whole neighborhood is changed.
A lot of happenings take place at the UFO, from film screenings & concerts to talks about urban landscaping, flea markets and more.
The installation is thought to be a new meeting point for summer in this fountain resembled UFO spaceship. “UFO” is not only a nice place to relax, but also a key spot in the city for the local residencts to share activities and to host meetings and exhibitions.
“UFO” is open Monday through Thursday, and Sunday 12h to 22h, and Friday and Saturday 12h to 24h (from July 2 to August 27)
Social, Economic, Cultural and Environmental Benefits:
Matthew Ściechowski OELVs foundation Vlepvnet, which manages the project, says:
“This project is one of the many initiatives the local government has promoted to support its candidacy as Capital of Culture 2016.”
“The implementation is expensive (about 200 000 ZL = 50 000 euros). It is funded mainly by the city, as part of our efforts to become European Capital of Culture 2016. Vlepvnet is finalizing the acquisition of licenses, in search of missing funds.“
“The artists live here and encourage the cultural life.”
“The UFO project is perfectly inscribed in a series of social and artistic activities of foundations in urban areas under the heading of “updates”. This is a modest place to relax in the middle of the city, open to all initiatives – concerts, film screenings and workshops. Its cultural manifestations they want to achieve here, including changes or artists Bec foundation, residents of neighboring Centre of Contemporary Art. The place will also be visited by artists from other Polish cities.”
“We close for safety reasons for the children at night. During the week, we work till 22h, and until midnight on weekends, so as not to impose on neighbors.”
“We want to make this living space” – also says Matthew Ściechowski.
Considering the above mentioned we can outline the main beneficial sides of the project:
As Matthew Ściechowski says the project was indeed quite expensive but the benefits of it are undeniable. After its construction, UFO became relatively independent and self-sufficient thanks to the implementation of hotel rooms that can be rented from tourists and artists visiting the city and also the café-bar situated at the bottom of the structure. The working hours allow the young residents of the capital to spend the hot July and Augusts days and nights outside. The fact that you can do so many things at one place, is what makes this facility unique in its own way – chilling and socializing with friends, listening to some nice music on a live DJ show, and meanwhile spending some money on refreshing drinks – money that will later on be used as funding for the project to continue its existing.
This way each year the UFO “refunds” itself, as the events hosted there clearly have the potential to attract people, looking out to have some quality time spent outside.
During the construction itself, came the first successes, related to public involvement, when volunteers and local residents contributed by sharing some unnecessary furniture, apart from the general help they offered.
It’s worth mentioning that the existence of the place does not interfere with the surrounding residential space because UFO closes during the night in order to be avoided possible excess of noise.
UFO can be reserved and used by anyone, because it’s suited for people from all ages – from elders, organizing dance events to make their everyday life more fun with activities in open-air, to children playing around or swimming in the poll.
Even though “The UFO” is a multifunctional space, still, one of the main type of events hosted there are art and culture gatherings. The foundation vlep(v)net is organizing different exhibitions that not only local, but also artists from all around Poland, are welcome to attend.
There are also different types of workshops where local residents are selling handmade artwork and exchanging ideas with other artists from around the city.
Apart from that UFO hosts flea markets and garage sales on regular basis.
So far I haven’t found any particular environmental advantages of the project, however it is a low-cost building, for the construction of which, the main materials used, are recycled and recyclable metal skeleton structures.
In the development of the project we can spot a very bright example of an effective act against the planned obsolescence. The donation of old furniture from the local residents on the one hand, contributed to giving a new life to items that were considered no longer usable and worth keeping, and on the other – lowering the reduction of solid waste and also cutting down on the general expenses, thanks to which a fair amount of money could be redirected for other purposes.
>>The City Warsaw – European Capital of Culture – The department of culture of the Town Hall of Warsaw which is the main promoter and sponsor for this project, and one of the many initiatives the local government has promoted to support its candidacy as Capital of Culture 2016.
>>The vlep(V)net foundation – Is a nonprofit association which was finalizing the acquisition of licenses, in search of missing funds.
>>EXYZT – is an association under the French 1901 legislation. Their team is a community of people who have chosen to act under the same principle of sharing knowledge and abilities. They extend their network over national borders by collaborating with people around the world, and are also known for reviving forgotten places around the world. Their work in this project was the development of the same. Also they had to optimize resources by recycling materials or using recyclable materials.
Collaborator in EXYZT, and curator of the project, architect Eva Rudnick (cultural animator, member SARPu, a graduate of the Paris Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette) – main design of the project.
>>The French Institute and the Embassy Kingdom of the Netherlands Institute of Nitro – partners of the project
>>The Association of Polish Architects – partners of the project and consultants.
>>The citizens of Warsaw, and mostly those who are living in proximity
>>The tourists passing nearby are another factor in this project.
>>Finally, the artists and all type of participants that will be taking part during the existence of the project. Art is the pillar that holds the whole intervention.
The most significant achievement related to the project is the success of the public involvement, presented by the fact that the citizens are the ones, even today, that continue maintaining UFO and making possible the existence of this open-air summer meeting point. It also shows that the recovery and revitalization of urban space, depends more on the changes in the attitude of the society towards it, rather than the actual physical changes taking place in a particular space.
It is clear that this project is not a specific act behind which a single person can stand on its own. Rather than that we come to the realization that the success of the idea is determined by the action of many.
The project also demonstrates a very applicable way to attract social participation that leads to both short-term and long-term results. The best guarantee for the involvement of different social groups is that they see previous successes that put in value to the potential of the overall project – which had happened already at the opening in 2011. This turns out to be a very good way to motivate progressively.
When you draw the line and go through all aspects of the project, one thing that is clearly distinguished and proven by acts, is that certain approaches can help stabilize and greatly promote social relations, thus stimulating the gathering of different groups of people at one place, all standing behind the same idea – to make their everyday life better.