Working out of a family attic, Małgorzata Kuciewicz, Krzysztof Banaszewski and Jakub Szczęsny first started working together at a student festival in the mid'90s. As Centrala, a designers' task force, their first joint competition wasn't until 2001, when they won second place for a project to redesign a public square in Warsaw. Since then their work has crossed into art, architecture, urban planning and furniture design.
Although headed by three principal Warsaw-based architects, Centrala's numbers swell as the need arises. When that happens, Kuciewicz, Banaszewski and Szczęsny have a multidisciplinary network of professionals to call on to assist them.
Graduating from Warsaw Technical University (WAPW), Szczesny's past is also in visual communication and illustration, working for the Polish edition of Playboy, lifestyle magazines and ad agencies. Also graduates of WAPW, Kuciewicz and Banaszewski bring other skills to the table. Kuciewicz is an "excellent composer when it comes to landscape", says Szczęsny, "and when it comes to small-scale objects, like furniture or hedonistic gadgets. Krzyś is a great analytician and strategist, able to design and plan structural objects or engineering processes". At the beginning, what brought the three together was a common interest in taking a "critical approach", says Szczęsny, "towards both the reality left by murky years of communism and mindless reproduction of commercial practices in architecture who dominated new Polish reality with their massive production". While entering competitions, Kuciewicz, Banaszewski and Szczęsny also wanted to stir up public debate on the city's disappearing architectural heritage. Between 2002 and 2006, their four "decoy projects" in the press sparked discussion about how to save buildings, particularly modernist works, from the developers. Centrala's four provocative proposals outlined ways to reuse buildings around the city. The aim was to show how saving the works would provide "cultural enrichment", according to Szczęsny, "through maintenance of a multilayered historical structure". Ideas included turning a petrol station into an architecture and urban-design gallery and a glass pavilion into a tourist information centre. The buildings were demolished nonetheless. The group's built work ranges from a rapidly redesigned apartment interior to the conversion of a train station ticket office into a cultural centre. And while teaming up with Polish firm Bulanda & Mucha Architects, they designed a curvy blue tent-like temporary pavilion for the future Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Seeking to bring constructive change to Poland, Centrala has spent nearly a decade focusing on "colour, sensual experience and broader reflection", explains Szczęsny. "This is how we landed on the edge of architecture, design, urban design and art." by Robert Such