AJW’s approach to design is rooted in his firmly held belief about the intricate relationship between art, design and society. For AJW, the essence of design is neither in “styling” by generating new creative visual interpretations of existing utilitarian objects nor in technological, engineering-focused solutions to practical problems. It is rather in seeking ways to improve life experience by focusing on real societal issues and needs and addressing them through the required innovation in the form and functionality of everyday objects and in re-defining the processes of engagement with the material world. For AJW, design is a form of social activism; is not about the designer but about the service that he or she can render to society.
For AJW, the ultimate test of good design is not in the quality of the object itself, but rather in the quality of experience that it affords and its fit with the environment. According to AJW, “the value of design work can only be evaluated when the work is being applied in practice; the evaluation depending on the degree to which we can befriend our surroundings.” High quality design fully integrates the form and the function with the design idea legible in the appearance of the object, with the visual structure conveying the functional process.
In AJW’s words, “design is the art that creates the face of our times more than any other artistic discipline. It is an art that shapes customs and decisively affects the forming of our views and aesthetic positions; art saturated with the everyday, penetrating into homes, and spilling out into the streets.” This understanding of design and its profound impact on the world has made AJW’s design always attentive to environmental concerns and social inclusion and sustainability. For AJW, every design has a consequence: imaginably positive and potentially detrimental and it is the designer’s moral prerogative to never forget about the impact of their work and the resulting responsibility to subjugate his or her own creativity and imagination to the scrutiny of a critical consideration: how will this design contribute to a better world?
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Entering the 1957 International Competition for the design of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Monument became a defining moment in AJW’s artistic journey. This submission (co-designed with friend Andrzej Latos) was selected by the prestigious international jury chaired by Henry Moore as one of the top 7 finalists out of 426 designs presented by accomplished artists from around the world. This exceptional recognition of AJW’s creativity led to him being granted a Master’s of Art degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. As one of the two youngest laureates of the competition, along with Helmut Wolf from Germany, AJW was offered the prestigious 6-month scholarship from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that allowed AJW a rare opportunity during that time to travel outside the iron curtain to Italy. Upon successful completion of this scholarship, AJW received another recognition: the Ford Foundation grant that allowed him to travel to the USA and expand his education through visits in the studios of some of the most influential artists and designers of the 20th century.
This design of the memorial featured boulders of different sizes inscribed with the names of the Holocaust victims who perished at Aushwitz lined up along the path that the prisoners took on the way to the crematoria, creating a “March of Names.” The names were to be inscribed in the languages/using the alphabets reflecting the origins of all the victims. The different sizes of the boulders were a reference to both the young and the elderly who were killed at Aushwitz. Boulders were selected instead of statues to allow relatives of the victim to imaginatively superimpose the identities of their relatives onto the boulders so that everybody could have an intimate and deeply-personal reflection and experience.
Various newspaper clippings announcing AJW’s design being selected as a top-7 finalist in the competition
The “March of Names” was to culminate at the end of a vast, artificial ravine where a large, unnamed split stone was to be found. This was to symbolize the tragic end of the names, and represent the site where the victims of Aushwitz met their final resting place. Beyond the ravine there was a solid, vertical wall with a single stone urn, blocking the landscape to emphasize the finality of the journey and inviting a chance for reflection and solemn commemoration of the victims).