Oaks Prague is going through a refreshing transformation

A unique project Oaks Prague is being built in a picturesque landscape near Prague, in the village of Nebřenice. Its developer is Arendon Development Company, a. s., with the support of the London investment group Kew Capital.

There is currently an 18-hole golf course licensed by the PGA National. Although we fell behind schedule during the pandemic, the whole project is expected to be completed by 2028. The winner of the tender for gastronomy operator, which is the proven concept by the well-known Italian culinary guru Riccardo Lucque of La Collezione, has also been announced to the public. In addition to a premium bistro, La Bottega Oaks Deli Bistro will also offer a shop with quality Italian ingredients and products in the residential area of the village common. The Club House will be placed in the reconstructed Chateau, which was originally built by the von Schuttelsberg family and will become the dominant feature of the golf course. Golfers can look forward to quality facilities and the La Finestra Oaks Golf Club there.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Arendon, Ing. Jan Zemánek, MBA, spoke to us about the entire Oaks Prague project.

What activities does the development company Arendon engage in?

Arendon is specific for dealing with the development of a single project, and that is Oaks Prague. It may sound a little strange, but we have to realize that Oaks Prague is not a simple and standard development project. With a bit of exaggeration, it is actually a development of a new settlement, which is planned and implemented as a whole complex, which is something that has not happened in the Czech Republic for several decades. It is such a large complex that we do not consider it a project, but a development programme. It comes in several parts and is divided into several phases, which will be implemented gradually. The plan is currently set for 2028.

What specific parts is the programme divided into?

It is divided according to the location of the individual parts, their location as well as their function. The primary purpose is a residential function – housing, which will come in several forms. We plan to build a total of 480 housing units on the golf course, from small housing blocks to luxury residences. In the meantime, there are a number of other products, such as detached houses, smaller residences, semi-detached houses, terraced houses, etc.

What is the main residential function and its distribution?

We have a total of five product lines, which are distributed in two main locations. One of them is a luxury golf residence, which is situated virtually in the middle of the golf course, near the current Chateau, which has already been there for 250 years. We are converting it into a golf club and a boutique hotel will be built nearby. The second part of the residential development is located in the village, where there are housing blocks and various types of family houses.

What other functions are anticipated in the project?

The second group of functions should provide the residents with a good quality of life and enable them to engage in a variety of activities. The overall character of the development, the urban concept, contributes to this quality of life. The first completed part of the whole project is a golf course. It holds a PGA National license, which represents the hallmark of the best quality you can get in the world of golf. There can be only one course with this license in each country – except for the USA where it originated. It should be noted that the golf course is operated by Troon Privée, which is one of the world’s leading golf course operators. This is evidenced by the fact that our golf course has twice been awarded the best golf course in the Czech Republic and the best golf course in Europe. This is granted every two years, i.e., in 2020. I hope that we will retain the title again this year.

Golf plays a very important role in the project.

The golf complex also comes with a clubhouse in the Nebřenice Chateau, which we are reconstructing. We plan to open in April this year. Apart from the aforementioned restaurant, which will of course be open to the general public, it will provide facilities for golf tournaments. Whilst we have already started talking about the area of hospitality, then one of the essential parts of the first stage around the square, which is currently being completed, is Deli Bistro. A restaurant with the same operator as the Chateau, La Collezione, which belongs to the top restaurants. You may know the concept of La Bottega restaurants. It will also include a small shop. Another important part of the project will be the hotel near the Chateau. It will be interesting for new residents of Oaks Prague as it will offer a number of attractive functions, especially, for the Czech Republic, unique and large spa and wellness, fitness, several restaurant and social facilities and other associated services. It will provide exclusive facilities for business meetings and social events as well as family celebrations. The hotel will be operated by the world leader in the ‘sustainable luxury’ segment.

What other infrastructure will the Oaks Prague project include?

A very important part of the whole community will be a nursery school, whose construction is planned for the second quarter of this year near the village centre. Each of the housing blocks that we build will include commercial rental premises for shops, restaurants, cafes, patisseries, etc. But we want to leave it to organic growth. We do not want to manage it a priori, except for Deli Bistro, which will open in April.

What other sports activities besides golf will you offer to the residents?

Together with the surrounding municipalities, we create, reconstruct and complement a network of cycleways, which will cover tens of kilometres on the Popovičky – Křížkový Újezdec – Petříkov route. The project should include a tennis academy and also a horse-riding centre. These are the four main sports pillars: golf, cycling, tennis, horse riding. We are also considering building a biotope – recreational water areas with ecological water treatment that does not use chemicals. And a lot of other things that are related to physical condition and will be part of the associated operations at the hotel.

You also mentioned that there is a plan for a commercial part. What is your vision in this regard? 

We certainly do not forget commercial or business matters. Once the 480 housing units are completed, and we account with an average of three residents per housing unit, we reach a number of about 1,500 residents. Not everyone will live there all the time, so if we reduce it to two-thirds, we get to a number of thousand residents. The average size of Czech municipalities outside large cities is 500 inhabitants. That makes it a kind of a small town and people need to buy basic things. The first smaller store will commence operation from the beginning and another one is planned near the centre, depending on how the village will develop. We anticipate that this will need to be complemented by additional retail premises.

The initial vision was to build a historic village with modern elements. Where have the current thoughts gone? 

We deviated from the original designation of the village. The original concept of the whole project was a bit negatively affected by the fact that it was created by foreigners. They have a somewhat naive approach to these things. They are very enthusiastic about Czech historical buildings and have the feeling that we want to live in some replicas of historical sights. Such people certainly exist, but there are more of those who want to buy a modern property, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of architectural expression. The project has long been based on the opposite approach – to create reminiscence of a traditional Czech village, including architectural forms that were created 250 years ago for farmers – including barns, cowsheds, etc. We did not consider it the right concept, so we changed it. We are building a ‘housing estate’ for people of the 21st century, who do not want to live in the city, but within its vicinity, with nature within their reach, but still want to have the comfort as if they did live in the city, plus that ‘little something’ they cannot find in the city. It takes 20 minutes to get to the centre of Prague, so if someone wants to go to the theatre or somewhere else in the evening, they get in the car and fulfil their wishes within half an hour.

How will the project be further presented then?

Our inspiration is in the ‘garden districts’ of Hanspaulka, Ořechovka, Starý Spořilov and others. They have several common denominators. The first one is that they originated at the same time – 100 years ago – on the periphery. Maybe the periphery won’t even be there in 100 years. The second one is that all the settlements were created with an urban concept and used architectural morphology that connected them and integrated the individual houses. When you look at old Spořilov, you see that the houses are actually typical and repetitive, which we perceive positively. Because if you have 300 houses and each of them is different, each has a different fence and colour and uses different materials, the whole concept will not be ideal from an architectural point of view or from the point of view of maintaining the quality of the environment, which is a very important issue for us. The ‘folk creativity’ in the effort to customize each house is really very colourful.

How do you want the new residents of Oaks Prague to respect these intentions?

We are trying to create a framework so that these issues are maintained and work in the long term. There will be Homeowners’ Associations – the law actually does not allow otherwise. And at the same time also a kind of ‘interest organization’ of all the residents, which will, to a certain extent, take care of the emerging settlement as a whole. We would also like certain rules to apply to individual house modifications. It should be in the interest of all the residents to take care of the environment that will be created, to maintain it and to preserve the shape that creates the character of the environment and its value as far as possible. If everyone modified their houses as they wished, the environment would lose its uniqueness and character.

The assignment was processed by several architectural studios. Each architect has his own style. To what extent did you manage to conceptually harmonize the individual proposals?

The original concept was somewhat naive, also from the point of view that it would be designed by dozens of architects, because such a thing could not be controlled. Imagine that you have to manage, for example, 50 architectural teams and each of them creates a unique design. You need to check if it fits your specifications and ideas. Plus, you’re building on a speculative basis, so, you don’t know who is going to use that particular house. That can’t be done!

But the construction began with this original concept…

Yes, in that spirit, but not extremely. The first part is now being completed. There are housing blocks designed by various world-famous architects and a similar concept was intended for the rest. We have abandoned this concept because we really would not be able to achieve the goal we want with this approach. We have reduced the number of architectural teams to approximately four studios. We are now finalizing their selection. In fact, we spent the whole of last year modifying our plan in order to give the architects meaningful assignments in terms of house size, land size, number of rooms, etc., to make it compatible with market requirements. We now have a pre-selection of several architectural teams with which we want to start designing the rest of Oaks Prague.

Does this represent another fundamental change in the concept?

We have a part with 70 housing units ready for construction, which we plan to start implementing in the third quarter of this year. The design was participated on by the same architects as in the first part, which allows for a certain character to be preserved there. What changed in the concept was that we want to use quality architectural studios and we want fewer of them. The individual parts of the project, which are logically separated by roads, parks and other public areas, will have a different character, but there will be a uniform morphology within the framework of certain smaller complexes. There will be different types of houses – detached and terraced – but from one architect who will follow certain design rules. Around the plaza in the central part of Oaks Prague, we will implement denser and higher development with housing blocks. The height of the houses comes down towards the outskirts of the village, and the development is distributed more loosely. That means that it has the character of a typical town, though without a church.

How does the current market price development affect the Oaks Prague project?

We are affected by this just like any other developer. The sale price of the property reflects the entire cost spectrum. It includes the acquisition price of land, implementation costs, costs for processing project documentation, project management and other consulting matters. Another important component is the cost of financing, because almost no one implements real estate projects from their own resources, they always borrow some financial resources. And then you also have to make some profit… Building costs basically represent about half of the total development costs. And if they increase by 20% or 40%, you get into a situation where you need to aliquot the sale price if you want to keep at least some profit. And it is not, unfortunately, just a question of construction costs, but also of rising interest rates over the last three months. And we can go on: higher energy costs, higher costs for people who want more money, because everything is more expensive. The inflationary spiral is spinning. So, we can’t sell at prices that worked a year or two ago.

At what stage is the project now?

We are currently completing the first stage, which has 60 apartments in the eastern part of the project. We have sold 60% because there was some delay. We have started the final building approval process – we have three family houses from the Irish architects McGarry-Moon approved. Other buildings will undergo final building approval in the first months of this year and we anticipate that the first residents could move in in the second quarter. Upon completion, we expect a large increase in interest in buying properties. Because this is a unique project, a lot of people can’t really imagine what it entails and how it will work. What is important to us in this context is the fact that we will not only open and put into operation apartments (mainly the housing blocks in the centre are completed), but there will also be the already mentioned civic amenities. Oaks Prague will simply come to life. It will not only be housing, but there will be commercial premises on the ground floor. We are also moving part of our company there, and the sales centre, which is still in an impromptu building on a golf course, will start operating there in March.

Last of all, outline the further construction schedule.

We would like to complete the entire program by 2028, which means we still have a long way to go. We have significantly intensified our activities by creating larger units that we want to design and, if possible, to implement as fast as possible, though in a good quality. We are completing the first phase, which will be followed smoothly by the second phase, which comprises two buildings that look like six. They have shared underground garages and will have around 70 apartments. In the near future, we will start the construction of a nursery school. We have started the construction of the first luxury residences at the southern part of the golf course near the square. This phase should be completed within two years. This will then be followed smoothly by the construction of larger units. We also plan to start building the hotel complex within two years’ time and complete the first group of golf residences in parallel with this.

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: Jan Mihaliček

Häfele: New major construction project in Nagold Bold investment for the future

The international specialist for hardware technology, electronic access control systems and LED lighting is planning a visionary construction project and is investing in itsheadquarters in Nagold located in the Black Forest with foresighted entrepreneurial spirit. The company is thus once again making a commitment to the location, setting new standards in terms of logistics and production and securing modern and sustainable jobs for its employees.
After last year’s construction work for an additional high-bay warehouse in the north of the existing distribution centre (launch in spring 2022), the next construction project is already on the agenda. Häfele is thereby not only investing in its outstanding logistics and the constantly growing needs of its customers, but also and above all in the Nagold location in the northern Black Forest.
In the process of this comprehensive construction project, a high-tech building complex is being built in a modern interpretation of the Black Forest style, creating new logistics and production capacities and providing a place of inspiration and exchange that can also be used by other companies and business partners.
The large-scale building complex (“Häfele Dynamics Centre”) creates jobs with a promising future and is a showcase example of innovative strength and a sense of community, because among other things, thought is being given to locating facilities that will also benefit employees of other companies in Nagold.
„With this building project, we are investing in the future of our company and especially in our home base here in the Black Forest,“ says CEO Sibylle Thierer. „We set the bar very high for ourselves and want to live up to our pioneering role in the industry by constantly perfecting our technology and logistics excellence and setting fresh impulses in our industry. You can be excited!“

From the very beginning: Sustainable.
The recyclability of the materials used for construction is already examined, evaluated and carefully selected both individually and in combination in the planning stage. If, for example, it is necessary to design load-bearing structures for wide-span hall ceilings that can technically only be produced in reinforced concrete, indirect measures are taken from the outset to compensate for the resulting carbon footprint. A fire-fighting water cistern is used as a regenerative source for the heating and cooling supply. This storage cistern under the plant enables the buffering of energy that is not continuously available or required. Rainwater is thus a further, essential component in the compensation strategy for unavoidable CO² footprint caused by building materials and construction methods.
The Häfele Dynamics Centre will also have large green roofs and selected flora, which also contributes to a sustainable compensation of emissions. Construction of the futuristic new building on the southern side of the existing dispatch centre in Nagold will begin at the end of 2022. The planned construction period is five years.

The Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce as a gateway to successful business

The Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce unites over 90 Czech companies with business interests in Singapore and south-east Asia. At the same time, it is a platform for the meeting of important personalities from the highest business circles in the Czech Republic and Singapore.

The city-state of Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is located on the island of the same name and has 63 adjacent isles near the southern section of the Malay Peninsula. It has a total area of 729 sq km and a population of almost 5.7 million, which represents the third highest population density in the world. The official languages are English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The name Singapore comes from Sanskrit and means Lion City. This predisposes it to a certain extent to the position of leader in the introduction of modern technologies, dynamic construction and smart city.

We asked the President of the Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce, Marcel Bednář, about current relations and trade activities between the two countries.

To begin with, I must ask about the post-covid situation. How did its effects show up in Singapore?

This is a rather difficult question to begin with. Following the spread of the virus in China, many foreign companies, including German, British and Dutch, vacated the playing field. Other countries in south-east Asia have also left Singapore. The Singaporeans imposed a hard lockdown that lasted many long months.

And how did this unusual situation affect the inhabitants?

The Singaporeans are very happy to meet, either after work or for lunch. They live a much richer social life, which is more connected with work and business life, than we are used to in the Czech Republic. So, the Singaporeans were far more affected with regards to this personal level. But given the proliferation of digital and mobile technologies, as many companies in Singapore operate on this basis, this was not such a big problem for them. If they have a personal or friendly relationship with a foreign business partner from the past, distance communication works fine.

What lifestyle do Singaporeans actually promote?

They are not used to spending a lot of time at home. Most of them live in apartments, whether public or private – often in condominiums, which are complexes of luxury apartment buildings. Their housing and/or homes are not designed for them to spend time in from morning to evening, nor are they used to preparing food at home. Whether it’s lunch or dinner – they don’t cook at home. They solve this by eating in bistros, restaurants or shopping centres. There are food courts, which are covered spaces with one bistro next to another – under very strict hygienic control, so everything is fine in this respect. Therefore, they have the opportunity to eat in this way within the immediate vicinity of their homes. It is very cheap and they can choose from an inexhaustible number of stands – where quality and hygiene are guaranteed. This is their usual lifestyle. With the arrival of covid, they had to lock themselves in their homes and their lives changed dramatically.

The issue of housing and its availability has recently been dramatized in the Czech Republic. What is the situation in Singapore?

The housing situation in Singapore is divided into about 80% of state-owned apartments and 20% of private apartments. The Singaporean government invests huge sums of money in the construction of state housing and housing support. This is actually a historical matter because, in times of the ‘founding father’ Lee Kuan Yew, who was the head of the People’s Action Party (PAP), it was decided in the past that Singapore’s perspective lies in the middle class with guaranteed quality housing, which is the basis for future economic success and prosperity. They have invested heavily through the statutory board, the Housing & Development Board (HDB), in the construction of state-owned housing for which Singaporeans may qualify under certain conditions. The 20% of private apartments is another matter, which is often dealt with in the form of condominiums.

What is life in a Singapore condominium like?

This variant of housing is of a very high level, where you have several high-rise buildings, such as twelve-storey ones, and there are several residential units on each floor. Five such high-rise buildings, for instance, form an enclosed complex with security service and building management, which takes very good care of the area. Each time you enter the building, you need to identify yourself with a chip card. Inhabitants are provided with a full service there, in fact they are taken care as in a five-star hotel. The basic principle is that everyone who lives in these apartments feels like being in a hotel or on holiday. You do not only have an apartment there but it also includes a shared swimming pool, a terrace with barbecue facilities and spaces where social events are regularly held with programmes for both adults and children. Sports activities are provided by tennis and squash courts, table tennis tables, a gym – all this is part of the housing and a matter of course. Condominiums also deal with parking. There are large garages in the underground so that cars do not park on the street.

A recently released information states that there are new apartments to be built in the Tengah district of Singapore.

But this is a slightly different type of housing than the aforementioned condominiums. The Tengah project is being implemented by the state agency HDB through which the Singapore government supports construction of state housing. And as for the Tengah district, it is a prime example of a smart city, or let’s say a smart district in Singapore, of which there are currently several. For instance, it is the Punggol District and the campus of the National Technology University of Singapore. These are actually three smart cities in the middle of Singapore. In fact, two smart cities and one smart university campus, which also ranks among smart cities.

What will make the Tengah district unique?

Tengah is to be a model smart city with the construction of 42,000 apartments, where not only waste collection will be integrated with new digital technologies with the Internet of Things, such as smart bins, which will respond not only to waste filling, but also in case of fire, will be automatically extinguished. At the same time, sensors in the smart district will also respond to odours that irritate the neighbourhood. Information is passed through the application to the appropriate employees who are closest, so that they can resolve the situation immediately. However, Tengah is not just about waste management, but about a number of digital elements that are implemented in residents’ lives.

What is actually the vision of a smart city in Singapore?

The vision is that the surface will be pure green. That means buildings, greenery and pedestrian zones. In other words, only people will move on the earth’s surface. Car traffic will be one floor below the surface, including buses, and the underground below all that. All traffic will be underground only, which is also demonstrated on the visualization of Tengah. This vision is promoted not only by HDB, but many Singaporean companies that are also involved in the project, such as ST Engineering, which participate in the smart transport system.

Is it possible to compare the duration of the project realization in our country and in Singapore?

I can’t compare it totally but Singapore is experiencing a huge construction boom. Something is always being built there and everything is moving forward very quickly. What is common is that a skyscraper is functionally and energetically obsolete and outdated after 30–35 years, so, they tear it down and then build a new one in its place. That shows that, compared to us, they are not afraid to take radical steps. Of course, it also has a darker side. That is why Singapore is a city of skyscrapers and, with few exceptions, beautiful historic buildings, which you can find in abundance in the Czech Republic, are missing here. So, as we Czechs like to go for what we don’t have at home, i.e., somewhere under a palm tree to the seaside, the Singaporeans like to come and see castles, chateaus and historic buildings. So, state-of-the-art skyscrapers cannot be considered an unconditional advantage.

What future does the Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce plan? 

Our goal is to reach the level of trade and investment with Czech-Japanese or Czech-Korean relations, for example. We are not at that level yet, so there is room for improvement. These are our ambitions. And I hope that the reopening of the Czech Embassy in Singapore will help us to do just that. The embassy in Singapore will be opened during September by Ambassador Michaela Froňková, who, thanks to her experience in demanding territories, belongs to the top branch of the Czech diplomatic service. What we expect from the establishment of the embassy is a new era of Czech-Singaporean relations and we hope that this will, with regards to Singaporean companies and partners, also represent yet another positive signal, which will revive trade relations even more.

That is one of the goals. What are the others?

It would be nice if the Republic of Singapore opened an embassy in Prague. This can represent another big step that would be very helpful to Czech business.

Is it possible to specifically present the successes of Czech companies in Singapore?

There are things that are visible to Singaporeans. An example can be found at Singapore’s Changi Airport: beautiful design installations from Lasvit, which are passed daily by a large number of people. Another company works on the desalination of seawater and thus helps local water management – their activities are highly appreciated on the Singaporean side. Similarly prestigious are smart sensors from a Czech company, which are installed on the Singapore Formula 1 circuit. Another Czech company successfully supplies smart medical beds to Singapore hospitals and medical facilities. So, the range of fields is wide, not to mention traditional brands such as Baťa. And as the Singaporeans associate Bata with childhood or adolescence, every Singaporean who is now 50+ wore Baťa shoes. A bit of a problem is that they think it is an Indonesian or Indian brand and there is no longer a direct link to the Czech Republic. It is similar with Škoda cars, because in their opinion it is a German car. Unfortunately, they often have no idea that it is manufactured in our country. And that is actually work for Czech institutions and the Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce to make this connection in the minds of the Singaporeans. And to show that the Czech Republic can offer not only these traditional brands, but that there are also other companies that can offer interesting technologies or products to use or for trade.

In which fields do you see opportunities?

There are many of them. We mentioned, for instance, smart cities and the Internet of Things, which are industries in which Singaporeans invest a large amount of money and where the Singapore government very generously supports domestic companies and their further expansion. Then there is fintech. Singapore is an Asian financial centre that provides facilities for fintech companies and banks, so business with finance and the application of technology in finance is large. Then there are various health and medical technologies, biotechnologies, i.e., fields in which Czech companies have great opportunities. And also, IT and the digital industry including progressive segments such as robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. Singaporeans are looking for prime solutions in these fields and I am convinced that they can find them in many Czech companies.

The chamber was active in the field of education, seminars and conferences. Will you continue this trend? 

We certainly want to continue educational events for the benefit of Czech companies and to do so in the form of business and entrepreneurial conferences. Our aim is to pass on information about interesting business opportunities in Singapore to Czech companies, ideally with the participation of guests from the fields of politics and business. Furthermore, we want to organize networking events for the members of the chamber, because we perceive that social life has been subdued for several months, so, we want to make it up to them. The Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce is not only about a bilateral trade relationship, but we also try to be a management club in which participants can share not only their experiences, contacts and information, but also negotiate deals with each other. Such social forcefulness of the chamber is very important to us.

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: archive, depositphotos and pixabay

Hidden Mediterranean cuisine in Dejvice

Nobody would expect it from the outside. An inconspicuous Mediterranean restaurant is hidden in the Vienna House Diplomat Hotel in Dejvice, Prague.

The restaurant Bull & Bonito, with a focus on Mediterranean cuisine, was established here in 2019. The kitchen is ruled with sharp knives by chef Jan Schánil and his team.

History and concept

Over the last few years, the Prague part of Dejvice has become a place where you will find a lot of new cafes and restaurants. And not only Dejvice but also Vinohrady, Karlín or Letná have experienced a “boom” of new interesting places where you can find great coffee spots and enjoy world-class gastronomy.

The Bull & Bonito restaurant is located in the iconic Diplomat Hotel in Dejvice, which belongs to the Vienna House hotel chain group. Hotel Diplomat with 400 rooms underwent a complete reconstruction, which was completed in the spring of 2019. Thanks to this reconstruction, a new concept of the restaurant was opened with intention to open to local guests and neighbours. The architectural interior design was created by BWM Architects studio in Vienna and adapted the evolving environment by alternating colours, different materials and light compositions. The interior of the restaurant is dominated by a sculpture of a bull, wood and earthy tones, which are elegantly complemented by contrasting colours.

The restaurant works completely independent of the hotel. It has a separate entrance, but you can also get inside from the hotel lobby. The restaurant also has a partially covered terrace, which can be used for sitting throughout the year.

Why Bull & Bonito?

Imagine cities like Rome, Venice, St. Tropez, Marseille, Barcelona or Valencia. What do you imagine about these cities? Most of us imagine the sun, the sea, the peace and the holidays. In Bull & Bonito, you will feel somewhere along the Mediterranean Sea. The restaurant is inspired by the vibrant and relaxed atmosphere, especially by the variety of dishes of southern Europe.

Bull & Bonito combines quality and fresh ingredients. The word ‘Bull’ represents quality meat and ‘Bonito’ the best of the sea. Chef Jan Schánil prepares dishes based on the best that Mediterranean cuisine has to offer. In addition to quality meat from Czech farmers, the menu also includes Spanish ham, which matured for 24 months. The highlight of the kitchen is the water grill, from which grilled meats are much healthier. When grilling, the fat drips into the water placed under the grill grate, thus prevents the formation of carcinogenic substances.

Let´s discover Mediterranean cuisine

Chef Jan Schánil recommends tasting an Andalusian appetizer of almonds, garlic and milk Ajo blanco with freshly baked homemade focaccia. From the permanent menu, the speciality is Tomahawk pork chop with a spicy sauce Salsa verde. The aim is to use local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. The menu changes regularly according to seasonal foods. The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from 11:30 until 22:00. During the working week, you can go to the restaurant for a lunch menu. Thanks to its great location near Vítězné Square, it is an ideal place for family celebrations, as well as a romantic dinner for two.

Klára Laudátová / foto: vienna house

Unlimited possibilities in Dubai give rise to non-traditional schools

It is always interesting to watch real estate markets across continents. Each market has its own specifics given the climate, the economic situation of the country, modern local trends, culture and many other aspects. And, of course, the winning idea and design also play a role in the final implementation.

Schools and related buildings are a very specific sponsorship of the real estate market. And even here it is true that each country, and therefore the continent to an even greater extent, has its specific requirements. Development News magazine has been a regular media partner of the prestigious competition Building of the Year in the category of the Foreign Construction of the Year. One of this year’s nominated projects is Bogle Architects’ the Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai, UAE. The founder of the company, Ian Bogle, introduced this project to us.

This is not the first time you took  part in Building of the Year. How do you perceive this competition compared to other events you participate in around the world?

As an international firm, we like to showcase our projects in both local and international awards. We’ve taken part, and won, in the Building of the Year before, so we like to think we have a good chance of winning again in this prestigious competition. We have won several international awards over the last nine years, since we started the practice, but it’s always rewarding to be recognized locally for our international work.

You received the nomination for the school project in Dubai. In general, what are the current requirements of investors for this type of construction?

The international school market, while competitive, is still a growing market therefore the investors are looking for a point of differentiation. In this instance, we were tasked with not only applying the needs of a normal school
curriculum but also adding features/motifs from the 500-year-old parent school in Guildford but also designing a sustainable solution for this particular climate. The large diagonal roof harks back to the historical leaded windows of the chained library at the Guildford school. Another interesting feature of the building is the local (KHDA – Knowledge and Human Development Association) guidance that requires all children up to the age of six to have their main classroom located on the ground floor. Due to the capacity of the school (more  than 2,000 students) it dictated the overall length of the building which if it were turned on its end it would be three-storeys taller than the Gherkin in London which I worked on while at Foster many years back.

Are there any special systems or materials used on this construction site?

We designed the building to be ‘self-shading’ given the climate and as such a cantilevering concrete frame was used to provide this shading. This means that all the classrooms are not directly exposed to the Dubai sunshine allowing for a reduction in the building’s overall cooling loads which goes someway, when offset against the photovoltaic systems utilized on site, to create a net zero solution. The resulting internal atrium creates a more contained space for the younger children at the ground floor opening up to the oldest, 6th form young adults, on the top floor. The atrium is 50% covered with an ETFE roof to allow for natural light to penetrate deep into the space below – a solution we also used on the Early Learning Village in Singapore which was lucky enough to win this award previously.

How does the assignment for an investor for such a project in the UAE differ from, for example, in Europe?

The main difference is the United Arab Emirates climate which is very different to the European climate where temperatures range from 22 °C in the winter to way over 40 °C in the height of summer. We knew we had to design an environmentally progressive solution so this had a major impact on the design as described above. There are other micro economic issues particular to the local market that also need to be considered in the school offering for Dubai, e.g., we had a very long debate about whether the swimming pools should be internal or external. We ultimately, collectively, decided on a covered external solution that was partially shaded by deep precast concrete panels, giving a dappled light effect, but also allowing for natural cross ventilation.

What did the investor place the main emphasis on in the school project? What was your main concern?

The investor is a global school provider hence the main emphasis on the school project – they have 85 school in 11 countries around the world but this was their first project in the Middle East so we had to make a statement with not only the building but also the educational offer which drove a number of the design decisions. Our challenge was to marry the principles of the 500-year old school at Guildford in the United Kingdom, alongside the requirements of the KHDA in Dubai in the UAE climate. The resultant development is a paragon in both the educational offer but also a step change in the design of K-12 educational environments. We also wanted to make the building like an ‘oasis in the desert’ hence why we have a great deal of green walls and living trees within the internal atriums which also help to the wellbeing of pupils and staff in the learning environment.

If you would have to find five words to characterize this project, which ones would you have chosen?

In terms of the design, we’d say it’s progressive, innovative, welcoming, intuitive and green.

You are working on a whole range of different projects. What prevails after a pandemic?

Yes, we’ve been approached to work on a number of new projects both locally and internationally throughout the pandemic but it has certainly been a challenging period. The interesting part is that we have looked at new projects in locations without actually physically visiting the site which goes against our golden rule of always visiting the location to understand the ‘feel’ of a place and not just the urban, rural or coastal context. This obviously couldn’t be helped because of the travel restrictions imposed by the various governments in response to the Pandemic but it does show that a more digital solution can work almost as well – but we will start visiting these locations again as it is so important to the quality of the resultant design.

What beautiful buildings can we look forward to from your studio in Prague?

We’ve recently completed the commercial office component of our Astrid project in P7 and the SOLID 21 laboratory project opened officially on 22nd September in P8. We also have a number of projects on the go that will soon be being constructed in and around Prague in the commercial, residential, education and leisure sectors – watch this space!

Kristina Vacková / photo: Bogle Architects/Chris Goldstraw

A new capital markets pro in the Colliers team

This year, Colliers Czech Republic, leading global commercial real estate services and investment management firm, has announced multiple new appointments across various business lines, as part of the company’s strategic growth plan needed to better cope with the market dynamics and clients’ needs.

One of these hires is Mark Richardson, who recently joined the Colliers Capital Markets team in Prague, moving from Colliers Investment team in Warsaw, Poland, where he spent the past 18 months before joining forces with the Czech team comprising Andrew Thompson, Tomas Szilagyi and Konstantin Cordery. “I am delighted to be joining the expanding Colliers team in Prague and the prospects of building on the team’s track record and successes,” said Mark, who is very familiar with both the Czech Republic and CEE Real Estate Investment markets and has over 21 years of experience working in the real estate industry.

2021 real estate market trends

“Inflation continues to rise across the Globe and in turn the cost of construction which is having an impact on the real estate market and the cost of undertaking developments this year,” says Mark when asked about the current situation on the Czech market. “The Cost of raw material and the salaries of Construction work continues to rise driving inflation which means in theory that interest rates should also increase. Theoretically, if the cost of borrowing money to acquire Real Estate increases, the price of Real Estate should reflect this increase and prices should correspondingly slow due to the higher cost of borrowing,” thinks Mark. “However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as there remains a significant amount of capital active in the market seeking opportunities to acquire Real Estate which means that Investors will simply adjust their return requirements accordingly to offset the impact of higher interest rates and as a result, yields are projected to remain stable and unchanged in the short term,” predicts Mark.

Responding to the question of where would the capital flow in the foressable future then, Mark is of the opinion that there remains a large amount of ‘frustrated’ domestic capital in the Czech Republic looking for potential apportunities to invest, which continues  to keep his investment team busy, with signs that Czech Investors are increasingly looking to invest cross-border due to the lack of opportunities in the Czech Republic.

Different dynamics of the Czech Republic and Polish investment markets

Mark is looking after both International investors and Czech Funds. “I am helping many Czech investors looking for isuitable investment opportunities in both the Czech Republic and Poland,” he says and continues: “I often find myself talking to Czech investors about Investment options in their own country, and end up spending half the time discussing other Investment opportunities and the merits and attractiveness of the Polish Real Estate market and other CEE opportunities. There appears to be plenty of Czech capital now seeking to invest in Poland. Whilst historically German and Austrian Investors and financing banks have been active in the Czech Republic, we are now seeing strong signs that Czech investors are also seeking to invest in Austria and Germany driven in part by the lack of investment opportunities and institutional ivestment product available to buy in the Czech Republic,” says Mark and adds: “One of the strong points we share at Colliers CEE is our well connected platform where we easily can put various opportunities together in front of our clients.”

One interesting observation noted by Mark is the different dynamics between that of the Czech Republic and Polish Investment markets. The Czech Republic is similar to that of most Western European Markets whereby 50% of all transations is typically completed by domestic capital, whereas in Poland, approxiantely 95% of all capital invested in the Market is Foreign capital – typically investment managers from the US, UK, Germany and South Korea London investing in Poland. We are aware of the possibility in the near future of the first Polish Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) being created which would help transform the Investment landscape in the country.

“There has been a strong shift towards the industrial sector being the preferred Investment sector class away from that of offices and retail. The global Covid pandemic has accelerated the growth of online retail sales and changing consumer habits and how retailers respond to these changes,”says Mark and notes for example that the US fashion retailer, GAP, recently took the decision to close all of its fashion stores in the UK, France and Italy but will continue to trade online and believe there will be more businesses globally to follow suit, not only fashion brands.

Mark notes that retail parks continue to be resilient to these changes. The retail park customers ability to park in a safe outdoor environment close to their desired retail stores during the global pandemic and government restructions resulted in relatively strong trading performance of the retail parks compared to that of shopping centres and in turn ensured the continued attractiveness of the sector as an asset class to  investors.

Katarína Karmažinová

Hagibor is to offer an environment designed by the world’s top landscaper

“Investments in public space are really exceptional in the case of our Hagibor project. Both office tenants and residents will be surprised.”

These are the words of Simon Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of the development company Crestyl.

Complex projects that combine multiple functions have become a hallmark of Crestyl. Why are you embarking on the transformation of entire territories areas?

We can urbanize the whole area, which will allow us to produce a project with trully added value. The synergy of housing, work and trade increases the value of real estate over the longer period because a particular area functions as a single homogeneous unit – the area lives all day long; it is not an empty space during day or evening. Shops have better sales, residents have a better infrastructure, people from offices a live and non-sterile place to work. The combination of residential housing coupled with a large office unit will enable investments in the surroundings to such an extent and quality that cannot otherwise be achieved. We at Crestyl are very demanding of ourselves regarding the appearance of public space and its quality. Thanks to specialists in various areas of development, we have an overall command of all its disciplines in our company and therefore we focus on projects where we can make full use of our abilities.

How did you commence transforming entire territories? What was the impulse?

It all started when we bought a project for offices in Libeň, Prague, and subsequently also the developer who owned land for residential development there. This is how today’s DOCK project was created around the blind branches of the Vltava River. And it is thanks to the combination of offices and housing that we were, for instance, able to clean and revitalize water areas there and build a park and footbridge. And now we can once again afford the project of a wooded public space in Hagibor, designed by Michel Desvigne, the world‘s most sought-after landscape architect today.

What will the public space in the Hagibor project actually look like?

The location of Prague’s Hagibor, which directly connects to Vinohradská Street, is absolutely unique and we envisage a tremendous future there. After DOCK, this is our next important project, which utilizes the symbiosis of housing, offices, shops and services in one place. That is also why we dealt with the concept of the total district carefully and together with the architects we placed a huge emphasis on public space. Michel Desvigne combined everything into one harmonious complex, which combines outdoor space with the needs of future residents and office tenants. Greenery there connects and at the same time separates office and living areas and removes the difference between a pavement and a lawn. We plan to plant up to 2,000 trees there, which will bestow the public area with fragmentation, increase its aesthetics and improve the climate inside and outside the buildings.

What will be part of the Hagibor project?

Within the Hagibor project there are gradually being constructed five residential houses with a total of 650 apartments together with six administrative buildings, which will offer a total of approximately 80,000 sq m of leasable area. A square and central pedestrian boulevard, which will lead from the underground exit, will connect everything with shops and restaurants. Two housing blocks are already nearing completion; construction of the third will begin this year.

And what about the offices? Are they already under construction?

We will soon commence the construction of the first stage, which is, in addition to Crestyl, also participated on by EP Real Estate. In order to commence the construction of such a large project, we considered it good to unite with another entity, which can also bring in a large range of companies as potential tenants. This first stage includes two buildings on Vinohradská Street, which will offer 31,000 sq m of rental premises – more than 28,000 sq m of offices and 3,000 sq m for shops and services. On the ground floors of the buildings, there will be premises for shops, restaurants and services, where the upper floors will offer high standard offices, which include large terraces on receding floors offering views of Prague. The first confirmed tenant is the Czech News Centre media house, which will occupy almost 9,000 sq m of offices and move their headquarters there. By the way, they were particularly attracted by the attractive architectural design and the high technical standard of the building, together with the location adjacent to Vinohradská Street near the underground station.

You have mentioned architectural design. Who is actually behind the Hagibor project?

Two international architectural studios have joined forces for the Hagibor project – Bogle Architects and Ian Bryan Architects (IBA), which have created an airy and bright space that will make any house stand out and offer a balanced combination of design and functionality. The author of the administrative part of the Hagibor project and at the same time the overall urban design of the location are Bogle Architects led by Ian Bogle. He, for instance, participated in the iconic Swiss Re Tower in London, nicknamed ‘Gherkin’. And as I have already mentioned, we have also involved the world-famous landscape architect Michel Desvigne. He deals with large public spaces that form a quarter of the entire area. Michael Desvigne is the author of urban solutions, public areas and parks throughout the world, for instance in Paris, Tokyo and Detroit.

What other interesting projects can we look forward to besides Hagibor?

We are preparing an extensive Savarin project in the centre of Prague. It is located right next to Wenceslas Square, Prague, which it will, with reference to the tradition of Wenceslas passages, connect with Na Příkopě, Jindřišská and Panská Streets. It includes a thorough reconstruction of existing historic buildings and the creation of a completely new public area with greenery and open space in the courtyard. Its shape and form was designed by the icon of contemporary world architecture and design, Thomas Heatherwick and his studio. And as for projects outside of Prague, we are launching a completely new multifunctional project in the centre of Brno, which will be built on the site of the current Tesco Dornych building, where we will construct four administrative buildings in addition to retail area, a hotel and apartments. We are also preparing a very interesting residential project in an attractive Prague location, as well as many others. But it is still too early for details. Just wait for it to happen.

PR

A developer who owns a construction company has an advantage

A very respectable number – more than 250 development projects are held by the LEXXUS office, which has been operating in the market for almost 29 years. They focus mainly on the sale of apartments and houses in Prague.

Peter Višňovský, Director of the real estate office LEXXUS  says: “It is our long-term specialization in residential projects that allows us to analyze in detail the market, the level of demand and supply in a given location and, in cooperation with our sales activities, monitor the market of new housing projects.” In the interview, he also reveals how far architects cannot see, what irritates him most about the market and how the home office has changed clients’ demands for new housing.

How would you characterize the current residential market? 

There are several important stable players and dozens of smaller ones in the area of residential development. If the city develops naturally and if there are sufficient number of new apartments built, it will also be reflected in the development of prices. In the last 10 years, however, we have seen a significantly lower number of new apartments in the market. There are about 10,000 needed per year, but in reality, only a few thousand are built, which means there is a huge deficit in the long term. Although this situation is well known, long debated and in fact unquestioned by anyone, it has not been resolved yet. This results in a current significant imbalance, where extreme demand is confronted with low supply and rapidly rising prices.

The reasons are obvious…

Of course, with a sufficient supply, prices would not rise so fast. What has recently been standard is that the prices of new apartments are adjusted (i.e. increased) practically on a monthly to weekly basis. If we didn’t do so, we would have sold out long before the project was completed and at lower prices. No one in the position of a developer would perceive this as the right procedure.

What’s going on in the market?

A large part of our work now consists of monitoring the market and prices so that we do not sell the portfolio out too quickly. The most difficult are the beginnings of projects, because it is not until the publishing of the offer that you get real and objective feedback from clients. Project prices are not only rising due to the market situation. Logically, the individual apartments are becoming more attractive as construction progresses – the more advanced the construction, the closer the date of moving in, the higher the attractiveness for the client, and therefore the price. The most expensive per square metre is the bedsit + kitchenette layout. There is naturally a lot of interest shown in them, because there are the most clients who can afford them due to price. Buyers of smaller apartments with layouts ranging from bedsit + kitchenette to one bedroom apartment + kitchenette are not often seeking their own housing, but look for investing their free funds there. They secure themselves for old age or just invest conservatively. The ratio between those who buy for their own housing and those who want to invest deviates with rising prices in favour of investors. Our market will gradually approach the western ones, where rental housing is much more represented. The era of affordable owner-occupied housing of the immature residential market is practically over and will not return. Rental housing will re-joy a much more common choice than before.

On what basis are your relationships with developers based?

Many of the developers understood that if they give us more time and start co-operating with us intensively, then co-operation with us will pay off as they consult their project not with an architect who already has a clear idea of what the housing should look like, but with experts who know what people want and what they buy. The 250 projects that are behind us thus represent a realized sale of 12,000–13,000 apartments, and therefore many tens of thousands of clients who solved their requirements and ideas about housing together with our stable team. Together with the developers, we are able to set up their project relatively precisely so that it corresponds to clients’ current expectations.

So, one could say that you do a sort of development mentoring?

Let’s say we play a training client. We can find the weaknesses of the project very quickly and use its real potential. We look for benefits for clients and our know-how then even pays off pleasantly for the developer, this being in the form of a better product and therefore higher sales prices. How many times a developer meaninglessly invests funds that the client does not see or does not even care about or does not appreciate the investment.

How should I imagine that?

We can get 100% or even more from the potential, which is used to some 70%. We are, of course, limited by authorities and standards, we have limits to follow, and we recommend the developer as to what should be there and where it should be. Increasing the efficiency and ‘tuning’ the project is added value. It will bring the developer at least 10–20% higher returns in real terms within the given project. Because, what often happens is that the architect does not ‘see’ every single specific apartment.

What current project do you feel good about?

It is, for instance, the refined project of 23 units in Prague 6, the Rezidence U Boroviček, which underwent final building approval in the summer. That was a flawless affair. The developer has his own construction company, so, everything is set up according to himself and the negotiation of prices for work are eliminated. He is very active. Just for the record, only 30 months passed from the purchase of the land (without any stamp) to the successful final building approval. The developer and his team were able to obtain a building permit in 15 months and build a quality project in another 15 months. In my opinion, this project with attractive common areas and a generously designed garden probably doesn’t have any flaws whatsoever. This is an incredible result by Prague. I am glad that we had the opportunity to participate in the preparation and sale of the Rezidence u Boroviček project by the boutique developer All New Development.

Can you name other projects?

I can think of two that are under construction. One is situated in the already existing development by the Luka underground station in Stodůlky, Prague – Alfa Residence. It offers 76 apartments with loggias and from the city’s point of view, it is the place to build. Directly by the underground, in the development area, with a functioning infrastructure. In the first stage, we managed to respond flexibly to clients’ needs that emerged in the era of covid in cooperation with MINT Investment. These are major layout adjustments taking into account home office and the need to have a workspace, quality internet connection, etc. in each apartment. Another example is Arcus City in Prague 5. Unlike the first one, which is rather intended for younger clients, this project is detached from dense development, more in the countryside and therefore offers mainly larger apartments for families.

What is your clientele actually like?

It is mostly local clientele, both from Prague and outside of Prague – mostly aged 40–55 years of age. Prague is actually an independent market within the Czech Republic, which has probably the most stable potential in the long term. It is ideal for investment plans because the development here is steadily growing, except for the global fluctuation in 2008. When real estate prices rise, most investors do not deal much with rental income – whether it is 2% or 5%, or even over 10%. The yield is pleasant for them but less important in the long term. They buy with a view of, for instance, 10 years or more, and they rightly assume that they will achieve significant valorization.

And which projects are under development?

The vast majority of current projects are in Prague. But the development of recent years is also taking us, as well as our clients, beyond Prague’s borders. So, we have, for instance, completed the Bydlení Čelákovice project, which we managed to sell out successfully thanks to good transport connections with Prague. We are currently working on a project in Jinočany and have another project in Beroun. We are also preparing one in Kolín and another one in Mělník. We always take into account the fact that the clientele in these projects will be partly from Prague, partly local. That it will be different target groups with different needs, so, we set up the projects in the preparatory phase according to such criteria.

Are real estate prices rising feverishly there as well?

The lack of apartments in Prague and their high prices forced up by Covid made people look for more distant properties. What seemed too far three years ago suits many people today. Of course, there is always the condition of some train connection or adequate transport capacity to the capital. The new practice of ‘home office’ also means that people suddenly don’t need to commute five days a week, so they can imagine a possible longer commuting – once, twice a week. All these aspects have shifted the situation considerably. This increased interest has logically reflected in prices, which means that real estate prices rose even on the outskirts and further and further beyond Prague.

Is there anything else on the market that makes you crinkle?

Still the same: insufficient development. It is great that we have a new building law, but this won’t be valid for two more years. Until then, I do not predict any dramatic change in the market. A certain recovery of the market is realistic in some three or four years, when the new building law is effective for some time and processes will be faster and more transparent.

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: Lexxus Archive

PSN is preparing exceptional projects in Prague

PSN has been operating in the Czech real estate market since 1991 – originally as Prague Real Estate Administration.

The rebranding took place in 2019. The PSN portfolio includes Prague’s architectural gems such as the Dancing House, the Fashion House, the Dlážděná Palace, Kotva and the exceptional Vanguard Prague project. Štěpán Smrčka, PSN Development Director, introduced us to the company’s activities.

Can you introduce PSN to us in more detail?

We have been through an incredible 30 years, similarly to other Czech family businesses that were established in the early 1990’s. This year, we celebrate a round-figure jubilee and thanks to iconic real estate, which, since last year, also includes City Empiria, we have reached a stage where we are still a medium-size family business, but the size of projects has shifted significantly. We find that what we grew up on, i.e. the typical block of flats for reconstruction in Prague 2, 3 or 5, can no longer be our only key business. Nevertheless, we can do it, we enjoy doing it, so we will continue to do so, but we have to include ever larger projects in our portfolio. It is a nice tax for success, for all those 30 years of work. The company is undergoing a certain evolution within the team and project management. We are moving from the reconstruction of housing blocks to new buildings and large multifunctional complexes that combine offices, apartments, etc.

What should I imagine under the term ‘medium-size family business’? How many people do you employ?

There are about a hundred of us, we have our headquarters in Prague and a branch in Pardubice. The entire team focuses on all segments of the real estate market – from acquisitions and development through leasing and sales, including administration and everything related to support activities. We are basically constantly looking for quality colleagues. So, within the mentioned evolution, we are still recruiting people, a priori into project management and implementation, within the development of new buildings and growth of the company.

How do you respond to the current situation in the housing market?

I do not want to repeat the same thing that most developers say to the media – approval processes, prices of building materials, work, housing prices, etc. As developers, we are not a priori happy that apartments are expensive, nor do our margins change dramatically over time. The answer lies in the length and complexity of the whole preparation process. As the investment in projects increases significantly due to the length of processes, it means that margins remain at a similar level. Of course, we are glad that there is interest in real estate and housing. It is a safe haven in these turbulent times, when a lot of money is being printed and high inflation is expected. But we are really not happy that fewer apartments are permitted every year and fewer of them are put up for sale.

Is rental housing the solution?

It is the market’s response to what is happening. Of course, if the amount of money you have to invest in your first property already exceeds a certain level – as well as the interest rate – it will force you to rent. I think going to rent is no shame at all. But in our region, renting has always been seen as a bit inferior and everyone had to have their own apartment. Compared to Western Europe, much fewer people in our country live in rental accommodation, so there is room to make up for it a bit. From a user’s point of view, rental housing represents a solution to the situation in the real estate market; on the other hand, it must be said that due to Covid and the restriction of a certain volume of airbnb services in Prague, rents are not growing as fast as the value of real estate. But when the situation calms down, it may change again. We – as a family development company – keep an interesting part of the real estate under our own management and create a portfolio of hundreds of apartments for rent. We would like to keep and manage them in the long term.

Does this mean that you will not outsource the administration, but will manage it with your own employees?

Due to our long experience with property management and the fact that we already have several dozen buildings and hundreds of apartments in our portfolio, we have our knowledge and an experienced team of people. They are part of the ‘family’, everything works and fits together. So, renting and administration will mostly remain under our control.

How do you perceive the establishment of the Prague Development Company?

I think that only time will tell what it will bring. It is very important that it is run by an experienced person, which I believe is happening, and that it is backed by an experienced team. There is no need to explain at length that development is becoming more and more complex, longer and more demanding on quality staff. What they are trying to build here is quite common in the West, it has its history and culture. My only fear is that similar attempts ‘outside the market’ never turn out very well in our country. On the one hand, I keep my fingers crossed, but it is clear to me that it will be a very difficult process and only time will tell whether they can do it, but mainly whether they will receive political support. It is a job for 5–10 years before it ‘catches on’, which is very difficult with a four-year political cycle. It will be a demanding discipline and I am sincerely curious about it.

What is your opinion on the new building law?

I will not go into details, the effort is appreciated. It didn’t surprise me that it was eventually politically adjusted to a certain hybrid. But the approved principles are at least a step in the right direction. As far as legislation is concerned, there is a lot of discussion held about the deadlines, reactions and responsibilities of individual officials. I think that we will fight here indefinitely for simplification and greater transparency and, above all, predictability of legislation. It is okay to define a long-term vision for the territory in which you live or manage together with people and self-government but the process of land or construction management itself should be a brisk formal verification of the intention within the standards. It is not a problem for the developer to have a limit somewhere. What represents a problem for him is that a possible construction limit does not change over time nor is not politically valid. Then he discovers during the process that there are other limits besides what is written. I think this is the most difficult thing in business – investing money with a vision of 5–10 years and only then finding out what can actually be done… This is the worst thing for any investor and is naturally reflected in the length of processes, rising of project prices and in the end even in the price of the product itself.

Can you highlight some of your projects?

There were two most visible projects we have implemented in recent years. The first one was the Dlážděná Palace, which is luxury residential housing in the centre of Prague, in a really complex area, with an investment of over CZK 200 million in a very luxurious segment. Despite minor pains along the way, I think, that in cooperation with conservationists and architects, we have completed a product that clients rate as excellent. The second such flagship product is Vanguard – a conversion of a former industrial factory hall built vertically in Modřany, Prague. Here we are preparing a really exceptional loft housing project. You will be able to take your darling to your apartment by elevator – by the darling meaning a car or motorcycle. It is a very demanding project in the order of hundreds of millions of crowns. In addition to a total of twenty-five projects, we have two other absolutely exceptional projects in the preparation phase. It is Vinohradská 8, which is the former Transgas that we have recently bought from HB Reavis. It is a turning point for us – 20,000 sq m of apartments, offices and shops in a unique place. HB Reavis originally planned only offices. As a residential developer, we would like the majority to include apartments, and offices to remain on a smaller scale. The second project is in Vršovická Street – an industrial complex of Koh-i-noor, where we plan to build 500–550 apartments. These complex projects go hand in hand with the evolution of the company that I have previously mentioned.

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: PSN Archive

Developers lacked generosity

Since 1996, Passerinvest Group has primarily been noted as an urban developer with the BB Centrum in Prague 4, which is one of the largest and most successful urban projects in the Czech Republic as well as the whole of Europe.

Other significant projects in Passerinvest Group’s portfolio include Nové Roztyly, the brownfield of the former Interlov complex, where, in the future, there will be an area of pleasant housing with a large proportion of greenery, complemented by services and an administrative function. The founder of Passerinvest Group and its CEO, Radim Passer, spoke to us about both current and future planned development projects as well as problems in the Czech construction industry and the economy in general and their possible solutions.

How do you assess the previous years 2019 and 2020?

I am grateful to our Lord Almighty for the decision made in 2013 that we will be not only an urban developer but also a long-term investor. The repurchasing of buildings in the BB Centrum and the fact that we did not sell those buildings completed after 2008 proved to be a very good strategy in more demanding and uncertain times, when it is very difficult to construct new buildings in Prague. Thanks to the fact that our assets make up more than 90% of office space, even the Covid-period did not de facto cause us any damage. Of course, we tried to accommodate retailers so that they could survive and function economically after opening. There were partial losses, but not significant from a percentage point of view.

Apart from the construction of administrative buildings, you also deal with residential development.

As part of our urban development, we try to build apartments on suitable land. This is the third time we have built apartments at the BB Centrum – but is, for the first time, at a time when they are experiencing a certain boom. We are satisfied from a business point of view, however, I would say that the state administration and permitting processes were already in delirium before Covid – and now they have moved to the stage of clinical death. The construction industry as such is – perhaps unknowingly, but systematically – liquidated by all post-Velvet Revolution governments. It got into such a desperate situation that despite the fact that not even half of what should be built is not being built, there is still lack of people in the construction industry. The covid period also contributed to this, as transport and logistics chains were disrupted. That is why we are getting into a situation that you may remember from the pre-Velvet Revolution period, when one queues up for material and almost no one delivers anything on time. This year, this was contributed to by the uncontrolled rise in prices of building materials and work. That means that it is very difficult for any developer to plan at the moment. Given that housing construction now plays a dominant role in development, I think that the situation is, of course, the worst for those who would like to have housing.

When buying housing at current prices, the developer is seen as the one asking exorbitant money. How do you see this factor?

I apologize for the expression, but it is given by the absolute ignorance of the Czech nation. I’ll explain why: It has three levels. As for the first, I have to say self-critically that we, the developers, are to blame for this ourselves because, in my opinion, there was a very long time when we did not work with public spaces, refused to invest outside our land and to make the surroundings of our project look better. In other words, there was a lack of generosity. In addition to that, we never had a professional association, everybody played on their own patch, cared only for their own interests and their own projects. And when someone needed to solve something, he delivered an envelope to a politician instead of having it dealt with via the professional structure. In recent years, there is at least the Association of Developers that has a code of ethics that its members should follow – firstly, we will not support corruption, even at the expense of making less money. Secondly, we will demonstrate a certain generosity. The generosity is, of course, displayed differently in a project such as Brumlovka, where one developer builds a considerable number of buildings, and differently in projects where ten developers build and develop one area. But even there one needs to demonstrates some generosity. So, that is one level.

And the other one?

The second level is the level of politicians, both local and parliamentary. As the Czech Republic, we have the worst laws in this area, both in the first and second worlds. Those elements that hinder the construction of motorways and various publicly beneficial infrastructure – and, of course, often private development – are financed with private sector money or the state budget to the extent that it is outrageous and unbelievable. I would say that this is the parliamentary level when our post-Velvet Revolution politicians have not yet understood the contribution of the construction industry to the state budget, and therefore to the richness of the nation as a whole. In 1990, politicians could not know because no one had any experience with it. Only a small percentage of them were willing to learn from the markets where those things worked. That is why we are in the situation that we are. Because of the politicians.

…and the third one?

The third influence is the media. Now, I do not mean the professional one, because I have never registered that there would be elementary ignorance or some incompetence there, or that there would even be any anti-development efforts. The media I have in mind includes television and newspapers. I think they speak in a completely distorted way about this important sector of the Czech economy and thus de facto mislead the public. The fourth component is the general public. Human selfishness, which shows up in an approach of ‘I already live here, so, I couldn’t care less where and if the one who does not have housing yet will have one’. There are not many of them. I would say that those who are the most heard are some 2% and they influence those who do not think about it more deeply, sign something or hear out an argument taken out of context, and then resentment arises against something. It is a question of public education. If the private sector, relevant politicians and responsible journalist’s approach this constructively, even the public’s view of the importance of construction will change radically. It will not happen in a day, but there is a chance that the public’s view of construction may change, say in some five years’ time, providing the issue is handled correctly.

Do you have a feasible proposal for solving housing problems?

For a newly built apartment of 65 sq m, the state will receive at least CZK 4 million thanks to multiplying effects and contributions to the state budget. This is a very important number, because thanks to construction and development, health care, education and all those services that the state has to perform can function and people will receive pensions and various benefits. But there must be freedom in the market. The fact that our politicians, both local and national, are the reason that no construction is going on here, that there is no one to build here, that Prague does not have a planning plan 32 years after the revolution – these are things for which are responsible both local and national politicians, all paid with money, which comes from the private sector to which they primarily answer to. I say this absolutely intentionally in order to give a very clear impression. There is little discussed about that in public. I think it is important that this information is also heard among the professional public, so that people and our colleagues are not afraid to spread it. And the solution? First of all, it is necessary to construct an analysis – with the slogan ‘be reconciled with the past’ – because we will not change that. Mistakes have already been made and there is no point in looking for the culprits. We need to learn from this and be responsible for the future. We have to think for how many people we are building the country and Prague. If we believe that the Republic should have plus 40% of people compared to the current situation, there are consequences in the field of spatial planning. Secondly, this requires transport infrastructure. The current one was planned by the Communists and in the 32 years since the revolution, we have not added one bit to it. In other words, it is necessary to finish building completely new motorway routes here, to build complex high-speed railway routes and, of course, the Prague underground, for which even the Bolsheviks planned the E route, which would connect Prague 4 with Prague 5, etc. We must finally move Prague into the 21st century. Of course, the city should be connected by underground to the airport, where there should also be a high-speed railway line, because if we do not, we remain the losers who condemn themselves forever to remain a nation of the second or third category.

Are we approaching a solution?

This year, we launched the ‘Development of Buildings for a Richer Republic’ initiative, which brings a fundamental message that we presented to both parliamentary politicians and various representatives in Prague. You know that 76% of each investment in construction ends up in the state budget. When there are, every year, 10,000 less apartments built in Prague than is necessary, it represents minus CZK 40 billion, for which Prague annually impoverishes the state budget. Prague further loses over CZK 70 billion every year because it has a proportion of only half of office space per capita than Western European cities of comparable importance and size. The point is that the state earns from each building four times more per year than its owner. Once again, this is due to the multiplying effects and tax levies, because in the building are people who receive wages from which levies are paid every month to the state budget. There is quite a number of foreigners, especially from Western Europe, who like to come here willingly for work. If the market keeps growing and corporations see that it is possible to rent more offices in Prague, they will set up more regional headquarters there. In such cases, Prague can have another 250,000 people only in those administrative buildings that are not here and should already have been. That would mean at least CZK 70 billion for the state budget, because these are people who usually have very good salaries. Each of them who comes here must have an apartment, whether they buy it or rent it. In other words, it is the residential developer again who has to build the apartment for them and Prague can then become a city that will help the whole of the Czech Republic to become wealthy. And then there is the budget determination of taxes, where Prague complains that it only receives – other cities complain in a similar way – yet if Prague had behaved differently for 32 years, the state budget would have far more money every year just from Prague. It is at least CZK 100 billion from Prague.

Foreign investors’ decision-making is simple – they go where the conditions are more favourable, for instance to Poland, or more precisely to Warsaw.

Warsaw originally had far less office space than Prague, but it has far surpassed us today. In addition, 22,000 apartments were built in Warsaw last year and only 5,000 in Prague. The second thing is that 1.8 million Ukrainians allegedly live in Poland whereas in our country, it is 100,000. In other words, let us now ask the question that we would already have the new building law, if it is not destroyed by any post-election group again. Then it would be one of the best actions carried out by politicians of the entire post-revolutionary era.

But the building law alone does not solve this…

Then we need to adjust the standards, which are stricter than elsewhere – whether it’s sunlight, lighting, noise, or even distances that are to be kept… And there is another thing: the workforce. Even if we have a good building law and constructions are permitted faster, who will build them? Today, there is desperately little construction but the people are not there anyway.

Let’s return to Prague 4, please. What are your company goals?

We remain a local entity, an urban developer, but also a long-term investor and our goal is to complete BB Centrum. Which, at this time, also includes the Oliva project, which is under construction and includes about six stages, and the development and nice completion of the surroundings of the Roztyly underground station. These are projects with a horizon of the year 2030, or at a maximum of 2031. And then, of course, it is the development of the Budějovická underground station. Truth be told, when you look at the underground stations in this part of Prague, it is one despair after another – Roztyly, Kačerov, Budějovická, Pankrác, Pražského povstání and Vyšehrad. Sadly, one has to admit that most of those stations looked better under the Bolsheviks than they do now. That’s just awful. Pankrác was supposed to be the natural centre of Prague 4 from 1990. Even the Bolsheviks were already preparing it that way… As a result, Pankrác is a frightening example of an uncoordinated development. There are many nice buildings that are nice themselves, but what about the space between them? One feels sad when one looks there. If the developer does not adjust the area right away, in coordination with the city, it will never happen later on.

Pankrác is also related to the issue of high-rise buildings…

If you look at Bratislava, you will see that there are ten times more high-rise buildings compared to Prague. And there is also a view of them from Bratislava Castle and they alone offer views of the castle. These buildings create a nice landmark of Bratislava. I don’t think any sensible people want to attack the historic city centre. That is untouchable. But in all other parts of inner Prague and the outskirts, there could already be hundreds and hundreds of buildings of a height between 70 and 120 m. Now, we are sitting in Philadelphia, on the 17th floor – it is the tallest administrative building in Prague built after the revolution. This is a disgrace to Prague.

There is currently a passionate discussion held about the skyscraper project by architects Eva Jiřičná and Petr Vágner planned in Ostrava.

This is Czech small-mindedness. All we can do is punish ourselves in order to remain a second-class nation. All the debates that are held regarding high-rise buildings here, all the reference to UNESCO… Prague does not need UNESCO, but UNESCO needs Prague. It is absolutely unacceptable for some UNESCO to dictate to us the height of buildings in Prague!

We should end in a positive way: What do you wish for?

I think that the positive thing about all we have been discussing is that we can change it, that we do not have to remain a secondary nation; we do not have to remain a country with the most desperate construction legislation. We can change all this and it can then serve as a tool for the prosperity of the Czech nation. If this country continues developing and has more inhabitants, then the probability that people will receive their pensions even after 2030 will increase. That is how I would conclude it.

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: PASSERINVEST GROUP