We enjoy doing things that make sense for people

It’s good to have a helicopter and be able to justify why. It’s good to have a lot of hobbies that are related to work. And it’s good to have a job as a hobby.

This is exactly what Marcel Soural, the founder of Trigema and the Chairman of its Board of Directors, succeeded in doing. The development company Trigema closed the covid year with a larger, we can say even double turnover than in previous years, which were also successful. He simply succeeds in what he touches. Behind – as well as ahead of – Marcel Soural is, in addition to housing projects, for instance, the construction of the tallest Czech skyscraper, a wine bar with Kuka arm, a leisure area and a number of projects for the people he supports. And also rebranding the company. It is not easy to afford one’s own housing at current prices so, the supporting of other projects that people can use, is a good way. Especially when you can occasionally take a flight and see the world from a bird’s eye view.

You graduated from the Czech Technical University and have been running a successful development company for many years. Apart from that, you have many other activities. Would you describe yourself as ambitious?

I would rather call it the consciousness of achieving something exceptional and at the same time functional, pleasant and necessary, something that would be beneficial to others. Not to be subject to routine. Change the status quo while improving the world. And one also has to enjoy doing it.

What are Trigema’s main projects now? Nuselská is 100% sold out and the Braník project is 70% sold. You have commenced apartments in Plzeň – Skvrňany and construction of Smíchov Lihovar (Distillery) will start after the summer…

Exactly. The Braník project is already in the finishing phase. We should go through final building approval this autumn. And more than 70% is sold. Our third Plzeň project called Bydlení Skvrňany (Skvrňany Housing) was commenced in the middle of April. The project comprises a total of 203 housing units in seven apartment buildings. And the sale of apartments is to be launched in the first week of June. We certainly expect great interest. Our so far largest project, Smíchov Distillery, with investment costs of around CZK 3.5 billion, has been divided into four stages. It comprises a total of about 600 apartments and 4,500 sq m of non-residential area. The zero stage was commenced in May this year. It is a reconstruction of the listed Varna (Brewhouse), where we will build an exhibition gallery and a café by the end of the year. It will be such a site opener. And the first stage of the construction will be commenced just before the end of the year, with apartments going on sale in the second half of the holidays. And it is also necessary to mention the Fragment project in Karlín, which is currently in the phase of rough structure build.

Since about 2018, you have been working on the Flat Zone project, which you are building with your son after his return from London. How does this project fit into the concept of Trigema?

We have already been collecting data on the residential market in the Czech Republic for 10 years. Especially information about new residential projects. We did that for the need for knowledge of the market and its subsequent cultivation. Three years ago, our data cube was already so big that we decided to earmark a team of specialists into a separate company, Flat Zone. Today, it is a unique aggregator project for all new residential projects in one place.

But there are already companies that collect data from the market…?

You will not find anything similar in the market. Based on set filters, you can get directly to the pages of the respective project from one place. Free of charge. It’s a huge time saver for people looking for new housing. And as a by-product, we offer banks and developers the data analysis at the place and time that the organization needs it in order to provide a first-class service to its clients. This year, we will launch a similar service in Slovakia and then it will be Poland’s turn.

With David Černý, you are behind the Top Tower project. What does ‘Czech Skyscraper’ mean to you?

After meeting David about six years ago when he supplied us with the 12-metre Trifot sculpture for Korzo in Nové Butovice and subsequently significantly contributed to the creation of the currently constructed premium rental housing project Fragment on the border of Karlín and Invalidovna, we founded the joint architectural studio Black n’Arch. This is currently our incubator for new ideas and a slightly different approach to architecture. And one of these projects is the preparation of the Top Tower project in Nové Butovice. The plot, which is located in the immediate vicinity of an underground exit and, moreover, is not burdened by the protection zone of the Prague monument zone or the ban on high-rise buildings, allowed us to come up, on the edge of the Prague 13 panel housing estate, with a building concept that goes beyond standard solutions.

Can you be more specific?

It must be said that although the design looks very non-standard, all its structural elements fulfil the required function. The slender tower will be a co-living centre with about 400 mini-residential units, the smaller building is intended for administration and the ship outside the static functions and the outdoor exhibition gallery also serves as a structure for two lifts transporting visitors to the top of the ship from where they will be provided with an amazing view of the Prague panorama, including the outlook restaurant.

Another activity is the activity of your wife, who is the owner of the Czech Press Photo competition. Apart from the acclaimed photography competition, it also includes a gallery, also in Butovice. You certainly support these activities. Are all these activities the beginning of a family business?

We are the general partner of the Czech Press Photo competition and at the same time of the Czech Photo Centre, a photo gallery in Nové Butovice. Just as we support the Dejvice Theatre, the Zdeněk Svěrák Paraple Centre or other charitable activities. We enjoy doing things that make sense to people, and they don’t have to necessarily be about business.

Apart from Trigema’s flagship projects, you also have a lot of ‘pleasures’ or ‘toys’ (in the best sense of the word). Apart from the above, for instance, the Monínec complex. Why do you own this complex and why these activities? What role does Monínec play in the overall concept of Trigema?

Monínec fits into our long-term strategy of investing in leisure activities. People will have more and more free time available in the future and we want to enable them to spend it with us. That is why 10 years ago, we entered this Central Bohemian complex, from which we are building a year-round sports and leisure complex intended for families with children in summer and winter and for corporate events in the spring and autumn. The current state of investment in Monínec is just the beginning of our long-term vision of what this area should look like.

And what is your hobby?

Hobby? Well, I can tell you one – I have a pilot’s license for a helicopter. And I own a one four-person one. We built this type of small heliport with hangars in Řeporyje. We call it Reporyje International. During take-off and landing, we report directly to the Ruzyně tower.

And what about the Samota project? You’ve had it in your portfolio for some time. There is a plan to expand the ski area, which will serve winter and summer activities… What’s happening to it?

It’s a suburban area situated right on the edge of Železná Ruda and the Šumava National Park. We have been having this project approved for about eight years. After zoning in the NPŠ was completed, there is now hope that we might finally get a building permit. I would give it another two years and see if we can start construction. To give you an idea, this is a complex with roughly double the capacity of the existing Monínec.

You are also behind the Cyberdog robotic winery project. Would you present this project in a broader context, please?

Well, it’s easy to understand! David Černý and I enjoy inventing and especially implementing, projects that no one has implemented here yet. That’s how Cyberdog came about. A robotic wine bar, where the work of a sommelier is performed by the robotic arm Kuka. The whole project is adapted to the shaped parameters of wine bottles from the Dog in Dock winery. This is surprisingly ours, too. We realize the existing production in rented premises in Boršice, however, in the spring, we will commence the construction of a new wine and education complex in the immediate vicinity of the port of the Baťa Canal in Veselí nad Moravou. That is also one of the reasons to have a helicopter. It is almost at the Slovak border.

Most of your personal projects are located in Nové Butovice, where you live with your family. Why Butovice? Do you like it there so much?

Our company’s headquarters are in the Explora building, directly above the Nové Butovice underground station. I don’t like wasting time in my life. Time has the highest value for me. And driving to and from work – and by car – is a classic example of waste. That is why we live in Jinonice. It is eight minutes on foot (five minutes by car) to work or the underground and two minutes to the forest the other way.

You are planning to rebrand the Trigema brand during these months. Who do you work with and what does the re-branding entail?

We have been preparing a brand rebranding in cooperation with the Henceforth agency, namely Jarmila Fryntová, Lenka Kůsová and Paul Matthews for almost a year. Together, we had to delve deep into the company’s history and re-describe our values, corporate goals, our vision and mission in a simple and understandable way. We now have over 250 full-time employees, so we need to have these attributes of corporate culture easily communicable. And the logical part was then to re-define the intention and meaning of the brand, its architecture, personality, tonality and visual concept. The pilot project is the Fragment project. Everything else was released at the end of May for the company’s 27th anniversary.

Trigema primarily closed their business year with a turnover of around CZK 1 billion. Last year, despite the difficult situation with the pandemic, you probably did even better thanks to the sale of apartments. What turnover do you expect for 2020?

This is truly remarkable, because 2020 was the most successful year in the company’s history. A turnover of CZK 1.8 billion, EBITDA CZK 338 million and profit before tax CZK 231 million. And we expect 2021 to be even better.

What are your future plans?

We want to continue to grow and therefore to strengthen our independence. We are a company that decides independently, based on its own visions and the motivation of our team. We have a plethora of plans. We will be pleased to keep you informed about them as we go along.

Kristina Vacková

Vienna is building a new district with ecological apartments

A new Village im Dritten district will be created by 2026 in the middle of Vienna’s third district, offering sustainable and ecological housing for approximately 4,000 people. Less than half of the apartments will be supported by the city.

Within five years, Vienna’s Council aims to construct a new district in Vienna’s lucrative third district near Landstrasse in cooperation with ARE Austrian Real Estate. The new project will cover an area of 11 hectares and provide a home for 4,000 residents. Less than half of the total of 1,900 housing units are city-supported apartments, of which there should be a total of eight hundred. The project, which the council has been preparing for 10 years, is not the only ecological complex of new buildings. The Eurogate project, the largest housing estate for passive houses in Europe, was established nearby in 2007.

According to the representatives of Vienna Council, the most important thing in the construction of the new district is affordability, the high quality of the materials used and their use in everyday life. The central principle is then sustainability, which is why the council bet on enough greenery, building tempering, shading and proper wind circulation in the new project. Vienna also achieves a reduction in the temperature in the apartments with suitable glazing, effective sun protection, and good ventilation of the apartments and climate-neutral regulation of the building temperature, i.e. mild cooling by means of heat dissipation, in urban construction projects. Effective greening of the roof and façade, shading of common areas and paths, favourable surface design, rainwater retention and the provision of adequate ventilation also help to further reduce the temperature.

The new district also considers common areas. All residential buildings are to be equipped with green facades as well as roof gardens and terraces, which residents will be able to use together with neighbours. The city plans to build shady lounges in the courtyards, which can be a haven and a meeting place. Apart from fitness offers, there will be various playgrounds for all age groups as well as mist jets and water games for further cooling in the hot summer months. The spacious two-hectare central park will also include playing and sports areas and a dog zone. Other parts of the public space are designed near nature, such as urban wilderness or urban forest. Of course, there will also be a nursery school, shops and restaurants.

According to the council, the new city district should play a pioneering role and become a so-called laboratory, which is to test a wide range of measures that will be standard in the future.

www.eurocommpr.cz

Ostrava skyscraper – maybe with a viewpoint

Studio AI – DESIGN (Architecture Interior DESIGN) was founded in 1999 by Eva Jiřičná and Petr Vágner. They offer comprehensive services from the design of new public and private buildings, bridges, reconstructions to complete interior designs, exhibitions, furniture and other unique items.

 

Their realizations include the design hotel Josef in Prague, a New Orangery at Prague Castle, the reconstruction of St. Anne’s Church in Prague, the VIZE 97 Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation, the Sky Barrandov apartment complex, the Zlín Congress Centre and the new Faculty of Humanities of Tomaš Baťa University in Zlín. The studio has
received many awards abroad and in our country for their realizations, including the Grand Prix of the Community of Architects. Architect Petr Vágner talked to us about what they are currently preparing.

What is your opinion regarding high-rise buildings and their implementation in the Czech environment? The situation for skyscrapers is not a bed of roses here.

I think that we will eventually be forced to do so by using the plots just as we are now using the landscape countryside. The buildings are spreading wide, so it will happen here just as it did in other metropolises. I agree that we must be careful not to destroy the panorama of Prague, which is unique, but there are, on the other hand, already defined places where it will have no effect if there are five or more skyscrapers there. What is rather more interesting to see now is that UNESCO enters into the arrangements of Prague quite significantly and comments on high-rise construction, or actually does so in such a way so that there is no high-rise construction at all. Heritage preservation and other institutions are happy to hear this opinion, because they only identify with it and don’t have to deliver it themselves. That doesn’t add much to high-rise buildings.

Your AI DESIGN studio won the skyscraper design competition in Ostrava…

It was a tender rather than a competition. The city chose this form, approached at least 5–10 architectural offices and our task was to present a description of what we would like to do with the new building, and of course,
we had to include references and price. Based on this, we were finally selected to carry out the study.

How did you attract the jury compared to the other candidates? It is actually a reconstruction of the building, which was designed in 1968 as an experimental project by architect Jan Slezák in the Jindřiška housing estate in Ostrava.

I have no idea what proposals the others submitted. We naturally wanted to preserve the building as much as the council did. We described the way our process should proceed because the building comes with some history. There are a lot of legends about it claiming that it moved, that the statics are bad, etc., so we teamed up with local structural engineers who work directly in Ostrava and are concrete specialists, such as Ing. Šeligová, and others. Our concept was based on a comprehensive analysis of the current situation, so that we didn’t show something that perhaps couldn’t be realized, but so that we could try to grasp it realistically if possible. Maybe that was the thing that did it. I don’t know.

What is the condition of the building now and what is your idea of reconstruction?

The reinforced concrete structure should remain, it is sufficient enough to support another floor. That’s why we considered raising the building. Calculations and construction-technical research show that we could add one floor for a lookout café. We will have the construction completely cleaned. According to our design, there should be really comfortable apartments with a nice view and balconies, which should be, according to static analysis, only positioned on the corners of the structure. Measurements have been carried out for three months now and we monitor whether the structure moves and under what conditions. According to the results of the surveys we’ll see if the proposal can be implemented.

What do you expect from the extension of the next floor?

It should definitely be an attraction. There is a beautiful view from there. From the 22nd floor you can see the whole of Ostrava. However, in the Lower Vítkovice area there is the Bolt Tower, where there already is a café up high, and the town hall with a lookout tower is also nearby. We discussed with the council whether the café is suitable for this place. Eventually we designed the space as multifunctional and theoretically it is possible that there will be no café, but a different operation. There will be access and the possibility of supply, so we’ll see.

The building will then be entered by residents of the apartments and visitors to this place, no matter what’s there. How will the safety of the population be ensured?

There will be an entrance lobby with a reception desk and lifts. Clients will receive a chip to get to their floors – and no one else will be able to go there. Another important thing we addressed was the original communication core in the centre of the building, which does not meet current fire regulations. That is why we added another core from the north side with two lifts and an escape staircase –and that’s what the reception is next to.

What size of apartments does the design account for?

The size of the apartments increases from the lower floors upwards, i.e. downstairs are bedsits and one bedroom apartments with kitchenettes and on the four highest floors, there are 2× four beautiful maisonettes, each of which has a corner balcony and an inner open space over two floors. I think it will be very attractive housing. We would like the building to be green. It is topical now, but we consulted this with Mr. Sendler, a landscape architect, who was recommended to us by the architect Pleskot, so that we could design the most suitable greenery for the individual cardinal points. We want the flower beds built into the balconies to have central irrigation and to be able to be maintained without bothering the tenants yet without letting the plants wither. We still need to solve this in the next stages of the project.

Will the apartments belong to the city and what is the realization schedule?

It is still open. The city is suffering a bit as a result of Covid, so funding is somewhat limited, but they are actively looking for a way as to how to allow for the project to continue. The latest information is that the way to go is by the use of a PPP project, i.e. Public Private Partnership. What is positive for us is that it has not been thrown off the table yet and it should not be stopped. On the contrary, the city is looking for a way as to how to launch the project.

How is it looking with the total price for the project?

After pricing the project, we arrived at an amount of approximately CZK 400 million. Let’s hope no additional costs are to occur. According to preliminary geological surveys, the subsoil should be fine, but we have more probes ahead of us, of course, and we will have to do a survey. The big advantage is that the house is already standing there. I doubt it would be realistic to push through a high-rise building into this zone.

The skyscraper is situated in the very centre of Ostrava then…

It is a residential area, a short way from the municipal authority, a short way from the river, surrounded by parks. Traffic can be a problem because the surrounding streets are busy. At the same time as the building, we have to deal with parking and we will have to build a park house, which will take up space where there is currently a car park. Originally, we wanted to restore the park, which was historically there and realise the car park in the place of a low building, which is adjacent to ours. In the end, we had to work out three options for the city on how best to solve it.

How is communication with the inhabitants from the immediate vicinity?

I must say that we had a very good experience with the city management with regards to the elaboration of the investment plan. They are mostly young, smart people and working with them is great. After the completion of the investment plan, we were faced with covid, so the public hearing took place via live broadcast on Youtube. Attendance was relatively broad. Apart from the public hearing, there was also a hearing for specialists. It was an interesting debate.

What topics were discussed?

The building currently has a certain appearance and our design is changing it. So, the debate was about whether it was appropriate to change the appearance the way we were doing, or whether we should respect the current appearance more.

What other projects are you working on?

In the summer, we should start building Obláček, which is an extension of the University Hospital Plzeň in Lochotín. It’s a project that lay untouched for about 10 or 12 years and has now been set in motion. It will house the Czech National Register of Bone Marrow Donors. In Zlín, we are reconstructing a large auditorium for Tomáš Baťa University, preparations are continuing on Rohanské nábřeží and construction of two apartment buildings and one administrative building for Sekyra Group is to begin. In Pardubice, we completed the renovation of the castle, where we will reconstruct the social wing. On the second floor, there should be a hall for about 220 people; now we should start working on the implementing study.

You work in the studio with the architect Eva Jiřičná, who lives in London. Do you feel the impact of Brexit?

We haven’t felt the effects of Brexit much yet. We were much more affected by covid, because Eva has been locked in London for over a year. But on the other hand, we learnt to work at home office here, we like it and, so far, it’s been working for us. Even working from a distance with Eva works perfectly. We have a debate on individual projects at least once a day, optimally twice a day, and I think that is very beneficial. As Eva used to come here regularly, we were not as connected as we are now. The frequency in communication is greater and is more efficient. From our colleagues in the Netherlands, we’ve mostly learned to use Zoom, the advantage of which is that anyone involved can paint directly on the shared screen. We used to work through Teams and said: “You need to do this and that in the right corner…”, but now we can zoom it in, paint… Such information is very well shared. This is actually a benefit of these times!

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: archive AI Design

 

Box:

Built-up area of the main building: 33,850 cc m

Built-on area of the main building: 583.6 sq m

Total height of the building:           70.25 m

History

The existing building was built between 1965 and 1968 as part of the Jindřiška housing estate; it has shown certain technical and operational problems over the years. The skyscraper has 22 floors and was originally used as an apartment building. Later, the layout was adapted to office space. Furthermore, the perimeter cladding or more precisely unsuitable façade panels, which show considerable damage and at the same time contain asbestos, were replaced. The building hasn’t been used since 2013.

The construction system consists of a combination of a concrete skeleton and a monolithic core around the stairwell with bar elements of girders and columns. At present, we do not have documents for ceiling cavity panels, so it is also necessary to perform a construction technical survey with the required tests. A sufficient load-bearing capacity of the load-bearing structure, which was confirmed by static assessment and calculations within the design elaboration, was found thanks to the preliminary technical assessment from 2012.

The trend of urban densification will become evident in Europe

Filip Pokorný heads the Prague office of Chapman Taylor. The portfolio of countries where this successful multinational company operates is very wide – from Asian countries, which are only in bloom, to developed European countries.

The fact that Chapman Taylor operates in so many diverse markets represents a considerable opportunity to follow the general trends of urban planning, to gain experience and to apply and find the optimum solutions for each project. Filip Pokorný connected his name with the company more than 13 years ago. He enjoys his work. It is very diverse and interesting, although not always easy. “While you hardly process a planning permit with full commitment, my daughter, who was born when we started one of the bigger projects, grew up, learned to walk, talk, and is slowly starting to count,” he adds with a smile.

You have been working for the company since 2007. What was your professional growth like? Did you expect to stay with one company for so long? Don’t you require change?

I started at Chapman Taylor’s office shortly after school with a few years of experience in several offices, after an internship in Brighton. Although I did have a certain comparison, I still had plenty to learn. This company initially approached me with a mix of international and local projects, with a wide range from small projects through to large ones. After I joined, I was very pleasantly surprised by the corporate culture of this international company, where everyone behaved and still behaves in a very friendly, correctly manner and pulls together as a team. It is this culture that Jon and I (Jon Hale – Group Board Director at Chapman Taylor – editor’s note) attempt to develop within the company and which sometimes even protects us from our architectural egos.

Is your work varied or are you trying for it to be?

I’m lucky that my work is naturally varied and that I don’t have to try much harder to make it so. In any case, my colleague Jon Hale and I try to maintain diversity for our colleagues in the office so that they have an opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge across typologies or the levels of projects. In my opinion, this is one of the advantages of our office that we can offer our colleagues.

You have a doctor’s degree in urban planning and brownfield regeneration. Especially the second field is very attractive and indeed current. Do you still focus on brownfields?

I am lucky to be, amongst other things, able to focus on urban planning and brownfields. I enjoy this. It is certainly attractive to me and its complexity represents a significant challenge. In addition to the projects, we are working on in the Czech Republic – the new city district of Ameside in Plzeň, the regeneration of the Pardubice distillery and the regeneration of the Mosilany complex – I have the opportunity to view large-scale projects abroad within Chapman Taylor’s global network, especially those in Asia. There I can follow the latest trends in urban design in practice, whether it is the phenomenon of smart cities, sponge cities, or short-distance cities.

Don’t you think that many architectural gems such as old factories, etc., are ‘destroyed’ along with brownfields?

I do not. Personally, I see a little more value in a well-functioning city than in the conservation of times long past. This is not to say that we must demolish everything, but if the building is to remain, it must, in addition to its significant cultural value, also prove its current viability and that it will enrichen the lives of people in the city. If the preservation of such a building, which in the past was sometimes created by chance and was built for a specific business purpose, is at the detriment of today, it is a different matter. If its preservation requires a compromise solution of urbanism, or prolongs the regeneration process for many years, or even completely blocks the regeneration of the excluded brownfield, then the price to pay is far too high for me.

As an urban planner, you look at each project very comprehensively…

It is important that whenever we regenerate brownfields, we put the time and quality of the environment on scales and realise what our insistence on controversial historical values sometimes represents. Many people will not live to see the regeneration of that part of the city in which they live and that could serve them because of such a historically type of valuable building. It is often that even more ironic is that laymen do not consider these buildings beautiful or valuable.

You are responsible for the company’s key projects in the Czech Republic. Which ones are currently up to date and which do you like best?

We have just over 30 active projects in the Czech Republic and also elsewhere in Europe, from urban studies through the design of office or residential buildings, shopping centres and renovations to interior designs. I like every project I participate in with my colleagues. For me personally, the closest projects are always those where there is mutual understanding with the client, when we do something new and innovative and where the project represents a challenge that we have to overcome.

You participate comprehensively in the project – from its origin to its implementation. How do you view the complex legislative and approval processes and how does your company deal with them?

Unfortunately, the construction planning period is disproportionately long and unpredictable, as we all probably know. Moreover, this process is completely vulnerable to obstruction and ill will. I sometimes feel that we do not remember that a human being’s life lasts on average 70 years. And if the permit for a larger project in Prague today takes an average of seven years, that’s a tenth of our lives. But when we look around, that tenth of life is not reflected in the quality of our cities at all. We often devote energy to minor technical problems, solving obstructions, etc. It is absurd to see what a small percentage of the time and cost of building preparation goes into design or concept, and what is taken up by bureaucracy.

You are also involved in retail, planning and regeneration design. What does it involve?

I work and have worked on many shopping centres and their reconstruction. Shopping centres and retail are not that different from urban planning and the planning of a city as it may seem at first sight. In particular, current trends in this area create more and more small lively neighbourhoods from empty ‘shop boxes’. This is a trend that will continue and the current situation only accelerates it. The new shopping centres will be poly-functional buildings with different contents and different types of public spaces, although mostly still covered.

Do you mean the combination of retail and apartments, leisure activities, etc.?

Yes. Two of our current large projects, Ameside Plzeň and Galerie Pardubice, are moving in this direction, and other projects of reconstruction of shopping centres, where it is not only about cosmetic modifications but often about an overall reassessment and change of the concept, are also moving in this direction. In future, I believe that the reconstruction of shopping centres will go even further, and we will talk about regeneration rather than reconstruction, because their transformation will be very significant.

What are the partial trends here? What about multiplexes, etc.?

You know, I personally think that it is precisely these large impersonal cinemas that are a thing of the past, and rather the trend of small club cinemas or cinemas with some added value is returning.

You have also outlined for me a very surprising ‘densifying of cities’, or how to call this trend?

Yes. While, for instance, in Asia, which is often still completely underdeveloped and developing from an urban point of view, this trend will be the opposite in Europe. Now we can see it, for example, in Leipzig, where people have been, for the last 30 years, moving from the periphery back to the city centre. I think that city centres, even historical ones, will need to be adapted to normal life and people’s needs. Then it is clear that the suburbs will be de-populated and people will return to the cities, which will greatly assist urbanism in general.

It is said about you that you can combine business with architecture. Is there a recipe for this?

I don’t think so. However, we must ensure a quality environment so that our colleagues can devote themselves to their work and ensure their material needs. So, I have to bravely deal with the business side of things so that someone can draw those beautiful projects.

How much has the pandemic situation affected your business? Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?

As for myself, I see it more like a flight in turbulence. It’s a little bumpy now, but hopefully we will all survive and it will pass soon and we will move on. I believe that the whole thing surrounding covid will shift us, as a human society, and therefore architecture, to a slightly different environment, with slightly different values and also demand. I hope that there will be pressure, among other things, to make our buildings more environmentally friendly. I hope that the state will be forced to significantly streamline the administration in order to help the economy in a rapid recovery, and this will be reflected, for instance, in the shortening of negotiations on building permits, outline plans, etc.

Kristina Vacková / Photo: author and Chapman Taylor

Built-to-suit construction near large cities dominates industrial development

Is it worthwhile for companies to invest in a build to suit hall, or is it more economical to move to wherever is vacant at the moment? Why is, among other things, a city architect involved in the upcoming industrial park in the centre of Ostrava? And is it true that industrial parks situated at German borders are doing better?

 

We talked about this with Tomáš Kubín (TK) and Daniel Kubizňák (DK) from the development company P3. Tomáš Kubín manages construction of the company throughout Central Europe; Daniel Kubizňák is in charge of leasing and development of P3’s Czech industrial real estate portfolio.

Many companies have been forced to move their activities to the e-commerce environment. How did this situation affect industrial development?

DK: E-commerce has been growing steadily for over 10 years in Europe and industrial development goes to meet it halfway. However, the current situation is specific for demand spiked in the most desirable locations within or directly in close proximity to larger towns. This is understandable given the enormous interest in online sales and distribution. This also applies more and more to the food segment.

Food storage certainly has specific requirements. How flexible can you be with regards to such demands?

DK: Rohlik.cz, for instance, negotiated possible expansion in Prague with us even before the outbreak of the pandemic, and therefore had a huge advantage in securing premises in the eastern part of Prague in time, which suitably complement the original distribution centre at Liboc in the western part of the metropolis. Thanks to this, they managed to cover the extreme increase in orders during the pandemic. But the decisive factor was the location of the park in Horní Počernice, which is ideal for urban logistics.

TK: However, not every hall is suitable for fast-moving goods and especially for food. These clients have specific requirements for warehouse operations, where supplies are usually provided by lorries, which require several large loading ramps. At the same time, however, such an operation also needs smaller ramps and then designated areas for picking up prepared goods and loading supplies, which afterwards are distributed to customers. Not to mention other necessities, such as suitable lighting, ventilation and heating system, especially in the context of refrigerated and frozen goods. Such an object must then function as a supermarket, but it provides a much wider and more varied offer. However, these ‘optimal’ conditions do not represent a development standard, and although the hall can be retrofitted to such operation, it entails considerable costs. In the long run, it is far more advantageous and sustainable to have the hall built-to-suit so that it fully meets all the requirements of the tenant. The built-to-suit construction is then approved for specific operation which significantly speeds up the administrative side of the entire construction.

Can we anticipate a greater rate of construction of new projects near large towns?

DK: Not only e-commerce demands industrial space near or directly within large towns. Land plots for construction on a green field are practically unavailable in towns, which is why brownfields are increasingly being used for new projects. This is the case of the planned P3 Ostrava Park, although we perceive it more as the construction of a new business district, which will connect smoothly to its surroundings and consist of production and storage halls, shops, showrooms, offices and other facilities typical of urban development.

So how will the Ostrava project differ from other development projects?

TK: We cooperated on the design of the project with local architect David Kotek, who follows the urbanism that the architect Josef Pleskot bestowed during the revitalization of the DOV complex and also consulted it with the Municipal Studio of Spatial Planning and Architecture (MAPPA). We will integrate our project into the industrial area and at the same time want to incorporate various sustainable solutions with a positive impact on the environment and on the efficiency of the operation of the complex and individual buildings. Whether it is about facades overgrown with greenery, rainwater management in the form of underground retention basins, utilization of a local heat source and process water, or an effective combination of natural and artificial lighting, we have the ambition to move the level of industrial buildings higher. In addition to being an exceptional investment value of several billion crowns, it is the first brownfield in the Czech Republic that P3 will use to such an extent. The region has a rich industrial tradition which we naturally want to build on and bring new job opportunities with higher added value to Ostrava.

Ostrava is a historically industrial town – do you think there are enough suitable industrial premises in the Czech Republic in general?

DK: P3 Ostrava is exceptional because we offer over 150,000 sq m of space for urban logistics, retail and e-commerce as well as for light production or R&D right in the wider city centre. The location in the city centre will delight traders or logistics, who provide facilities for them. Future clients will benefit from the excellent availability of a skilled workforce. The same applies to our P3 Lovosice park in the Ústí nad Labem region, where we can offer construction of halls according to a client’s requirements with a total area of almost 30,000 sq m. Lovosice is also interesting for tenants due to its location – 40 minutes from Prague and 60 minutes to Dresden.

Is it true that logistics halls situated by motorways to and from Germany practically rent themselves?

DK: It is not that rosy, but good accessibility to Germany is, of course, a strong argument for clients with orientation towards the German market who are looking for premises that can be provided in a relatively short time.

TK: In Lovosice, we have a total of three buildings with building permits already issued, so we can begin construction almost immediately. We are also trying to achieve this position in another park, which we are preparing at Myslinka near Plzeň. It is located about 15 km from the city centre – and on the other hand it is just a few minutes from the park to the D5 motorway, which is not only a very convenient location for the manufacturing industry.

DK: The Plzeň industrial real estate market is the third most important market in our country after Prague and Ostrava, and there is considerable interest in spaces in a park connected to the motorway and suburban public transport. There we are able to offer units from 3,000 to 30,000 sq m. We are starting to build the first halls this year and it will be possible to move in at the turn of the year.

Do you count on a ‘green’ solution for built-to-suit construction?

TK: We build all new P3 buildings to achieve the internationally recognized BREEAM certification at the Very Good level, which emphasizes the sustainability of the buildings. But we are currently preparing some parks, such as P3 Lovosice, for a higher standard, BREEAM Excellent. We place great emphasis on ensuring that solutions required by the certification are primarily meaningful for the operation of the complex or the tenant himself. In Lovosice, we have installed a number of technical solutions for maintaining water in the given locality, such as retention and infiltration tanks or a specially designed layer under the parking area, which prevents possible seepage of pollution into groundwater. In this respect, Lovosice is a regional showcase of green solutions in the area of water management. We are preparing a similar project, in which we will demonstrate the best of the portfolio of ecological solutions, in the P3 Prague D11 park or in the P3 Olomouc complex. There we will show how modern sustainable development can look like, and we believe that some tenants can be inspired there.

However, it is not always possible to meet these key parameters, such as a large city or proximity to Germany. What options do tenants then have?

DK: The fact is that there is not much land suitable for industrial construction in large towns. In Prague, such plots are practically unavailable. We must therefore look at the whole matter from the point of view of industrial or logistics operations. Traveling 30 km is unimaginable for many of us, but it is a good compromise of acceptable driving distance and availability of employees for logistics companies. It is Prague, as an economic centre, that is particularly suffering from the lack of vacant land for construction. One of the last opportunities for the construction of a built-to-suit hall is the P3 Prague D6 park in Stochov, Central Bohemia, where there are 17,000 sq m available, but the size of the units can be flexibly adapted. The name of the park suggests that it is conveniently accessible from Prague and at the same time is connected to the D6 motorway, so it is also attractive for export companies.

What are your recommendations to the potential or existing tenants of your premises?

TK: The design and construction of a good industrial property built-to-suit is not a sprint, but a steady run. Primarily, the permitting processes need to be planned several years in advance.  It is then ideal to use this time for a detailed design of the operation for a particular client so that it best meets his needs and is flexible enough for the future. The reward for foresight and effort will arrive in the form of a wonderful building, which we and the tenants will be proud of.

DK: Do not be afraid to let the developer look under the imaginary cover of your business when planning the hall. It is very likely that operational or other issues that you may be solving at the moment, have already been dealt with, or even completely solved, for one of the other tenants. In addition to construction and leasing, we have our own expert teams for asset, property and facility management, so we can advise clients not only on planning and construction, but also on building management or setting up operations inside. Ideally, we will all meet around the same table, the client will tell us his requirements and we will then evaluate what can or cannot be built and whether it even makes economic sense at all.

PR

With Serge Borenstein not only about Karlín

The activities of the Karlín Group have, since its establishment at the end of the 1990‘s,  focused mainly on the Prague district of the same name.

They have succeded to realize many extraordinary projects there and plan further construction in the coming years. Karlín Group also directs their development activities to other parts of Prague, especially in Modřany, Holešovice and Smíchov. The company takes pride in the maximum architectural level of all its projects. They are doing well, as can be seen from various prestigious awards – ‚Best of Realty‘ and ‚Building of the Year‘ – for the implementation of the Karlín Palace, Corso Karlín and Kotelna projects. The co-founder of Karlín Group, Serge Borenstein, answered our questions.

Karlín still has something to surprise with and something to offer. You and your partners are currently implementing three projects there. Can you tell us something about them? 

Certainly, the Karlín location is naturally a ‘heart’ issue for us, but other parts of Prague also have interesting sites that attract me. On the Rohanské Embankment, in the immediate vicinity of the Vltava River, we will complete the KAY River Lofts in the summer. The face and form were bestowed by Ivan Kroupa, who engraved the stream of the river into the minimalist shapes of the façade; the house has wonderful dynamics and a wonderful layout of apartments. The uniqueness of the place and the proximity of the river enhanced the attractiveness of the house and all 55 apartments have been sold before construction is completed.

You are known for bringing a number of foreign architects to the Czech Republic. KAY is rather an exception. What about the second project, which is being developed in the vibrant part of Karlín in Křižíkova Street?

Each project has its own specifics: It is influenced by the shape of the land and situating it within the location. I do not look at new building as an individual object. It has to fit into the location, complete its character and ideally enrich it with its function in the long run. That is why we always carefully consider the designs of both Czech and foreign architects. The Slovenian architect Vasa J. Perovič designed an elegant and timeless house in a gap site in Křižíkova Street, which actually comprises two houses with two different street facades facing Křižíkova Street. An amazing space with a park and views of Vítkov was then created in the courtyard. We enjoy working with architects from the Bevk Perovič studio. In Modřany, they designed one of two buildings from the Zahálka project for us.

DVA DOMY (TWO HOUSES) were given an apt name according to their visual identity. You talked about the function of the house. What role does this play? 

We always make sure that we maintain and develop the liveliness and diversity of Karlín and its character. The project of TWO HOUSES naturally also fulfills this idea. It is a multifunctional project, the concept of which naturally connects the commercial premises on the ground floor of the building with the main residential part on the upper floors. The residential units that are currently available come with layouts ranging from compact one bedroom apartments with kitchenette, which are ideal for young couples, through spacious two bedroom apartments with a kitchenette suitable for families to luxurious five bedroom apartments with a kitchenette spread over two floors. The choice within the individual categories is particularly wide, where those apartments with the designation two bedroom + kitchenette, for instance, offer a floor area from 65 sq m up to 155 sq m; one or two bathrooms, balcony, loggia or terrace.

Are all 112 apartments offered in the TWO HOUSES project for sale, or will you keep some of the apartmentss for rental?

TWO HOUSES represent our first project, in which the Church entered as an investment partner, in particular the Diocese of Hradec Králové. All apartments are intended for sale and we currently have over 50% of apartments sold.

At what stage of construction are TWO HOUSES currently?

Almost symbolically with the coming of spring, the project begins to shoot out from the ground, the vibration isolations have been completed and the construction of the 1st floor, where there will be interesting retail space, is currently in progress.

What else will you surprise us with next in Karlín and other localities? 

In Holešovice, we completed the Student House, which also won the Best of Realty award. In Modřany, we completed the first stage of the Zahálka residential project. And as for our home location of Karlín, we will start a new project in April, which will offer 48 apartments in Sokolovská Street and behind which is a young Czech-Slovak progressive studio ‘edit’!

Can you disclose the name of the new project? 

Definitely, now I can – Iconik. And we present its appearance on the front page of this issue of Development News!

PR / photo: karlín group

YIT rates the year 2020 as successful

YIT has managed to successfully overcome the unexpected challenges represented by the coronavirus pandemic and rates the year 2020 as successful.

They sold almost 300 apartments in Prague, achieving a turnover of almost CZK 2 billion. They still hold their position among the top five residential developers. They are preparing new projects in Prague 11, 12 and 15 and also in Pra-
gue 9, where they want to commence construction of the Lappi Hloubětín complex. This year, they also count with the final building approval of three projects. “What I consider the greatest success last year is that, despite difficulties associated with the pandemic, we led the planned projects to final building approval and sold all apartments from within the projects. This year will represent a big test for the entire market yet again and not only the development market. Still, we have confidence in ourselves and would be happy to offer 400 to 650 apartments, depending on how we manage to obtain building permits for specific projects. We are not slowing down in the preparation of our rental portfolio and negotiate with large local and foreign investment groups,” says Marek Lokaj, the new Managing Director at YIT Stavo, and adds: “As a result of the epidemic, we were forced to switch more to the use of online communication tools in the Spring time but it did not have a major impact on the residential market and on our strategic planning. An insufficient supply of apartments persists and the pressure from this huge demand motivates us to continue in the preparation of new projects and further acquisitions. The problem, however, lies in the lengthy permitting procedure, so we would welcome a simplification of conditions for development.”

The construction of the Suomi Hloubětín project continues

At the end of last year, the Suomi Hloubětín residential district, which will comprise almost 900 apartments, had three newly approved stages, namely Salo, Porvoo and Pori. The ninth phase of Vantaa is now under construction and will be completed in the autumn. The construction of a nursery school designed by the Finnish architect Jyrki Tasa, was commenced at the beginning of the year. In the vicinity of the growing complex, YIT is preparing the Lappi Hloubětín project, which is to connect to Suomi Hloubětín and form a unified unit with a total of approximately 1,200 apartments, including those intended for rental.

The first stage of the Ranta Barrandov project with 141 apartments was completed at the end of last year and work on the second phase is in progress. The second phase includes 118 units and should undergo final building approval by the end of this year. Another project under construction is the Parvi Cibulka residence, where the conversion of the former Meopta factory creates 150 original apartments. The architectural design of the reconstruction comes from the renowned architect Jakub Cigler. The rough structure is expected to be completed this April; by the summer of 2022, the individual units are to gradually undergo final building approval. In January this year, YIT launched the new Koti Libeň project with 140 energy efficient apartments. The rough structure should be completed in December 2021 and overall completion by the end of 2022.

The year 2021 in the spirit of new trends

The main strategic activity of YIT will continue to be the construction and sale of apartments for personal ownership. But the developer plans to focus more on rental housing this year. Therefore, YIT wants to designate about 200 new units for rent. In the future, there will be up to 500 such apartments. Another area that will be one of the priorities will be prefabrication. “We see enormous potential here. Thanks to the prefabricated parts we will achieve an even better execution of our projects and a significant reduction in construction time. At the same time, it will allow us to address labour shortages in the construction industry better. The first prefabricated bathroom was already a part of a show apartment in the Pori stage in Suomi Hloubětín. We also want to include them in the Lappi Hloubětín project,” explains Marek Lokaj. One of the main strategic priorities of the entire YIT Group in the field of ecology and sustainable development is the commitment to halve the company’s carbon footprint by 2030 as part of the company’s construction and development activities, this being from the level of 2019.

PR

To be a reliable partner and produce concrete ecologically

TBG METROSTAV is one of the largest concrete producers in the Prague region and operates four concrete plants.

We were talking to Ing. Jakub Šimáček, the Director of TBG METROSTAV, about the current situation in Prague’s development and the future of concrete plants in the capital.

You are the company director of three plants: TBG METROSTAV, TBG Pražské malty and Pražské betonpumpy a doprava. Can you introduce them in more details?

TBG METROSTAV, which is one of the largest concrete producers in the Prague region, where it operates four concrete plants, has the longest history. TBG Pražské malty and Pražské betonpumpy a doprava are subsidiaries and are engaged in the production of mortars and cast floor mixtures, respectively the pumping of concrete. The division, into three companies, has proven practical over time – each company focuses on ensuring that the work results are of the highest level. At the same time, all three entities work closely together and as a group supply customer with professional services and quality products.

Last year was difficult. What was it like for your companies?

The beginning of last year was very similar to previous years. But then the first wave of the pandemic came out of nowhere and construction in Prague ceased. There were several reasons. Borders were closed, foreign workers were absent on construction sites, the operation of offices was reduced and some investors were thrown out of balance. Moreover, in recent years, there hasn’t been any large infrastructure contract under construction in Prague that would help overcome fluctuations in commercial investment. The construction of administrative buildings and hotels was almost halted within the market and the commencement of apartment buildings was postponed by several months.

How did you respond to the sudden drop off in demand? Did you have to lay staff off?

We didn’t have to lay staff off. Our goal was to retain jobs, because we knew that construction would start again and then we would be needing staff. Our people are highly qualified and hardworking and it would make no sense at all to lay off a third of them and then look for new people with difficulty and to have to train them as well. We managed to apply cost-saving measures and reduce wage and fixed costs accordingly. In this way, we kept the company in shape during the summer and were prepared for the autumn start of the postponed constructions.

So how did 2020 turn out for your companies?

In the end, well. Although we didn’t manage to compensate for the production outage from the summer months, even with higher production at the end of the year, our results remained only slightly behind the original plan. What I consider extremely positive is the fact that we managed to reaffirm the good name of our company and the high quality of our services, especially thanks to the retention of experienced employees with their diligence and commitment.

What do you think 2021 will be like?

I presume that it will continue to be dominated by apartments in Prague. The interest in buying one’s own apartment is, despite high prices, still extraordinary. It also seems that the construction of housing blocks for rental accommodation will begin. Investment in administrative buildings will probably stagnate a bit this year, but I assume that from next year, this segment will also start gradually going again. Based on my experience, I don’t think that home office is a permanent solution, because only a few employees are able to achieve full work commitment and high performance at home – without social ties, it just doesn’t work. The construction of administrative buildings will continue after the temporary decline. This can also be seen in the just launched Masaryk Centre project by Penta Investment, where we currently supply our colleagues from Zakládání staveb and Zakládání Group with concrete for the foundation of the building and will supply the concrete workers of Metrostav a.s. who are starting to build monolithic structures. We are waiting to see if the next stage of the Prague metro will be launched. In recent years, it is the only large transport contract in the capital – and Prague would certainly deserve such a major investment in its development.

What new innovations have you prepared for your clients?

We launch a new product basically every year. However, we do not want to just come thoughtlessly with some mixtures that have no application in the market, or that only promote a standard product under a flashy name. Each of our branded products bestow customers with certain benefits or is part of a systematized solution. For example, fresh MALMIX mortars – a proven solution where we supply fresh mortar to construction sites every day, ready for immediate processing. Without any further adjustments. When a client orders MALMIX, he knows that the mortar is top quality, a fine structure and will be on site in time and in the right quantity. The same goes for PERMACRETE concrete. With this product we responded to the non-systemic addition of crystallizing additives to fresh concrete under the pretext of improving the watertightness of white tubs, or even to improve protection against radon, erratic currents, etc. PERMACRETE is a special concrete for white tubs designed in accordance with German and Austrian standards. It develops a minimum of hydration heat and, thanks to its composition, significantly reduces the formation of cracks. This solution is cheaper than using crystallizations and has been tested successfully on dozens of buildings.

These are proven products. How about new ones?

We always put the client above everything we do. We constantly work on modernizing and developing new products. This year, we are planning to present an interesting
TERRAFLOW filling material, which is suitable for filling construction pits around pipelines or filling joints around the foundation of the building, etc. We are also constantly improving our branded products, especially our most durable and strongest product TOPCRETE, an ultra-high-quality concrete (UHPC), which has incredible potential for renovations, bridges, footbridges as well as architectural use. And we must not forget the protection of the environment and long-term sustainability. We also develop concretes from recycled aggregates, but no major use can be considered just yet. Current regulations, logistics and achieved parameters of concrete produced in this way do not allow for the fully-fledged replacement of ordinary aggregates, but certain types of structures can be made from recycled aggregates.

And what about your concrete plants? How do you deal with the increasingly stricter environmental regulations and restrictions?

As I have already mentioned, we have four concrete plants, which are conveniently located throughout Prague. In the north we have the Libeň concrete plant, in the west Radlice, in the south Písnice and in the central, slightly eastern area, the Rohanský ostrov concrete plant. These locations are advantageous for our efficient logistics, because we always choose the nearest establishment for the supply of material for a particular construction site, so that the concrete mixers do not unnecessarily burden the already complicated traffic in Prague. What comes as a matter of course is wastewater management, the recycling of residual concrete, waste management, dust filters, landfill sprinkling, etc. However, the fact that two of our facilities have a dock for cargo ships is also related to ecology. We use ecological shipping to the maximum extent possible. As a result, the Libeň and Rohanský ostrov concrete plants fundamentally help reduce the amount of lorry traffic in the metropolis. Thanks to their direct connection to the river, all underground stages, road tunnels and railway corridors were built with a minimal impact on Prague’s traffic. The ship’s supply has already saved Prague over 250,000 lorry loads.

You are promoters of shipping in Prague. From where do you get your inspiration?

The shipment of aggregates and sand for our establishments has been operating for a very long time, but few people realize how many positive effects it has on the city. There are several inspirations: Paris, Brussels, Vienna and other cities that are similar to Prague and where the river flows through them. For example, there are nine concrete plants and 11 loading bins for ship waste and debris situated directly on the banks of the Seine in Paris. There are also several compact mini-transhipments in operation, where river boats bring containers loaded with consumer goods. Or Brussels with the Charleroi Canal, which transports up to 3 million tonnes of material a year. After all, in Vienna, one cargo ship after another goes on the Danube River, transporting soil, rubble, wood and aggregates.

So, do you see a future in supplying buildings with raw materials along the river?

Shipping cannot be the only supply route in itself. A large part of raw materials and goods will always be transported by road. It is just a matter of making the most of the possibility of river transport and not only using it marginally. After all, in Prague we are actually the only ones using freight shipping.

So, when someone buys concrete from TBG, it means that they have helped reduce the number of lorries, is that right?

Actually, yes, even though I wouldn’t put it that way. Our goal is to supply concrete of the highest quality parameters and to be a reliable business partner to our customers. And the fact that we produce concrete economically and with respect to the surroundings, thanks to shipping we also save roads and relieve citizens from harmful emissions, I see this as our contribution to global efforts to improve the quality of the environment.

PR

The extraordinary place deserves extraordinary architecture

It is not common for us to build a new district on a brownfield in the city centre. Not to mention in the centre of the capital, where every square meter often represents a battle.

That is why Penta Real Estate’s project for the revitalization of unused former railway areas around the Masaryk Railway Station is exceptional. Pavel Streblov, Business Director Commercial Real Estate, explained to us what has happened since the beginning of this year and what will happen in this area in the near future.

You have recently obtained a building permit for the first part of ‘Masaryčka’. Which part is it for in particular?

We now have a building permit for the first two buildings by Zaha Hadid along Na Florenci Street. These are commercial buildings with a total rental area of over than 27,000 sq m, of which approximately 4,700 sq m on the first two floors will be designated for shops and services. Other significant features of the new buildings will be 1,500 sq m of green roof terraces. One of the terraces will be located on the highest tower facing Old Town and, thanks to a 360-degree view, will offer a unique view of the whole of Prague. Apart from the building permits for the buildings per se, we also obtained a building permit for the major reconstruction and widening of Na Florenci Street, which will become a tree-lined city boulevard with the emphases put on pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Reconstruction of the street should take place in co-operation with the city, with a commitment to contribute to it financially.

What concept for using retail space are you working with at the moment?

We would like to complement the existing business offer for the passengers of the station itself, however, our main ambition is to make Na Florenci Street a zone where residents and tourists will not only be able to go shopping, but will also be happy to go there for a nice meal or visit a cafe. We are also thinking about setting up a successor to the Manifesto food market, which is now located on the area of the Masaryk Station at the back of the street at Florence. The food market has quickly found its place on the gastro map of Prague thanks to its unique concept, and we would like to further develop the locality of Masaryčka in this direction in future.

Do you plan to retain the architecturally impressive buildings from Zaha Hadid studio in the future, or do you expect to sell them?

All office buildings are always built with the proviso that we may keep them in our portfolio. As for Masaryčka, a decision has not been made yet. We will probably address this issue following completion and will see which is going to win, whether emotions among Penta’s partners resulting in keeping the buildings in their portfolios, or selling them at an advantageous price.

At the end of last year, Mr. Palička stated in an interview that you are planning two urban-architectural competitions. The first of them was already proposed to be announced – in the area between the historic station building and Havlíčkova/Na Florenci streets, and the second was to follow within this period – to the ‘back’ part of Masaryčka towards Prague 8 and the ČSAD plots. What is the situation?

The competition for the architectural design of the square at the intersection of Havlíčkova/Na Florenci streets is already at a more advanced stage. The first round of the competition took place a few weeks ago, and the jury selected several studios, whose task is to elaborate the assignment in further detail. Final proposals should then be available for the overall evaluation of the competition at the beginning of April. We would like the implementation to run in parallel with the construction of Masaryčka itself. Zaha Hadid’s buildings impressive organic curves could thus be admired from a pleasant public space with trees and water features. As for the Masaryčka area in Prague 8, we would like to announce the conditions of the urban-architectural competition in the coming weeks. With regards to complex relations with the territory, we decided to co-operate with the city and ČSAD so that the resulting solution meets the needs of all key stakeholders within the territory.

What does the staging of the whole project look like?

In the first phase – that is in the case of two administrative buildings along Na Florenci Street – we have already commenced construction. If everything goes according to plan, the buildings should open in the middle of 2023. The construction schedule is a little longer than usual for our projects. This is due to the greater complexity of the building structure and also the very demanding processing of the gold facade. Nevertheless, we are convinced that this extraordinary place deserves extraordinary architecture, and we believe that our exceptional investment will pay off and become one of the architectural gems of Prague, where people will be happy to return.

Will the operation of the station be limited or closed at a certain stage (during the implementation of the tracks roofing)? How is cooperation with ČD and the Railway Administration proceeding?

The revitalization of Masaryk Railway Station also includes the reconstruction of historic buildings and the complete reconstruction of the tracks with the tracks roofing. As for the reconstruction of historic buildings, we are cooperating over the long-term with their owner, Czech Railways. We have already invested more than CZK 140 million in repairs, and further investment will be required for the renovation of the station restaurant and the renovation of part of the station at the former ticket booking offices. As for roofing over the tracks, we cooperate with the Railway Administration there. We primarily try to coordinate individual intentions so that they follow each other as technically and temporally as best as possible. At the same time, we undertook to contribute CZK 40 million to the Railway Administration to build the roofing.

The roofing will result in the creation of large public spaces with greenery in the city centre. How do you co-operate with the city council and council of the affected city districts in this respect? Will they somehow contribute financially to the whole project? Who will manage these newly created premises? 

We have an agreement with the city that we will take care of the new greenery in Na Florenci Street for a period of 10 years. We always attempt to emphasize public space in our projects, and quality greenery undoubtedly belongs to it. In co-operation with the city, we are trying to implement some modern aspects of the so-called blue-green infrastructure, such as the collection of rainwater from pavements, etc.

AK / photo: penta

Jindřichův Hradec has long struggled with the absence of a city architect. Last year, a selection procedure was finally held and was attended by 13 candidates. 

The winner was Ing. arch. Lukáš Soukup, a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture of the Czech Technical University Prague, who worked there as a lecturer in doc. Rothbauer’s studio. Since 2011, he has been authorized by the Czech Chamber of Architects. He has experience from an architectural studio, a development company and also experience gained during an internship in Tampere, Finland. He currently works for the international real estate and consultancy company Knight Frank, where he manages the construction of office buildings and specialist opinions from the areas of architecture and urban planning.

How did you convince the committee that your vision of a city architect’s activity is best for Jindřichův Hradec? Did you bet on tourism where there is the third largest castle complex in the Czech Republic following Prague and Český Krumlov?

I think Jindřichův Hradec as such is not a classic tourist destination. You can apply double standards there: On the one hand, the town potentially loses income from the tourist trade but, on the other hand, it was spared the situation in Prague centre, for instance, which is considerably damaged due to the number of tourists and stalls with souvenirs with no relation to the city and the place (for instance Russian fur hats and other items that, in my opinion, have nothing to do on the Royal Route).

So, where do you perceive the potential of the town?

The town centre is romantic – with many historically valuable and well-preserved buildings. But at the same time, more conceptual interventions in individual, mostly public spaces, are needed. I myself have an idea for a better background for residents as well as tourists. According to statistics, their visits mainly lead them to the castle grounds and the rest of the town seems slightly neglected.

And other fields aside from tourism?

I have a feeling that the town offers relatively few pleasant outdoor places that would allow for just sitting quietly or for some other activities even when it comes to its inhabitants. There is no comprehensive system of greenery, no suitable orientation system, etc.

What do you consider to be the most important thing at the moment?

There is no comprehensive transport system or parking in the town centre or in its wider surroundings. The cycleways do not have any logical connection to individual peripheries, especially to the Vajgar and Hvězdárna housing estates, which requires long-term care and conceptual thinking. If we start to look into it now, we will be able to leave something to our children and grandchildren. Something that we are able to prepare within the scope of just a few years.

How did the selection procedure actually proceed? Can you describe it further?

The first round of the selection procedure consisted of meeting formal prerequisites, such as university education, authorization and some practice. The second round included personal interviews with the presentation of a common task, which was to design a solution for the Ladislav Stehna Embankment on the bank of the Vajgar Lake. The next subject for discussion was the applicant’s awareness of Jindřichův Hradec and his ideas as to how to utilise the town’s potential. For instance, the chateau brewery – right next to the chateau – is situated in the protected town centre and is difficult to access. This is currently one of the biggest problems in historic centres of other Czech towns as well. Any function you place here will require an access. At the construction stage, it will require the availability of equipment, supply of material, etc. Even the subsequent operation can cause a disproportionate burden on the protected centre, if not even maybe collapse. This needs to be taken into consideration at the beginning when setting up the building programme. Reconstruction as such is expensive but that is nothing atypical. What I see decisive is a correctly chosen function and naturally project funding, ideally divided into stages.

Let’s go back to your proposal for the use of the Ladislav Stehna Embankment.

It’s a huge opportunity. However, the idea that the embankment will be reconstructed and that tourists will thus start going there is wrong. We need to take a step back and think about the concept of transport solution within the town and its surroundings. I think that that is the most important, not only here, but in most Czech towns. As for Jindřichův Hradec, renovations took place in the second half of the 20th century where many of which were not entirely pleasing. One of the less successful is the road along the Vajgar Lake, the Ladislav Stehna Embankment. According to traffic statistics, several thousand cars go through here daily in latter years. The traffic load is disproportionate to the location and if traffic is not prevented and reduced to a necessary minimum, the embankment will remain cut off from the town centre.

What do you find crucial then?  

Considering the solution and concept of transport in the centre, the wider town centre and its surroundings. To try to adapt the centre more to the needs of the population in the form of gradual measures. Let’s realize that it is very easy to walk in a town of this size. I consider this to be one of the main qualities of a town such as Jindřichův Hradec, where there is also an optimal terrain for cycling. That is what I really enjoy about it.

Does this mean a priority modification to the transport solution and the embankment as such?  

It will certainly be necessary to amend urban greenery – part of the town does not even hold the status of green area but, according to the outline plan, it is ‘insulating greenery’. That means that maintenance of the areas and access to them are subject to this. This is a matter that should also be addressed. Residents need to be more involved in this process and where possible, it is also necessary to come up with other barriers than the existent steel railings between the Vajgar Lake and the sidewalk for cyclists and pedestrians. As you walk through there you will probably realize that pedestrian crossings are not in places where it is logical in connection with pedestrian routes, but are located in places common from the point of view of comfortable driving.

How is it related to the historical centre?

From my point of view, the transport solution used in a town with more than 20,000 inhabitants corresponds conceptually with the 1960s. However, from today’s point of view regarding the use of public areas I think that this solution is outdated, obsolete and needs to be modified.

So, how should a town of this size work optimally – including visitors?

I would certainly not build the quality of the town and life in it on tourism. I don’t think it is the most important thing for such a town. I believe the city as such should first and foremost be a pleasant place for its inhabitants. In this respect, Jindřichův Hradec is smaller than Prague and Brno, etc…, but still experiences similar trends as West European towns, this being the displacement of the centre. Based on available figures I know that in the last few decades, the number of permanent residents has reduced to approximately one third. And then comes the classic issues – it is difficult to park here, it is difficult to shop, there is noise at night, which is something you do not want for family life. These issues bother your life so you would rather move to the outskirts where you can have a bigger house, bigger garden and perhaps also a garage. And the town centre as such can easily become a kind of mausoleum in the future, especially with the strengthening of tourism. This needs to be carefully thought through because the steps we take today will reap fruits for future generations. That means that the town cannot do without a more fundamental concept of tourism solution.

How do you personally see the total concept?

As soon as we manage to successfully plan and implement one public space, which can be, for instance, Míru Square or the Ladislav Stehna Embankment, I am convinced that we will set the standard for other public spaces within the town. If the residents identify with this space, we will be able to extend the quality solution to at least the rest of the centre. Another thing that I consider important is the solution of parking in the centre and the transport connection between the town periphery and the town centre. Therefore, it is a matter of solving the functioning of the combination of car traffic, cyclists and pedestrians. Building a town for cars, as we can, for instant, see in the town of Most, which today looks like a 1960s small American town, where walking through the centre on foot is difficult due to long distances because there are motorways, is a long-overdue model. It’s something that can be aesthetic for some, mostly architects, but research has long shown that the most pleasant are winding streets, pleasant nooks – and that’s why historic town centres are popular.

However, panel housing estates were built here on the outskirts, just as in other Czech towns. How do you see their inter connection with the historical centre?

A part of the centre was preserved thanks to the new prefabricated housing estates located outside the historical centre because in the 1960s, it was a great time to demolish twice as many houses as eventually happened. Of course, I’m sorry about those houses, but I can be relatively satisfied that no more was destroyed. I don’t want to perceive the housing estate negatively, especially when you see how many inhabitants in the Czech Republic live in panel houses. It’s a huge amount. And housing estates as such do not always have to be solved as so-called ‘rabbit hutches’, if you look at Brno – Lesná or other good examples, such as Prague – Pankrác with lower-storey houses, cultivated greenery, etc. The parterres of some buildings at the housing estates are lined with stone, somewhere there are works of art, accessible civic amenities and lots of greenery…

What do the housing estates in Jindřichův Hradec look like in this comparison? 

Unfortunately, they are not that nice, but, on the other hand, there is greenery and it is close to the centre. I would not perceive it completely negatively. If they need anything, it is more cultivation of public areas and better connection to the centre for cyclists and pedestrians. What bothers me most in housing estates, not only those in Jindřichův Hradec, is the fact that they are often only visible from the historical centre. And it was enough to build two floors less or design the whole development in a different fashion.

Where do you see the real basis of each town?

In the locals and I think they are the ones who should be involved in what is being prepared by the town, especially with regards to long-term plans and investments. I think that it is a priority to give space to discussions in the form of panel meetings and present upcoming projects … everything must have a clear plan and the specific responsible person who is preparing the project must be determined. However, it is necessary to involve both the public and town residents because as a weekend visitor, I cannot have the same point of view as the locals and I am interested in the opinion of both children and youth, university students, mothers on maternity leave, pensioners and workers. They are the inhabitants of the town and they all have the right to have their say on these issues. How the concept will work once completed, what the town takes into account – all this can determine residents’ satisfaction with the town’s plans and gradual transformation and improvement. I don’t like to say problems, but the use of the potential that is there at the moment.

How do you yourself see the function of a city architect?  

The main task is to actively participate in the concept of town development. At the same time, it is also important to popularize architecture and to convey the council’s plans to the inhabitants. At this time, Czech society lacks discussion as such. When someone disagrees with us, we take it as an invective and a personal attack. I myself got used to discussion when defending projects as an architect. I am convinced that when a logical counter-argument is heard, it will force me to rethink the solution. The issues that had not occurred to me till then can also be termed in this way. I see two options: You either defend the concept and confirm your opinion, or you do not defend it and therefore have to rethink the solution and rework it.

Is this about better communication then?

Communication is generally required: I do not yet know how the public will be involved in the discussion, but I hope that it will be as much as possible so that their views can be taken into account. The worst scenario I can imagine is that in a year – when you walk through Jindřichův Hradec – you will see residents laughing at the prepared solution and feeling that the person who came from elsewhere and never lived here spent their money and that they are not to be identified with the concepts and plans. That’s wrong and it certainly shouldn’t work that way. Towns are different, but problems recur. It is important that local people adapt to the upcoming projects. That is the key to success.

How do you want to help with regards to the solving of these difficulties?  

In the future, I would like to address my former colleagues from the Faculty of Architecture and together assign selected tasks within the town as term work for students. This is the experience I had when working as a lecturer in the studio of Mr. Rothbauer, the senior lecturer, where we processed similar assignments of randomly selected towns. They were projects of individual buildings and groups of these buildings, but often also more extensive urbanism.

Arnošt Wagner / Photo: archive