The Slovenia Times

"Sustainable construction no longer trend but a legal requirement."



What is the state of affairs in Slovenian architecture? Has economic growth spurred additional construction? Do architects have more work now? And what kinds of construction projects have shaped the past several years?

After a long while (a decade or so), economic growth has presented architects with an increased workload once again. At the forefront of demand are residential buildings financed by private investors, luxury apartment buildings, multi-dwelling units, apartment buildings, and commercial buildings as well. Public investments are just starting to make an appearance. But even in terms of private investments, there is no excess of optimism. Hence, investors are cautious to think their plans through and analyse an investment before its implementation.

How would you assess the co-operation with Slovenian investors? Do they respect the work of architects? Which are the most frequently encountered obstacles? And what is the situation like abroad?

I mostly have good experience with investors. I am normally approached by those familiar with my work and the work of architects in general, who know already what to expect. In the past several years, investors have matured and they know how to express their wishes. Of course, there are still those investors who see the architect as an unnecessary cost or someone who will fulfil their frequently unrealistic expectations.

Many a time, it happens that land plots are unsuitable for the investor's wish. An architect is a spatial expert capable of saving investor's money on the investment if the investor lets them to. Most importantly, an architect knows how to determine the spatial and urbanist limitations and place a building in the environment. 

While working with an investor, it is essential that the architect and investor come clean as to their expectations before commencing the project. The best solution for this is a project assignment. That being said, it is essential that the architect does not promise the investor something which cannot be accomplished in the given situation. Conversely, the investor should respect the architectural profession and trust the opinion of the person they plan on hiring. 

What I learned from foreign investors is that they think the investment through thoroughly before approaching the architect. They know how to express their expectations clearly. An architect presents their design project, which has to be amended a number of times. Nevertheless, all solutions are done in the design phase, not at the construction site. On-site amendments are highly expensive, which is something foreign investors are well aware of.

Could you point out a few examples of newly-built residential and business constructions, and elaborate on what makes them good or bad?

Firstly, I would like to point out the Terme Čatež commercial building, which was designed at the Budja Jereb Arhitekti bureau. It is an extension of the existing building, which would otherwise have been pretty boring, mundane and purely functionalist. At Budja Jereb Arhitekti, they designed the building in an original and interesting way. The starting point may be functionalist and the architecture humble and faithful to the programme (offices, storage facilities, etc.) and, in essence, the building is a prefabricated concrete hall. Nevertheless, both the interior and exterior were designed with the surroundings in mind. Fulfilling its social function as well, the building became the generator of life at the site.

When it comes to residential buildings, I believe that private and public investors lack the necessary courage. Architecture is the consequence of a policy - it is not a consequence of contemplations on how people live, nor is it the result of experimenting or dealing with the housing typology. I am critical towards the Slovenian housing policy and the Housing Fund of the Republic of Slovenia, which is incapable of providing affordable housing for the middle class. Based on the lack of a housing policy, we are facing gentrification or a takeover of the market from private investors, who continuously offer "luxury experiences" in apartments that are not that luxurious, are completely standard or even sub-standard. 

Thus, the Housing Fund should dedicate more time to this issue instead of asking 3,500 Euros per square meter in the Brdo residential district. They could look up to the model of public-private partnerships in Vienna, where the city and the housing fund provide the land for construction, the necessary utility equipment and a guarantee for favourable loans, while the private investor takes over the construction process. In fact, private construction companies team up with architects in a public contest where they compete on who can implement a better architectural project for a predetermined construction price. The price of a completed apartment is determined in advance. Additionally, the number of apartments available for lease in a public fund at a predetermined rent (which does not exceed 10 Euros per square meter of a new apartment), the number of apartments made available for long-term lease by the private investor at a predetermined rent, and the number of apartments that will be sold on the market are all known in advance.

Is sustainable architecture still a hit, or are there new architectural trends emerging on the horizon?

Sustainable architecture is no longer a trend but a requirement stemming from legal acts which foresee that all buildings will have to become energy self-sufficient by 2020. Slovenia has passed the Energy Efficiency Action Plan for the period 2017-2020. The Action Plan predicts that the existing housing fund will be the sector with the highest potential for achieving energy savings. To meet the goal, it will require a 25 percent energy restoration by 2020. This will reduce the energy use in the buildings by nearly 10 percent. 

Additionally, these measures will also accelerate economic growth as they will generate investments crucial to the development of the society (instead of energy, they can also be used for education, health or development). In achieving environmental and energy efficiency, sustainable architecture is of key importance because it burdens the environment to a far lesser extent. In this context, the trend of green towers started by Italian architect Stefano Boeri is highly interesting. The towers, which feature balconies equipped with large greenery pots, were named "Vertical Forests." The project was drawn up as part of the rehabilitation of the historic part of the Porto Nuovo city in Milan, which is one of the most densely packed commercial urban zones in Milan. Each of the two buildings features 900 trees, 5,000 bushes and 11,000 flowers that improve the quality of air, help prevent the intrusion of smog and produce oxygen. 



I sometimes think that architects focus too much on the exterior image of a building and too little on the functionality of the interior. Am I wrong?

A spectacular exterior is important in commercial architecture, which is focused on selling. An average buyer of real estate, by contrast, takes into consideration the economic ratio of the price to the gross/net value. This means as much useful area as possible at the lowest possible price. An average investor is not looking for the interesting or unconventional because they consider it difficult to sell. In terms of the internal functionality of apartments and offices, we are still very much in the modernist era. I would even dare say that modernist floor plans by Arnautovič, Ravnikar, Mihelič, Kristl, and others were textbook examples of good practice in terms of space utilisation. The apartment building in Prule that was designed by Kristl, for instance, features small apartments. In fact, they are extremely small, but they were also built at an incredibly affordable price while still exhibiting all the features deemed necessary at the time. 

After a long while (a decade or so), economic growth has presented architects with an increased workload once again. At the forefront of demand are residential buildings financed by private investors, luxury apartment buildings, multi-residential buildings, apartment buildings and commercial facilities as well.


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