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  • Under the Pain of Development

    Building Contractors for a Dialogue

    Text: Gábor Radványi
    Photos: Corvin Project, Futureal

    It is a rare occasion where the profession of developers is offered a place to have their voice heard in architectural periodicals. This phenomenon is in sharp contrast with the fact that in Budapest, for example, some building contractors have already invested just as much money in city development projects since the change of the political system as the Capital itself – the latter, however, has not yet made an integral comcept of city development, which is a unique phenomenon in our region. This article was written by a developer author initiating a dialogue between architecture, clients and the circles of decision-makers in local authorities.

    A city, a town or a village can be divided into two parts according to the nature and structure of the ownership of its area: public domains and privately owned real estates. All these and their cooperation characterizes and makes a town itself defining the spaces of urban life and their quality. The proportion of the two kinds of territories obviously influence the liveability, the degree of development and developability of a town. Let us just think of the wide streets flanked by trees, the public parks adjusting to the scales and dimensions of the town or the areas being developed there right now. From all this results the fact that we may think one-sidedly about our town and herald urban development, disregarding the differences and motifs of the two different kinds of area units – however, it proves to be a kind of self-deception in the long run, because it results in a distorted image, unliveable milieu and an unsustainable settlement. What is a main street with restored pavement worth if it is flanked by dilapidated historic monuments, neglected owner-occupied blocks in need of reconstruction and unrented retails? Are we allowed to accept a layout plan defining the maximum extent of development of the lots with limitations that make them valueless and thus unmarketable in the real estate market in the town concerned? Is it a responsible decision to order and enact the protection of historic monuments without taking into consideration the conditions of the actual utility of the building, or more precisely to doom the values of our artificial environment this way?
    Town development and resettlement does not examine now the actual demands of the real estate market and thus documents its subjective vision based on the survey of the existing conditions. It regards the town as if it was a terrain model whilst it is not about houses ad buildings but about people who would come to live in them. Not those individuals living there now as developments are to consider the future needs of the town.
    The opinion of the population must be treated with due care anyway as only a few people can realistically judge their expectations of their residential environment and few of them is able to phrase and define them beyond the stereotypes of safety and cleanliness or at least to think them over. Most often it is the natural instinct of selfishness in people that determines their opinions. The totality of the interests of those living in a town is not the same as the interest of the town itself and thus cannot be treated as the resultant of a chaotic set of vectors – not even if this appears the most democratic one possible. On the one hand a large number of viewpoints are effective even when defining the decisions, desires and life of a human being the weighting of which is intransparable with the scale of the population. On the other hand the expression of private interests does not tackle temporality, the revaluation or devaluation of the residential environment or the social changes resulting from all this and thus local needs changing by the passage of time. If we think of town development as the means for meeting the needs of the town arising in the near future then the needs of the population is only one of the many segments. Buildings are not sculptures, the works of art, roads and public utilities are not aimless components of space: they have functions of their own and through them they also have needs in line with their own and also complex systems of viewpoints.
    If someone wishes to develop either a town or a real estate, s/he must see into the future and has to explore and survey it instead of imagining it. Future is not to be dreamt: it is to be explored by considering the logical changes of economic and social procedures along the possible courses of development. Only those people are specialized in it extensively whose interests are tied up to it, and considering the way our world works now this actually means his or her own best financial-material interest.
    This comprehensive mechanism of decision-making is being enforced by the market itself. The objects surrounding us in our everyday life are made in line with these principles during the development of products. Product development is an intellectual process throughout which the objective of the product designer is to meet the market claims as well as to fulfill customers’ wishes as perfectly as possible even if these desires are not yet known in the phase of planning. What we must see after this is that idependently of its function a building is nothing else than a product. It might be profanity to write it down in this periodical, but based on this architecture rates the same as product development. This statement is not the depreciation of the architects’ profession, as to design a sports car is just as complex task for a designer as to design a building. The harmony of design and function is a basic criterion in both cases. The difference today lies in the fact that the feedback expressing the opinion of the market tends to be much more direct today in motor car production than in architecture.
    There is a group of professionals following the product all throughout, that is the whole evolution and development of the building from the idea through the developmental process to the realization of the design. Sometimes even including the phase of operation. As far as the social megítélés of profession is concerned, architects by far precede building contractors who are typically rated in between real estate brokers and land speculators by the majority of people. Only a few of the wide public know that for example the 16 major building contractor companies making up the Property Developers Roundtable Association (IFK) have realized developments in Budapest worth almost 1,600 billion HUFs in the past 16 years. Annually it is just as much money as the 100 billion HUFs spent on the development of Budapest. With this fact in mind one can realize that when we consider Budapest divided according to its proportions of private and public areas then the impact of building contractors on the formation of the city is unchallengeable: their influence is at least just as important as that of the public sphere.
    Similarly to designers, these professionals examine and analyze lots and buildings in line with the regulations of OTÉK (the national regulations for resettlement, construction and development in Hungary) – just like architects do. They also take part in compiling the designing programme, form their opinion of the designs, prepare costs analyses based on the working drawings – that is they are active participants in the birth of a building. However, it is important to see that they make decisions based on their knowledge of the market. At the planning negotiations it is a typical objection to designs that they totally exploit the parametres of development. However, it is exactly these data that obviously define the value of a lot. Architects are also startled to see building contractors wanting to build a large number of small flats disregarding the fact that developers are aware of as a result of precise market surveys: apartments of this size are the real estates that people can afford even today. The efficiency of buildings is not a viewpoint taken into consideration in any academic subject of design in the training of architects although it is one of the most important index numbers in the real estate market showing how suitably and appropriately the functions are positioned within a building. The continuous and precise coordination of construction costs whilst designing is not typical of architects’ and engineers’ practice in Hungary either. I am sure that these examples also clearly show how much professional cooperation is needed in order to have a building constructed.
    If there is no one representing the concerns so important for the construction of buildings when designing, revitalizing or planning the development strategies of a town or a district, then their evaluation is not based on realistic terms and may generate mistakes exerting their influence in the long run. It cannot serve the general interest of the public in the wider sense to hinder developments whilst referring to public interest, to make exaggerated demands in contracts of resettlement and thus obstruct investments. Regulations are made without attaching and relying upon a correct feasability study based on the facts of the real estate market. However, professionals are at disposal, and in many cases they are concerned as the owners of lots and tend to know more about the environment of development than anyone else as this is a basic viewpoint when they make decisions in economy. I believe that in every case there is a sensible compromise which is beneficial for both the building contractor and the public. A number of developments in Hungary have already proven that only those developments can be successful in Hungary by which people living in the area, the local authorities concerned, the target audience and also the building contractor profit and can experience an investment as a winner. However, we need mutual thinking and communication from the very beginning to achieve this. The objective of developers is to help to construct towns and cities which are liveable, working and sustainable.