One year after starting an international architectural competition, IULIUS has selected a winning solution for its planned residential complex in downtown Iasi. Raluca Munteanu, business development manager at IULIUS, spoke with Business Review about the company’s engagement with the community as part of the new investment and the next steps of the development.
By Ovidiu Posirca
How did you create the brief for the architectural competition?
One of our major accomplishments was that we were able to synchronise the teams at UNStudio, Foster+Partners, MVRDV, and Zaha Hadid Architects to submit solutions for a new property investment in downtown Iasi. We put a lot of effort into allocating a budget for all the teams that submitted proposals, and it was the right decision. For their part, the studios made their own investments in creating their projects at a high standard of quality. Our brief had a long list of deliverables, because we are in a historical area and we were interested in architectural details such as the integration of the building volume in a series of images to check the visibility cones or information on the materiality of the solution. We provided the studios with data on our construction costs, but we also tried not to limit the architects’ creativity in any way. However, we underlined the fact that proposals should not be created just for the rendering phase but be ready to be turned into reality.
Our objective was to launch an international solutions competition because we are talking about a development site that means a lot to the local community and to us, because Iasi is also the hometown of IULIUS. The development site has a high degree of complexity because you need to pay attention to the heritage protection element. We therefore thought that it was a site that deserved the attention of some the best specialists in this field.
How did you select the finalists?
We had the support of a specialised jury. They gave us a list of architectural studios that had projects in historical areas with a proven track record of expertise. It was important for all competitors to be in the same league, and this also motivated the architects to put in the effort. I believe it was a great experience for all participants and that there was a true competitive spirit.
When is IULIUS planning to start the new development?
The first milestone has been reached by selecting the architectural solution called “Bridging Time, Bridging Communities” by Amsterdam-based UNStudio. The architects have pursued the “develop around the theme of City Horizon” principle.
We will carry out an internal assessment of the awarded solution and we will have to sign a design contract. From our point of view, all the submitted proposals were feasible. Next, we will seek permitting for the new investment and get an urban zonal planning (PUZ) for the development. It might take longer considering the area’s historical heritage, and we will also focus on getting the construction permit within a reasonable timeframe. All in all, it might take at least a year to actually kick off the construction of our new property.
How are you going about getting the local community’s feedback regarding the new investment?
We have launched the online platform iasipentruviitor.ro, where we wanted to start a conversation about the future of Iasi. We also carried out an online survey to find out more about how people living in Iasi see the future of their city. All the design solutions have been uploaded online and people can send in opinions on all these proposals.
We believe that transparency is paramount in developing a project that can shape the evolution of a city with such a powerful historical background.
Are you planning similar competitions for future developments in other areas?
That remains to be seen; our priority right now is to deliver this project in Iasi. It took a year to organise this competition, and when the time is right, we will have a conversation on the benefits and challenges of such an initiative, which was a first for us as well.
Are you planning to expand IULIUS’s residential footprint in Iasi?
This is a new beginning for us. This is one of the reasons why we wanted to see solutions from some of the best specialists in this field. We believe that at this moment, the market has the potential to accommodate a high-quality residential project. There is a lot of room for improvement, and this is why we are adding a housing component to other projects as part of a mixed-use strategy.
Can you give us a status update on your new mixed-use investment in Cluj-Napoca?
In this project, the largest urban reconversion project in the country of the industrial Carbochim platform, which includes strong retail, office, residential, and cultural components, we aim to have a
systemic approach to the green areas surrounding the development site. Our plans are aligned with those of the local authorities regarding the improvement of the Somes river. In fact, we want to contribute to the municipality’s strategy of turning Cluj-Napoca into a river-facing city.
How did you handle the design process for Iulius Town Timisoara?
We worked with a team of designers that was very familiar with the project. Starting a project from scratch is very different to the process of expanding an existing one. In the latter case, you have to work with the teams from the initial project as much as possible. We had a close collaboration with Radu Mihailescu, the architect who had worked with us on the design of the main shopping mall. There was pressure on us to deliver quickly, as there was pent-up demand for the retail and office areas.
Each building in our portfolio has a different architect and design team, and our own architects handle the coordination efforts. We are also carrying out internal pitches on design solutions.