Irishman brings fresh eyes to bear on local architecture

Newsroom 30/09/2008 | 16:27

The idea of a municipality trying to revive a public square in a US city and make it more attractive to people is odd enough for Romania, which is still fighting to build its much needed highways and properly pave its city streets.
The solution for reviving that particular square is even more sophisticated: the road passes it underground and leaves the square car-free and suited to walking, the public square connects to the adjoining park through an aerial railway, people get to enjoy movies on a large screen in the square, and even economics finds space as there is room for some retail as well. And there seems to be more where this idea came from.
The man who is showcasing this project, Paul Quilligan, an Irish architect running Quilligan Architects in Dublin, has turned his eyes to Romania, where he has expanded the firm's activity, and is planning to bring a fresher perspective to local architecture.
His firm is focused on concept design, which relates to the
very early stages of a real estate project.
Quilligan found Romania on the map in autumn last year, while he was researching places where the firm could expand. While Ireland had provided enough workload in the last ten years, it was time to go where the fish swim, as he says.
Romania was chosen due to its recent EU accession, Latin style culture and least but not last, to the high ratio of English-speaking locals.
Rather than coming onto the market attached to an Irish developer, Quilligan chose to start creating his contact network and get work through various real estate players on the market.
The firm is now working on several projects in various stages, projects which together should require some EUR 100 million in investment.
A residential and commercial project in Baia Mare, built by an Irish consortium, was Quilligan's first project here.
Another project, Cold Mountain in Brasov, is also keeping them busy. Another leisure project in Iasi, a EUR 35 million development, is also on the map for
Quilligan, as well as a residential project in Bucharest, still in an early stage.
All in all, Romania covers 15 percent of the firm's business, but Quilligan hopes the workload in Romania will come to equal the level of business from his home country, Ireland, where he makes EUR 1.5 million in yearly turnover. In Romania, concept design is priced at between EUR 1.5 and EUR 2 per sqm, which would make the concept design for a 10,000-sqm building cost around EUR 15,000, Quilligan estimates.
The firm is working with an associate, an Irish firm present locally, but intends to open a local office at some point.
Quilligan feels he is quite early on the Romanian market of architecture services.
“We are not just walking around, saying: ‘Look, do you need an architect?' We are coming with specific answers to problems, we are breaking down the process,” says Quilligan.
Breaking down projects into smaller pieces is one of Quilligan's preferences and recommendations for the Romanian market. It can apply to urban regeneration projects and to larger projects, in general. In Ireland, urban revival schemes, which usually feature large derelict areas within cities, are being carried out based on a unitary urban framework, set out by an agency created for the purpose. Then the area is divided into smaller projects and each developer can choose a specific bit within the framework, Quilligan explains.
“Developers wouldn't go into large, disused areas individually. But within the urban framework, the developer assumes no risk.
Sometimes, the government offers tax incentives for buyers in the area, which makes it even more attractive for developers,” adds Quilligan.
This is the type of approach he is trying to bring to Cluj-Napoca, and he has already met some municipality representatives and the city's architect. “We just happen to be doing it in Cluj, but it can be done everywhere. It needs to be done in Bucharest as well, and Lipscani would be one of the areas in need. If you want to end up with something that is controlled and to know what it is going to look like right from the start, that's the way you do it,” says Quilligan.
Cluj was also chosen as the location for the firm's own development project, a 15-unit block of apartments downtown. Quilligan will be doing the development as part of a consortium. Splitting up big projects into more manageable portions is Quilligan's view of how best to work more efficiently.
“Breaking down large projects into smaller pieces may allow local firms access to more work.
It makes it more practical. A lot of projects in Romania seem to be too big for the structure that is here at the moment. A large developer
gets too much control. Prices increase, because builders look for more money if they feel they can get it,” explains the Irish architect. “There are some very big developers in Romania, but there is a gap between large and small developers, and the area isn't covered. Locals should be encouraged to take on some projects that a larger company wouldn't be interested in because of the size,” Quilligan advises.
His other approach to tackling the Romanian market is through possible partnerships with real estate consultancy firms active locally.
He has talked to some of them about offering developers which turn to consultancy firms a package which should also include concept design.
This would be a new approach, as developers usually bring their own architects, says Quilligan.
By Corina Saceanu

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