One of the most intriguing subjects debated at BR’s recent Rising Cities. Smart Future online conference, the idea of Sustainable Future Cities drew a lot of attention, especially as the discussions explored the smart & sustainable buildings and the role real estate developers as innovation drivers for urban growth, regeneration, and development. To follow up on this enticing topic, Business Review sat down with Raluca Munteanu, Business Development Manager at IULIUS, for an exclusive interview.
By Anda Sebesi
- How has Iulius involved in the smart & sustainable buildings segment in Romania?
IULIUS projects do not tell the story of the people working in the office buildings, but rather that of the buildings that work around the people. All our developments are designed and built in line with international efficiency and sustainability principles and have LEED certificates in this respect. The certificates obtained by the projects bear witness to our commitment to provide the community with spaces that work for the people, ensure their comfort and facilitate their healthy living.
The strategy of IULIUS Group focuses on reducing environmental impacts as early as the initial design and up to the everyday operation. The criteria complied with as early as the design drawing phase include the benefits for the community, access to leisure facilities, location, support for mobility (low reliance on personal vehicles), energy efficiency, the materials used, the type of lighting, enhanced levels of natural lighting, air-related specifications, reusing rainwater, etc., to name only a few. All these are analyzed and implemented to make the projects not only beautiful and functional, but also environmentally-friendly and implicitly people-friendly.
From our perspective, a smart building should go beyond the technologies it integrates, so as to fit in with the urban landscape, as a natural extension thereof. For this reason, aside from the performances of the office buildings we operate and the state-of-the-art amenities, the engagement also comes from the services provided for the surrounding community. For IULIUS Group, sustainability means providing optimal comfort to the people carrying out their activities in the buildings, including the necessary infrastructure for everyday life. In brief, keeping the people in our projects happy.
- What can you tell us about your projects in this area?
Over the last decade, IULIUS paid even greater attention to developing sustainable, urban regeneration projects. Palas Iași and Iulius Town Timișoara bear evidence to this mission; these are genuine mixed-use projects based on integrated concepts, with a major impact for urban development, that are nevertheless not invasive.
Our projects are not just about infrastructure works, but rather how these get us close to our loved ones more quickly. These don’t just mean investment figures exceeding hundreds of millions, but rather speak of the joy of companies and investors that are still discovering the potential of our country. They represent projects that are not quantified merely as certain amounts of square meters of office or retail premises, but by the time spent together. Above all else, the IULIUS projects are a place for making new memories.
We were the first developers to have a green space as a main anchor. The parks in PALAS and Iulius Town play a significant part for social connections, providing a new venue for meeting with people, and their beneficial effect on people is what drives us to try and be better than before. The parks are also spectacular in terms of biodiversity. For instance, the lake in the Iulius Town Timișoara garden became home to a family of wild ducks during the warmer months. What could be more natural than this? The green hallmark is also present in more formal spaces, as the lobbies of our buildings are transformed into leisure areas decorated with olive trees and the terraces are embellished with mature trees.
We believe that sustainability should not be a characteristic of the buildings alone, but rather for the projects as a whole. This is why our developments include investments in infrastructure (traffic underpass, new arterial roads, widened and upgraded streets, underground and multilevel parking facilities, public transit stations, bike lanes and bike racks, etc.) that support the sustainable development of the urban fabric and have an impact in terms of project accessibility and time saving facilities for visitors or employees. All these complete the vision for “walkable cities”, which we adhere to via pedestrian connections, parks and the policies promoting the use of alternative transportation we implement, such as changing rooms and showers fitted in the office buildings for those who ride their bike to work.
For instance, the Palas Iași project opened in 2012 is the only project in Central and Eastern Europe to achieve the LEED® Neighborhood Development certificate for its positive impact on the community and for the sustainable design and construction of the integrated buildings. There are only five projects across the continent to have achieved this certification. Both in the case of Palas and the other projects, these certifications represent the achievement of a set of high sustainability standards.
- How do you think this concept will evolve in Romania in the years to come?
Sustainability is an increasingly popular concept, taking on multiple valences, as well as a desideratum we all wish to achieve. Creating developments of a similar magnitude as our projects, which fundamentally change the life of cities, certainly is a major responsibility. In our capacity as developers, we are aware of our role and the effect of our projects in the life of the community, which is why everything we build must focus on a simple mission: to enhance the quality of life for the people.
Romania is following an upward trend in terms of complying with international standards as a result of the increasingly significant presence of multinational companies, the migration of employees in the European space and beyond and, implicitly, their expectations in terms of work environment, standard of living, effective time management. The same trend will also show in real-estate, as a response to the appetite of communities for Occidentalism. The concern for sustainability will become more and more intense, a clear sign of things changing for the better.
As far as we are concerned, IULIUS will continue to develop mixed-use projects geared towards urban revitalization, as well as with a role as economic and social catalysts. Concurrently, we are determined to provide the community with impactful, sustainable projects that will make their lives easier and provide maximum comfort.
- Real estate developers are innovation drivers for urban growth, contributing to the improvement of the lives of the citizens and employees, wellbeing and safety. In your opinion what is their contribution in this direction?
Developers have a crucial contribution. In most cases, local governments have neither the capacity, nor the experience or resources to be able to implement sustainable development policies – or, at least, are unable to do so yet. This is where private companies can ensure the know-how, investing in projects whose role go beyond the immediate and strictly functional one, thus becoming urban landmarks and driving forces for the economy of the entire community. Hence, we would like to point out that none of our projects have been made just by “us”, i.e. the IULIUS in-house team; instead, these projects were always based on a collaboration between the most diverse of entities, ranging from public to private. We achieve our results TOGETHER.
International studies have shown that beyond the financial motivation, what the majority of employees want the most is “to be happy” at work. We asked ourselves “How can we deliver to the community projects that bring happiness”? The answer was simple: we devised our concepts around the concept of “wellbeing”. This is also the case for Palas Campus, the investment that will deliver more than 60,000 sqm currently pending construction in Iași, as an organic extension of the business center consolidated in Palas, set to open in 2022. The premium office spaces are complete with service areas, medical practices, a new food market concept, green spaces and investments in infrastructure. The entire concept addresses not only the expectations of the employees who will work in the office spaces, but it will also be accessible for the residents in the vicinity, providing wellbeing.
- In the current context generated by the pandemic, how important is the concept of smart and sustainable buildings as on the office segment, the work from home process impacted the office buildings in Romania and abroad?
The flexible office spaces open to outdoor facilities and integrated in mixed-use projects and allowing for reduced exposure have an advantage during these atypical times for the entire economy. We believe that adaptability is the most important factor in our new reality, and balancing remote work, efficiency, comfort and personal time is crucial for the strategy of every company. Evidently, the infrastructure provided by office building operators must also be updated for the new requirements, and sustainable developments have the capacity to face these challenges easily. In response to the new context, Palas Campus will also integrate outdoor coworking spaces, which is a premiere for the region.
We believe remote work is the short-term solution for the challenges of the pandemic, but working in an office does not refer to just a physical space, but rather being a part of a joint vision. Coming to the office entails a sum of experiences, interaction, access to facilities, a lifestyle and an entire infrastructure that works for the benefit of employees and their productivity. This is why the work environment will continue to be a key factor for the motivation, retention and recruitment of talents. The sense of belonging while working toward a common goal and feeling that you are part of a greater mission are satisfactions that are hard to cultivate via Zoom or Teams, and that can only be nurtured via the memories made in the process and the effort made working in a team.