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"We need unified price lists for design work." Interview with Maciej Zuber, president of the SARP branch in Bielsko-Biała

27 of March '24

"It is necessary to build public awareness of the important role of the architect. It is also necessary to introduce transparent regulations and create price lists for design work," says architect Maciej Zuber, president of the SARP branch in Bielsko-Biała.

Jozef Stachow: You are just beginning another term as president of the SARP Bielsko-Biala Branch. What are the most important challenges facing the architectural community today?

Maciej Zuber: The most important problem for our industry today is the inadequate rates for architectural projects in relation to the changing market situation. The percentage increase in the average price of apartments in the last two years has been in double digits. For example, in Warsaw or Krakow, in 2024 alone, apartments became more expensive by a quarter. However, they are not followed by changes in prices for projects, at least not at the pace that architects expected.

: It would seem that a golden age has arrived not only for developers, but also for architects. What is the reason for this situation?

Maciej: The growing demand for housing, stimulated, for example, by preferential government loans, does not mean that all participants in the construction market equally share the pie. Hardly predictable economic conditions and instability, which is the situation we have had in recent years, have affected high material prices and execution costs. Investors are aware that material prices will not go down, and neither will execution rates. And this is leading them to cut costs where possible, such as on projects.

Jozef: Why is the design industry succumbing to pressure from investors?

Maciej: The problem has been known not since yesterday, and is also related to the undercutting of prices by architects themselves. They are mostly non-high-deductible, often operating on cheap or illegal software. Clients are convinced that these should be the real prices on the market, because they have been accustomed to them over the years. It is not without reason that we are seeing more and more situations where investors are asking for support from larger studios to complete projects they have already started, because architects chosen at low prices are unable to fulfill their contract.

Another problem is projects developed en masse by untitled construction industry participants, which are signed by authorized architects. We know that such an illegal phenomenon also takes place, although its scale has not yet been estimated.

: The architectural community itself, for example through its organizations, cannot eliminate these practices?

Maciej: To do so, it is necessary to build public awareness of the important role of the architect at every stage of the investment. It is also necessary to introduce transparent regulations and standardize rates. Such an attempt to create price lists for design work has already been made by the Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland, but it was recognized by the OCCP as a practice restricting competition. Later, there were other proposals to solve this problem, such as signing a contract with the Chamber that would include a commitment to minimum rates. So far, no satisfactory solution has been reached. Just as it has not been possible to completely eliminate unfair practices related to the approval by some architects of documentation not worked by them. These are the most important challenges for our environment, which we are currently trying to address.

: You are the plenipotentiary of the SARP General Board for BIM and an ardent supporter of digitization in investment processes. At what stage are you currently working on implementing the BIM methodology and digitizing construction procedures?

Maciej: In the last three years, work in these areas has accelerated significantly. An eBuilding portal has been established, through which investors can submit an application with a construction project and obtain a building permit. There is also an electronic central registry of people with construction authorizations e-CRUB. Its creation has made it possible, avoiding the need to attach construction authorization documents to the project. The exchange of information in electronic form today makes it possible to deal with matters at the other end of Poland. It's just a pity that there are still some offices that do not have the technical capabilities required by the regulations for such service, and ask to provide documentation in traditional form. We hope that soon these problems will also disappear.

In turn, the Working Group on BIM was active at the Ministry of Development and Technology, which supported the government in consultations and systematic implementation of this methodology in Poland. This was a big and conscious step by the state towards digitization. We count on the new government to continue this cooperation.

Jozef: Why is the rapid implementation of digitization in the construction field so important?

Maciej: First of all, because it simplifies procedures and speeds up the entire investment process, and thus reduces the associated costs. Let me use an example. Today we have a huge problem with the availability of apartments, which in a while will be a luxury good on our market. Fewer and fewer people will be able to afford a new apartment, and solving this situation will be one of the most important challenges facing the state. So if we want to optimize the cost of housing investments, BIM is the perfect tool for this. In a low-traffic office, it can easily reduce the waiting time for an administrative decision or eliminate the misinterpretation of regulations that results in a lengthy appeal procedure. The entire process involved in a housing project would be almost completely automated.

Jozef: If we are already talking about cooperation with offices, there is a recommendable initiative in Bielsko-Biala. Architects and officials take part in joint training courses.

Maciej: We decided to take matters into our own hands and to make the interpretation of regulations around investments more consistent, which are sometimes a nightmare for both architects and officials. The trainings are organized by the Bielsko-Biala branch of SARP and the Silesian Regional Chamber of Architects with the support of the Bielsko-Biala City Hall. The meetings are held in the City Hall hall hall, and designers and officials from both the Bielsko-Biala office and neighboring municipalities are invited to attend. The trainings, which were immediately met with a positive response, make it possible not only to deepen one's knowledge of the new construction law, but also to learn about different points of view on the same issue. Besides, on their occasion somewhere the formal relationship between petitioner and office disappears, and is replaced by mutual understanding and willingness to cooperate.

: Is Bielsko-Biala still "Little Vienna"?

Maciej: I haven't met a person who would not be charmed by Bielsko after arriving there. It is enough to go to the old town and walk among the beautifully restored tenement houses. But caring for the high quality of architecture, which is one of the Association's major goals, would not be possible if it were not for close cooperation with city institutions. Thanks to it, Bielsko-Biala is one of the four cities that qualified for the second stage of efforts to become the European Capital of Culture 2029. At the city's request, we also conducted a competition for the development of an urban-architectural concept for the new headquarters of the Banialuka Puppet Theater with the Green Library, which will soon be resolved. We hope that the new building, with its contemporary architecture, will become an important landmark of the city.

: More and more resorts and hotels are being built in the vicinity of Bielsko-Biała, in the area of the so-called Beskid Five, which includes attractive tourist communities. How do you shape the architecture of this area so that it does not become a second Zakopane in the future?

Maciej: On the tourist map of Poland, the region of the Beskid Five is still an enclave of peace and quiet. Mostly people who like to spend time actively come here. Until recently, we had rather a problem with promoting the area, even though its location is attractive - close to the Silesian agglomeration and the border with Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This was due to insufficient investment in tourist infrastructure. This situation, thanks to the construction of new roads and the support of local governments, has improved. Zywieckie Lake, Szczyrk, Wisla or Ustroń are being rediscovered. In terms of popularity, however, these places are still inferior to Zakopane or other well-known mountain resorts in the world, so I wouldn't be afraid to "trample" them. We also make efforts to ensure that the new development fits in with the character of the area, and its architecture draws on local tradition. To find out, it's best to visit our region.

interviewed: Jozef STACHÓW

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