New buildings and modern architecture
In recent years, the state seems to have changed its policy and has become more tolerant in relaxing planning regulations, especially with regard to large scale projects within (and outside) major towns.
With the available areas of land, even those that are relatively large, how can an architect be expected to prepare an inspirational architectural solution when the land coverage factor is fixed, as is the building coefficient, and of course the height – almost i mpossible to create an imaginative design. What we often see in international architecture magazines and considering the few and some not so new designs, a new approach to planning, but especially relaxation, we do not seems to be lagging behind in quality modern architecture style. We have all seen some commendable, mainly office complexes, such as the new Wargaming HQ on Severis avenue in Nicosia, the student halls in Engomi (Rotos), and even the Twin Towers on the Limassol beachfront. There are also the Ministry of Finance and the Supreme Court, the central Planning offices and others, while in terms of hotels I can distinguish the Elysium (Paphos) the Anassa (Polis) the Sunrise Pearl and the timeproven hotels like the Le Meridien and Four Seasons.
We therefore have local, especially young architects with superior quality and knowledge, in addition to the more mature traditional firms of architects who have escaped, when given the opportunity, from the tight limits of our urban planning system.
We are now overwhelmed with holiday complexes, mainly 2-floor structure that occupy the most valuable of properties, the seafront, many of which look like rows of military barracks or refugee camps, such as in the Protaras area, Larnaca-Mazotos, Latchi and Paphos. The only exception is Limassol with local developers and owners reaching to new heights. The new proposal for the development of the space between the old and new port for the construction of offices and other high rises, with vast open spaces and ample parking, is the best that could happen – perhaps becoming the new Manhattan of the eastern Mediterranean, in addition to the other significant new projects in this town, such as the Oval.
In my opinion, except for special parameters like building coefficients, the rest should be left up to the project architect to develop a vision with looser interpretations and applications.
The high-rise buildings which define and architectural skyline of each town is what is missing from the local architecture of Cyprus, which has remained strictly subject to the existing regulations introduced in the ’60s.
So, do we have architects who know how to design the details of their plan based on new trends? From my personal experience of about 40 years in the business, one of the few modern architects of his time was the late Alkis Ioannidis who used to design each window and each nail to be used. There are certainly others of the older school.
• Owners – The meddling by the owners in the architecture is the worst, espealow them to have a say. See, the example of a certain bank in Nicosia which is a mixture of Byzantine architecture, glass, stone, etc.
• Maintenance expenses – These modern buildings have almost double maintenance costs not only because of relaxed common spaces but also because of the large exposures that require increased air conditioning, while the external cleaning of the shell is a problem (due to the absence of proper provisions).
• Regarding privately owned offices or complexes, there might not be a particular problem of maintenance, but in the case of shared ownership of offices or apartments, this could be a sticking point. In a premium project on the Larnaca seafront, the average common expenses and maintenance cost of apartments is about 5,000 euros per unit. For sure, this project will end up a rundown building in a short time. The outdated law on tenancy is one of the reasons of poor maintenance, while another basic criterion is our mentality where we have yet to learned the facts of cohabited life.
• These new buildings, with large open spaces are usually of metal construction. But do we have but the right civil engineers to design such buildings and factories to manufacture the rods? To my knowledge, the architectural plans are usually to a firm in Italy where the steel is built for construction.
• The tall buildings and those with high standards needed ample parking spaces - at least two basements, while the purchase of adjacent land for use as parking (instead of three basements) may be advantageous. They also need 2-3 lifts. In a recent building design that was presented to our office for our opinion on its marketability, for the two underground and nine overground floors, there were two lifts to the 4th floor after which only one continued further up. Creative architecture based on wrong principles – they will now have to add another two external glass elevators to the 4th floor and above.
• Suppliers – Do we have quality suppliers here, such as heavy-duty aluminium manufacturers, which the local craftsmen can utilise? In a recent experience in Limassol, one aluminium installer removed some components of the factory-made frame in Germany because he considered unnecessary, and which then cost 8,000 euros to bring in the original German craftsmen to fix the problem onsite.
So much for younger architects. I believe that until we can deal with problems related high rises (such as winds, etc.), hiring foreign architects in some cases may be necessary, such as the case of the hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai for which the BBC made a 2-hour documentary to explain the problem of cleaning the ground floor aquarium and the humidity that is caused by internal jets that rise three floors. On the same note, lessons should be learned from the Egyptian Museum, the Parliament in Berlin and many others.
I wonder sometimes if these opinions are based on hot air because these views were expressed ten years ago with the worst example being the development of the Paralimni coastal front, where the building coefficient for hotels was cut from 70% was 30% and in housing from 40% to 30% and this after the recommendations of the then urban planner Alexandros Demetriou calling for the increase in the coefficient and height. These were rejected at the time by the Town Planning even mocking to say that “we are not Las Vegas”. What, then, is the problem to break away from rigid minds of the past?
We have a Minister of Interior who seems decisive and perhaps should be persuaded to adopt a new planning policy, if the state’s own technicians advisors let him.