Celebrating the ‘Fingerprints’ of Architects and Investors


Zsolt Miklóshalmi

Zsolt Miklóshalmi, director of architecture at Óbuda Group, discusses the synergies between the architecture, interior design, sustainability consultancy, and project management elements of the firm. He believes bringing them together under one roof has underscored three decades of success.

BBJ: How long has Óbuda Group operated in the real estate market, and how big is the company?

Zsolt Miklóshalmi: The Hungarian-owned Óbuda Group has operated in Hungary and the Central European region for more than 35 years. The company has been involved in many of the country’s most significant real estate investments in the last few years. Our more than 250 professionals specialize in large-scale (more than 10,000 sq m) office, industrial, residential and public realm real estate, as well as infrastructural developments.

BBJ: What about the architectural side of the business?

ZsM: Óbuda Group founded the architectural bureau in 2002; since then, it has become one of the largest design studios in Hungary with 80 architects. Our primary focus, beside architectural and integrated design, are concept, BIM, interior, road and utility design, as well as design project management.

BBJ: Should a firm have an architectural fingerprint? Should you be able to identify an “Óbuda school,” or is every project unique?

ZsM: To an extent, it depends on the real estate developer or investor, and, of course, every project is considered individually. But I believe you can still see the “fingerprints” of the “Óbuda school” in two specific characteristics: technical quality and architectural quality.

On every building we work on, you can see the technical quality, the engineering behind the design that makes our work enduring. As for the architecture, I think our mission statement, “Think Ahead,” provides an excellent answer. Our designs are intelligent, responsive and sustainable.

Being intelligent means that we understand the client’s requirements and add our expertise to that. Based on these two things, we create spaces and designs that are responsive, which means that we are not creating buildings for ourselves but for the people who will use them, and we react to the environmental and architectural context. The third quality is sustainability, which is very important nowadays and is becoming more so. We have an in-house sustainability team that advises on and obtains certifications from organizations such as Breeam, Leed, and Well for the projects.

We operate an in-house architectural jury, where we check the quality of the designs. We conduct BIM [Building Information Modeling] and sustainability analysis to reduce waste and make our projects more efficient, which benefits the clients, the investors, and the people who use our buildings.

BBJ: Has sustainability always been something the firm has tried to implement?

ZsM: Thirty-five years ago, it wasn’t in focus in Hungary, but Óbuda Group was one of the first companies that understood the importance of sustainability and established an in-house department to deal with this. We are proud that we obtained the most Breeam certifications in Hungary for our partners, which reflects that we were one of the pioneers and we are one of the market leaders in this industry.

BBJ: What are the latest architectural trends for office design? Is Hungary a trendsetter or a follower?

ZsM: It’s a good question; I think if architecture has a “fingerprint,” the investor has one too. Investors have a massive effect on the market because the architects answer the questions the investors ask. There are trends in the Hungarian market, but they differ in each sector.

Where there are multinational companies, we see that they bring standard requirements across Europe, across the board. But there are other investors, and their focus may differ. In general, all investors understand they are in a race for talents, and one of the critical tools for them is the working environment. After COVID, I would say that all the players are in a race with their employees’ living rooms. That’s why they are looking for high quality, but also something special that can demonstrate their identity towards the workers so that the employees feel they are part of this company and share its values.

We identified four key scopes to ensure the success of a project, besides good architecture: interior design; sustainability; BIM; project management and technical supervision. We can provide all these services in-house, so we can guarantee the building will be of a high-quality standard.

I see a trend where many of these buildings are in a competition with each other, and it has pushed the market toward premium quality. From our point of view, we are happy with this. When the client is interested in quality, we are delighted to add our services to it. Investors are also very interested in energy consumption, and that is somewhere else where we can advise them on how to build and maintain a system that can make the most efficient use of the utilities. One good example is the MOL Campus, where we were contributing as sustainability and CAFM BIM consultants: all the systems are centrally monitored and optimized.

BBJ: What sets you apart from your peers when it comes to architecture and design-related services?

ZsM: Besides our up-to-date professional knowledge, expertise and experience, our USP is the synergy between our architectural studio and project management firm. You can think of it as a “one-stop-shop” where we can provide engineering services from the concept design all the way up to the handover.

BBJ: We know that construction generates a lot of CO2 emissions, but ESG requirements are becoming more stringent, and the circular economy is just beginning to gain ground. Are you optimistic for the future?

ZsM: The circular economy offers an opportunity to investigate these ESG issues more deeply to see where we really should find solutions to be more efficient and sustainable. This is what the world needs in the long term. We have to understand that humans simply cannot create so much waste. Building materials must be optimized, including recycling and waste management. We should treat it as we do with environmental friendly materials in everyday life. For example, for a large part, plastic is not part of our lives anymore, which is good, but there was a time when one could not conceive of a life without bags or bottles made of plastic. This is something similar. We should not imagine our lives without recycling materials, including those used in construction.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 17, 2024.

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