Building a Better, Greener Future for Budapest

Office Market

The Budapest Business Journal’s Real Estate editor, Gary J. Morrell, speaks with Éva Beleznay, an architect, planner and senior sustainability consultant at the Hungary Green Building Council (HuGBC) about the sustainable development challenges that Budapest faces.

Éva Beleznay

BBJ: What influence have accreditation bodies like LEED/BREEAM and WELL had on the design, sustainability and efficiency of office buildings in Hungary and across Central Europe?

Éva Beleznay: The major international certification systems introduced new approaches in office buildings design. Daylighting and the role of natural light, glare control, acoustic performance, comfort levels evaluation and design provide a healthier environment for workers, which are proven by researchers to increase work efficiency and reduce health problems. WELL was especially developed to focus primarily on the people by supporting human health and well-being issues. As for the technical features of office buildings, metering and sub-metering of the building’s energy and water use helps facility managers to monitor and correct problems. Commissioning of building services and their seasonal re-evaluation and adjustments, if done properly, highly increases building efficiency.

BBJ: Is sustainability now the norm in office, retail, hotels, public buildings and sports stadia developments?  

EB: LEED or BREEAM green building certification in the newly built office market has become a norm. The more than 500,000 sqm of office space under development all targets LEED or BREEAM. WELL certification is less widespread, but on the rise, along with the other certifications. In the existing building market, the number of certifications has increased significantly, mostly in BREEAM “In-Use” schemes. According to Colliers International research, 15% of the Budapest office stock is green certified.

Certifications are also gaining ground and increasing in the industrial and retail sectors, as well as in the Hungarian national government’s public building projects.

BBJ: How could the look of Budapest and urban development be improved from a development perspective?

EB: There are quite a number of urban development opportunities in Budapest for developers and investors. The so called transition zone surrounding the center city holds an immense under-used and brownfield area that can be developed into urban spaces. According to the City of Budapest Brownfield Register, nearly 3,500 plots belong to the brownfield category, with a total area of 2,945 hectares.

Other opportunities lie in the sub-center system, which is highly emphasized in the city’s strategic documents. The intermodal areas, where people change transport modes (such as from cars to public transport) provide a great opportunity for retail and service projects by private developers, complementing the infrastructure and transport investments of the public sector (involving the Budapest authority, district authorities, national railroad company, and Budapest Transport Company).

As for a horizontal theme, the “Smart Budapest – Smart City Framework” was adopted by the city assembly in May 2019 to call attention to the priority areas of innovative, smart ways of urban living and development.

BBJ: How can office, hotel and infrastructural development progress while preserving the historic feel of the center of Budapest?

EB: The regeneration of the historic center area of Budapest is an ongoing process, with lots of successful projects, but still more to complete. The energy-efficient retro-fitting of old buildings, while preserving the historic character, is a great challenge. There are still a number of empty lots in the historic city center area. The Budapest Regulation Plan sets the FAR [floor area ratio] and other density and infrastructure requirements as well as building heights. Local regulation plans and ordinances provide further detailing for real estate in different districts. The districts’ “Decrees on the Protection of Townscape” further develops standards for protected areas and buildings, as well as restrictions on public space advertisements.

BBJ: How can the transport infrastructure be improved?

EB: According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), four key metrics define sustainable urban form: density; land-use mix; connectivity; and accessibility. By achieving the first two, we can reduce transport needs. No motorized transport is the best: it reduces pollution and saves on the time we spend by travelling in addition to a number of other benefits like reduced infrastructure material use, people’s health etc. Connectivity refers to street density and design. Smaller blocks that allow frequent changes in direction and well-furnished street design have a positive correlation with walking and thereby lower GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. Accessibility to jobs, housing, services and shopping by a variety of transport modes – walking, bicycle, public transport, cars – increases the efficient use of cities by people.

BBJ: How should the city and national governments promote and facilitate the sustainable development of the city?

EB: On one hand, the legal framework should clearly promote carbon reduction, and facilitate investments that are less burdensome on the environment. On the other hand, incentive systems should help innovative, climate-friendly developments and also help innovative companies move up the value chain of the construction industry, in order to equalize costs and therefore promote market progress.

To meet climate change targets, the rate of building energy renovation needs to more than double. Some 40% of Europe’s carbon emissions come from its buildings, out of which 97% are inefficient. The World Green Business Council’s Europe Regional Network calls attention to the need for green mortgages. The National Bank of Hungary (MNB, the central bank of Hungary) has started a green program to facilitate the development of risk management and business practices that support environmental sustainability. The MNB has joined the Advisory Council of the Energy Efficient Mortgages Pilot Scheme.

BBJ: What city could be a model for the future of Budapest?  

EB: My favorite city is Barcelona, where the urban policy has very wisely been conducted over the past decades. After the Franco regime, Barcelona was a poor and run-down city with a shortage of public resources: the national government favored Madrid. The low-budget public space program in the 1980s started the transformation of the city, connecting segregated areas, improving livability and initiating private investments. The next decision, to host the 1992 Olympic Games was on one hand to bring international attention to Barcelona, but even more importantly to use the Games for urban regeneration and infrastructure projects. like opening kilometers of sandy beach to the residents. Though its systematic infrastructure projects – port refurbishment, high-speed train, and today’s 22@Barcelona – the city offers a framework for investments and thus prevents suburbanization by creating an opportunity. And finally, the last years represented smart city projects and engagement of local residents and businesses as a forward-looking urban policy.

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