Bratislava’s new paradigm benefits Penta’s Southbank scheme

Published: 11. 06. 2024

After years of preparation work, Penta is submitting EIA documentation for its Southbank project. It’s a major step for the scheme, which could involve as much as 200,000 sqm of new real estate and take a decade to complete. Divided roughly 50/50 between residential and office space, Southbank requires changes to Bratislava’s masterplan.

But as Penta’s country manager Juraj Nevolnik explains, the city’s constructive approach to the mega-project marks an important shift. “There’s been a change in the paradigm,” he says. “The city’s trying to find ways to enable the development of a 15-minute city.” And it’s a good thing, too. “Bratislava is very loosely built, so if you don’t allow construction 200 meters from the CBD, then investors will build on the outskirts. But then you have people commuting from the suburbs by car or public transport. That’s less efficient than giving them the opportunity to live in the city center.”

Southbank’s design will create a lot of those opportunities: as many as 1,000 apartments along with offices that should create thousands of job opportunities. Penta bought the project from HB Reavis back in 2022, then announced an international architectural competition for the zone.

The winners, Snøhetta and Studio Egret West, came up with the solution for the tricky issue of flood protection, as the ground level of the area will have to be raised. Normally, this would have led to the destruction of numerous trees, but the studio came up with the idea for a series of variously themed ‘bowls’ – public space zones where the original trees are preserved. These will include a “play bowl” for children, a “cultural bowl” with an amphitheater and a ‘tranquility bowl’ for those in search of some peace and quiet.

Nevolnik says decisions about the use of public space are key for developments of this size. “We believe that we are taking something from the public,” he says. “We take space, so we have to give something back. What we give back is a better place to spend time. It’s not about the buildings, but what’s between them.” By including the mayor of Bratislava’s old town and other local representatives, Penta secured some crucial buy-in from the public sphere. City-led coordination is also important in view of JTRE’s Lido project nearby, a major investment that borders on Southbank.

Nevolnik says that despite a certain loss of control over the outcome, the architectural competition process ends up benefiting the quality and success of the project. “You hear different opinions and other ideas about how to approach your plot and the challenges each plot has. It’s an important process for you as a developer because it forces you to think about the project from many different ways and probably leads to better solutions.”

As for the risks involved in making such ambitious plans for the office sector, Nevolnik says the best companies will always need space – and the technical demands for their space is always rising. “You can work from home but you can’t build a corporate culture from home,” he says. “Over the long-run, I’m super-positive on offices.”

Penta is also positive about its opportunities in Bratislava but is limiting itself to just five projects. Five large projects, to be more specific. “One of the lessons we’ve learned is that when we came to a location and were the first to start building, we established the location, developed it and then somebody else came and basically harvested the fruits of our work by building adjacent to it. We were maybe too cautious not to build so much land in one location but actually in the end we didn’t capitalize on our efforts.” The developer has targeted schemes from premium products down to lower-middle. “We don’t want to do low-cost because there’s too much competition. We cannot compete with the lowest price simply because of who we are and how we build.”

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