The Business Year

Carlos Ossenbach

Managing Partner, OPB Aquitectos de Costa Rica S.A.

Christian Wolff

Managing Principal, Gensler Latin America

Architectural firms in Costa Rica are competing for excellence in design and service, and given the abundance of opportunities, the future of local design is bright.

What is the current state of the construction and real estate sector?

CARLOS OSSENBACH We have been through crises before, and the one we experienced around a decade ago was much more severe. The government’s finances are being challenged, but the overall economy is stronger than it appears. The remainder of this administration will be somewhat limited in its financial resources, and public works will decelerate. Fortunately, we have been cautious not to base our work too heavily on public business, keeping it at roughly one-third of what we do. Private construction, though decelerating, is still going strong. Our company alone is in the preliminary design stage for office space with an area of above 250,000sqm. Short-term projections might be uncertain, but the country remains an attractive regional destination.

CHRISTIAN WOLFF For a long time, construction was a small economy seeking to grow, but today it is an established component of the economy of Latin America. This gives the country greater depth and makes it a more desirable investment address. Simply realizing a project today is no longer enough; we have to bring value to clients in order to do business. While it is becoming tougher to expand the work pipeline, I see an increased volume of work of a different nature. For a long time, we were undertaking many small projects, while today we are involved in more complex projects, such as important hospitality opportunities.

What will the future landscape of Costa Rica look like?

CO A cursory look at developments over the past five years indicates numerous high-rise buildings. I am worried about residential prices losing control, as that market is highly overpriced. At some point, the market will stagnate, and we may expect deceleration over the next few years. Considering greater San José, we are clearly moving to a scenario where residential and commercial areas are mixed, but not with industrial areas. Those are clearly moving out. The center of San José was a ghost town 15 years ago, but now people are returning, while other municipalities are also becoming livelier. One problem, however, is that infrastructure is not keeping pace in terms of investments in sanitation, water, and roads.

CW Urbanization is a common international tendency, and today 50% of people live in cities. In considering urban areas, we are talking about issues such as the need for effective mobility of the workforce. The answer to these issues is to realize mixed-use projects to curb travel times. The main concern is that mixed-use does not necessarily mean mixing social classes, which is a key concern of mine. In Latin America, we continue to build retail centers because these are perceived as safe venues for family use. We need to find a way of adapting our products to such situations. Embracing diversity and making our cities places where families can walk is our motivation. For example, when considering mobility and commuting, traffic jams can be alleviated by adding sidewalks or cycle lanes.

What have you done differently to support strong growth?

CO In terms of market share, we are among the top three or four companies. I cannot give an exact figure, but we are in that group. You cannot measure difference in quality of design. It must be measured in client satisfaction once the project is completed. Design is the first step, and usually not the most important. The most difficult part is starting to build the project and standing alongside the client for 18 months of construction and facing the difficulties, changes, and conflicts that can arise. Ultimately, when clients are asked who they are most satisfied with, they say OPB. At that point, we are not just among the top three, but the best.

CW When we first arrived here, we knew we had value to bring to the country and a product that would enable our clients to perform better and perceive value differently. Global companies know us from our international projects, and we are often their first choice. Our first projects, then, were those that brought us to the country and made us local. When we succeeded in establishing this local identity, we became truly established in this market, competing with local firms. At that point, we were able to compete on the strength of being a part of the Gensler network with a resource pool of 6,000 people working around the world, including experts available for specific project needs.



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