Giovanni Atena, Director of the ICE Office for Mexico, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic speaks: the contract sector represents an opportunity for Italian designers and brands. Here’s how

Hotel, residential, tourism, shopping centers, infrastructures… These are the sectors in which the major international contract works are focused. But with differentials, often due to the particular historical moment we are experiencing. “In Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic”, explains Giovanni Atena, Director of the ICE Office of these countries, “the hotel, residential and commercial sectors are those of greatest interest for Italian companies today. Because despite major infrastructural investments in ports, airports and metropolitan railway lines, the sector is suffering from the decrease in public investments”.

Let’s start with the Cosa Rica. What is the situation in the delivery of ‘turnkey’ works between public and private?

Let's start with the data. Since January 2017, the construction sector shows a fluctuating trend with a decrease in sectoral GDP until June 2018. In the quarter June-September 2018 there was a brief and marked increase of 10% followed, however, by a new slowdown in the dynamics of growth from September 2018 to today. These data are, above all, the consequence of the decrease in both private and public investments.

How have the client’s requests regarding orders changed in recent months?

It can already be estimated that common areas will take a back seat and private spaces will assume greater importance in both new and existing projects. With one constant: the design will have to adapt to a new normality in which the safety of the individual is guaranteed. One of the main possible alternatives becomes that of adapting pre-existing spaces, but the impact that they may have in adapting to the post Covid-19 era should not be underestimated.

According to the architect Diaz of Ferretería EPA, the current trend is to look for ideas to optimize spaces and make them more efficient and centered on the needs of the individual, leaving aside common areas. Going back to nature, to simple things, to the essential purification of spaces, then. According to Diaz, this change is probably due to the emergence of a need to return to the fundamentals, eliminating extra or unnecessary baggage that was carried around and that was reflected in personal spaces.

Besides Diaz, are there other active and interesting designers, even Italians?

Costa Rican historiography has assigned to Italian architects and craftsmen the role of contractors and importers of construction materials, as well as that of experts in working with traditional techniques such as stone and marble, even in an ornamental key. They talk about works of great importance such as the National Theater. Instead, there are others in which Italian architects and craftsmen have participated that are today at risk such as, for example, the chapel of the Asilo Chapuí in San José, in addition to the Tajamar of Puerto Limón, together with architectural and engineering artifacts made in the twentieth century.

All right, that’s the story. Looking ahead, however, what is the situation? Are there any noteworthy works and situations in which our designers and brands can find interesting market niches?

Undoubtedly a flagship remains the Ruta Barranca - Limonal: the project financed by the Inter-American Development Bank which involves the construction of connecting infrastructural works called Cuatro Cruces, Monteverde, Judas de Chomes, GuacimalPozo Azul and La Irma, in addition to modernization bridges over the San Miguel, Naranjo, Ciruelas, Seco, Aranjuez, Sardinal, Guacimal, Lagarto, Cañamazo, Congo and Abangares rivers. And finally it includes the construction of a pedestrian and cycle promenade.

Let’s move instead to the Dominican Republic. What is the situation in the delivery of turnkey works between public and private?

Here we start from an encouraging fact. After years of work and waiting, we can report the approval of the new law no. 47/20 which regulates the whole process of public-private alliances, aiming to facilitate the development of infrastructures and services of social interest in the country. The recently approved law will hopefully lead to an increase in infrastructure investments and has the peculiarity of regulating the entire process of the works that will be contracted out from design to delivery of the works.

It is clear that, within this new framework, opportunities open up for Italian designers who will be able to seek alliances with private groups that will participate in the development of the new infrastructure plan. Considering that the works must be congruent with various economic, social and environmental parameters, Italian architects can certainly bring added value.

In which areas is the contract for large supplies most significantly developed?

The sectors of interest in recent years are mainly related to hotel tourism development, along the coast and in the country’s capital. In recent years, several international groups have entered the hotel sector (Sheraton, Ramada, Radisson, Gansevoort) and pre-Covid data estimated the construction of 5,000 new housing units per year with the aim of reaching 45,000 by 2025 to accommodate the 10 million tourists expected on that date. Laws n. 158/01 and n. 195/13 offer significant tax advantages to sector initiatives. It should also be noted that the residential and commercial construction sector is experiencing a real boom in various areas of the country.

How have the client’s requests changed in recent months?

The construction of offices and residential towers, after a stop of a few months in the first period of the pandemic, shows good dynamism again.

Who are the most active and interesting designers in this area? Are there many Italians?

The influence of Italian design and architecture in the Dominican Republic are well known. Suffice it to say that the Palacio Nacional was designed by the Italian architect Guido D’Alessandro Lombardi or that one of the deans of national architecture Rafael Calventi studied and trained in Rome as a pupil of Pier Luigi Nervi and, once back in the Caribbean country, defines an architectural trend known as ‘Eje Italia’ (Asse Italia) together with the equally famous Dominican architects Victor Bisonó and Manuel Salvador Doi Guatier, integrating the concept of history and humanism into the vision of the project. To return to our days, the first RD Design Week organized in 2019 which saw Italy as a guest of honor and the presence of several Italian architects as speakers at various conferences should be remembered.

Without a doubt, there is the possibility of finding good areas for expansion in the design and furnishing of hotels, shopping centers, offices and residential works. As regards the infrastructural works, however, let us not forget that important Italian companies, such as Impregilo and Acea, are already present in the country and that good opportunities could arise from alliances or orders from large groups in the sector. Last but not least, among the projects currently in progress, there is the construction and modernization of the metropolitan railway network with the consequent construction or renovation of its stations.