40 year-old Austrian, Ulrich Früh, is an engineer and architect, living and working in Poland. He is currently working for French real estate development group, Orco, on a luxury high-rise project called Złota 44, in Warsaw.
What do you do?
I develop, design, build and manage ambitious construction projects. Specifically, I am project director for Złota 44, in Warsaw.
What projects have you been involved with and which are you most proud of?
I’ve been working since 15, so at the age of 40, that gives me a couple of projects to choose from. It’s usually the ‘first time in my life achievements’ that remain important memories: my first major refurbishment (Vienna Castle, 1992–1993), my first major construction site abroad (Warsaw University Library 1997–2000), my first 5* high rise tower (Intercontinental Warsaw Hotel, 2000–2004). It is really the psychology of building up efficiently, motivating, teaching and guiding teams of highly specialised engineers that gives me pleasure, and sometimes pride.
What are you doing at the moment?
I am filling out this questionnaire, drinking a cup of espresso and enjoying the first scent of fresh and heavy Warsaw spring air through the open office window, mixing with my team’s buzzing activity on my construction site.
How long have you lived in Poland and what do you like about it?
I first came to Poland in 1997 and I like:
• The possibilities and dynamic changes in a young democracy. It is catching up and is not yet ‘completed’.
• The light that is more northern than in Austria, the fact that it stays light longer on summer evenings.
• The taste of fruit that does not yet taste like everywhere else in the EU.
• The humour, the musicality and the ability to improvise of the Polish people.
• The memory of young Polish people of how it is to have close to nothing, their ability to survive with little.
• The countryside; the Mazurian lakes and the coast, as well as the mountains in the south.
• The Polish language and the beauty of some of the ladies.
• Warsaw jazz clubs.
• Polish food isn’t bad either.
You live in a hotel; what’s that like?
Yes, I currently live in a hotel I designed and built, but I have a proper apartment there, so I really can’t complain. Living in such surroundings allows me to really focus on my projects, since all my needs are taken care of, whenever I want. As demanding as the hospitality business is, I just love this 5* hotel concept, which creates a cosmos where everything is taken care of. It’s my favourite type of architecture.
Where do you consider home?
Home is where my friends, family and projects are. Austria has always been my home and Poland has become a second home to me; another country might become home in the future.
As an Austrian currently living in Poland, how do you think the two countries are equipped to cope with the current recession?
Difficult to say, since it’s still not possible to comprehensively assess many aspects. In terms of a social welfare system, I consider Austria to be better established and to have bigger reserves than Poland. Also, Austria has done well in preparing major public investments ahead of the crisis, which may help the economy faster than the measures prepared by the Polish government. In terms of the people’s attitude, I appreciate the Poles for being good and possibly better than the average Austrian when it comes to adapting and improvising in difficult times. Add the EU funds Poland is currently getting and it might lead to a faster recovery. However, I am neither a professor of economics, nor a prophet, so let’s see.
How is the recession affecting the construction industry?
The construction industry was the third group to be heavily affected, after the banking and the real estate sector, at the same time as the automotive and other major industries. Everything has changed. Loan to equity requirements, pre-sales or pre-rent percentages to be achieved prior to construction; generally financing conditions have become a lot more demanding and will remain at this level in the mid-future. Expectations regarding turnover and return on investment will have to be revised. Fewer developments will be realised, development periods might last longer and competition will get tougher. Only the fittest will survive. However, big shifts in terms of wealth and ownership are already taking place and the construction business might partially profit from these changes. Likewise, sustainability of construction will become more important, contributing to a boost in the construction industry. Public investments might fill a couple of holes.
How many languages do you speak? Your CV says you can learn languages on demand. Sounds handy. How do you do that?
On a somewhat acceptable level, I speak 4 languages. I can get by in a couple of other languages. Learning languages was made easy for me by my parents, who sent me to the Vienna International School. After your first foreign language, the others are easier. Learn 10 words a day and after a month, you’re starting to communicate, after 3 months you’re starting to have fun and after a year you can speak without any problems. Languages are essential for meeting people and for communication.
What do you do to relax?
Mountain biking: I love riding bikes and I love mountains, so that’s a perfect combination. Feeling my body breathing, sweating, struggling, experiencing beautiful nature, achieving a goal and the adrenaline rush of riding downhill make me happy, gives me energy. I started riding the bikes young and had my first hospital experience at the age of 5 (I’ve become slightly better since then…).
I also play chess; one of my uncles was a German chess champion. It is a very creative and intelligent game. It helps me clear my mind. Cooking also relaxes me and in comparison to a major development project, it’s fast and easy.
What is your favourite book?
Out of hundreds, I would mention a children’s book, Higgelty Piggelty Pop or There Must Be More to Life, by Maurice Sendak. I would also recommend most thrillers by Jan Willem Van de Wetering.
Do you have any vices?
Sure, who doesn’t?
Is there anything you would like to add?