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Gods of GFA: a confession

This is my confession, compared to 14 years of professional activity as urban planner in Vietnam and in South East Asia

The first thing they teach you when you start working for an urban planning design office is the GFA: gross floor area. In Italy it is called gross floor surface (SLP). This is the surface of the overall construction plan, bounded by the perimeter walls of the building and which may or may not include extensions of the same such as terraces and balconies depending on the local regulation.

Mostly, it is limited to identifying the coverage ratio of the building, ie its footprint. Its multiplication by the numbers of the floors of the building, excluding the underground parking lots / floors, results in the total gross floor area of the urban intervention (GFA). Obviously the experts are perfectly aware of this urban planning parameter.

The point I intend to raise in this short article is its influence in the design process. Gods of GFA are the urban speculators, the unscrupulous real estate agents, the urban development real estate companies eager for an economic return on the investment based on the quantity and not on the quality of the same.

Destroyers of the city and of the territory, not caring for the environmental, social and economic consequences of the projects, but rather for the economic return of the initiative very quickly: reaping the maximum profits from the sale - for the most part ex ante the realization of the same - real estate development based on maximizing the building quantities and reducing the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Unfortunately, semi-gods of GFA, are also the designers, architects and urban planners, who unconsciously, initially or reiterating in search of more salaries, supremely accept or take for granted such logics. Soon they will realize that it is not possible to produce urban quality, nor to legitimize their work from a professional and ethical point of view. Besides, this is my confession, compared to 14 years of professional activity as urban planner in Vietnam and in South East Asia.

The GFA maximization has a limit imposed by the relationship of the buildings to each other and to the relationship with the overall urban context.

They are urban planning rules, those dictated by the distance of the buildings and the aerial / illuminating relationship, as well as the capacity of the lot and its infrastructures to accommodate certain densities, which all the architects know and which are mostly ignored in almost all the urbanization and residential development interventions I have witnessed in the projects to which I have tried to make my pre-eminent contribution in the context of South East Asia.

For the most part, these problems, in the absence of a framework of urban planning regulation at local level (as in most countries of South East Asia), are resolved on a level of mere public-private bargaining.

The urban planning standards are reduced to the minimum allocation of parking spaces, to the minimum distances of respect, to the internal circulation and for fire safety purposes.

The solution of architects and urban designers occurs mostly in ornamental operations, such as the design of hi-tech and crystallized facades, if not a design of the landscape to the simple benefit of private users of the interior but certainly not accessible to the rest of the local community, if not paying the ticket of the shopping center or multi-commercial complex so designed.

Mea culpa, insofar as the designer's responsibility cannot be supplanted by the public responsibility for urban planning regulation of the territories whose interior must find its limits and its possibilities.

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