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Thread: 'Tis the age of the branded condo

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    Default 'Tis the age of the branded condo

    Published March 9, 2007

    'Tis the age of the branded condo

    More developers are tapping renowned architects as a selling point for upmarket residential projects, reports CHEAH UI-HOON



    WHAT do residential condominiums like the Habitat at Ardmore, The Tomlinson, The Edge On Cairnhill, The Colonnade, the newly opened Cathay Residences, and the upcoming Reflections on Keppel Bay have in common, besides their high per square foot price?



    Cathay Residences: Its urban skin makes for a very quiet environment, so you get the view, the buzz and convenience of living in the city but not the traffic noise, says Ms Choo


    Besides being high-end, high-rise residences in Singapore, they also form the growing clout of 'branded' condominiums designed by renowned architects; the likes of Moshe Safdie, IM Pei, Paul Tange, Paul Rudolph and Daniel Libeskind.

    Singapore has had well-known architects designing residences since the 80s, but while it might have been done with less buzz in the 80s and 90s, now, such properties are more prominently branded and marketed as architectural masterpieces which those with the means can own a piece of - a few thousand square foot piece, that is.

    Developer Keppel Land has gone to town to brand its Reflections on Keppel Bay project, for instance, making the most of the fact that it's a Daniel Libeskind project - given that Libeskind is well-known as the architect's architect.

    'Residential projects designed by internationally renowned architects are quite highly profiled now, a trend which indicates that Singapore has become a rather sophisticated place, with developers being able to appreciate the value of design and market it to their target audience,' says Erwin Viray, an associate professor of architecture at the National University of Singapore, and who's also the co-editor of the international a+u (Architecture and Urbanism) magazine.

    Engaging internationally renowned architects for residential properties are in vogue now in the island republic, agrees Kelley Cheng, editor of design magazine iSH and editorial director of Page One publishing, known for its design titles.

    'Developers have recognised that there is now a pool of buyers who are ready to pay a premium price for a 'designer label' tagged to their condo, the same way that luxury products work. It speaks of a certain 'lifestyle' that buyers want to be associated with,' she notes.

    Joseph Tan, CB Richard Ellis director (residential), sees it happening in areas such as District 9 and the Central Business District - for their real estate value - and Marina Bay - for their prime views. 'It's happening at unique sites with some form of attractive views; and then the architect can design something out of the norm,' he says.

    It wasn't the norm say 10 years or so ago, he thinks, and this is partly driven by the market. 'As time goes by, buyers of higher-end properties are looking for something different from the run-of-the-mill property,' says Mr Tan.

    Ms Cheng concurs. 'We can safely say that just 10 years ago, few saw architecture as a possible 'brand' and reflection of social status, as people would rather pay for bigger space and not better design. But there's now a substantial pool of people who are sophisticated enough to compromise space for quality design. Clothes, bags, watches, cars are luxuries of yesterday, this is the age of 'branded architecture'.'

    The most exciting projects are in the residential sector in Singapore, says Ms Cheng, the reason being that a lot of Singapore's homegrown architects have been doing fantastic jobs.

    Homegrown designer architects such as SCDA and Woha, for example, had made their names in private residential design. 'But now that architecture is seen as the luxury goods of today, foreign and internationally renowned architects are increasingly being brought into the residential sector as there is now a demand of such 'goods',' she adds.

    Since our own architects, who have won awards for their condominium and bungalow creations, have raised Singapore's architectural profile in more ways than the (arguably duller) public or commercial buildings have done - what's the added benefit of engaging international names?

    'I think there are local architects that are as good,' says Choo Meileen, Cathay Organisation's CEO, 'but we wanted to have input from an international architect who would give The Cathay some fresh elements.'

    The company engaged Tange & Associates for its redevelopment of the heritage cinema site, the retail podium and the residences behind it. 'We wanted an Asian architect who could understand the history behind the building and who would value our history as much as we did and transpose this into a building that would reflect this.

    With regards to the marketing aspect, Ms Choo says that the intrinsic design was far more important, especially as The Cathay Residences aren't for sale, but for long-term lease only. 'The Cathay Residences in a way encapsulates true urban living in Singapore,' she adds. 'The 'urban skin' that Tange designed makes for a very quiet environment, so you get the view, the buzz and convenience of living in the city but not the traffic noise.'

    In the Pontiac Land group's experience - a long-time, if low-key supporter of architectural design - engaging architects such as Paul Rudolph for The Colonnade is a way of enriching the community, says the group's spokesman.

    'We believe that bad architecture screams, while good architecture resonates with who you are,' he says. From the group's viewpoint, it has also observed and understood that 'people's homes are extensions of who they are'.

    'Many well-travelled and cosmopolitan homebuyers in Singapore are looking for ways to express their personal aesthetic identity through their residence,' he adds, hence the long-established practice of engaging Pritzker Architect Prize laureates to 'raise the bar of aesthetic excellence' in Singapore.

    Dr Viray notes that there is actually a good collection of innovative and well-designed residences here, which is often overlooked in the discussion of architecture development in Singapore - probably due to the fact that these residences are private.

    In fact, because of his contacts in the architectural industry, he has often hosted and taken many VIPs around - who want to gain insight into Singapore's architectural development - and they've been won over by Singapore's residential projects.

    'These private residences, many of which have been designed by local architects, really changed their perception of Singapore and the present impression is that Singapore is a very liveable space; because these developments project a certain lifestyle and way of life,' he says.

    Detractors will point out, however, that the extra premium for engaging a world-renowned architect might be a little misspent - given that architects can better show their flair in designing public institutions, or commercial ones such as a hotel, as an industry observer highlighted. Also, is it just a case of form over function?

    Dr Viray sees it differently, saying that these architects can have the liberty to be more experimental. 'A lot of revolutionary ideas about spaces are made and done through residential design,' he says.

    As Ms Cheng points out, there are housebuyers out there who are clearly able to afford premium property with their designer architecture, while as a society, Singaporeans get enriched in less tangible ways - culturally and aesthetically. 'I like it that these foreign architects have helped to liven up the architectural scene, educating the public about architecture, and on the whole, making Singapore a lot more desirable and seductive for other good architects, designers, and artists to come and create something here.'

    Here's the million-dollar question, however: Does branded architecture really draw big spenders? Ultimately, says CBRE's Mr Tan, it's still the 'three factors' - location, location and location - that sells real estate. His practical take on it is that Singapore is seen as an attractive place to invest in, given its lower real estate prices compared to cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong, New York and London. 'That's the one key factor why we've seen more international buyers in the last 18 months,' he says. 'And investors still look at location.'

    So when a property fulfils the three conditions, having a 'branded' design doesn't hurt its profile, and definitely not its sales.

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    Thumbs down Re: 'Tis the age of the branded condo

    Please lah , this is not a LV bag or a dior accessory , those only cost < $1,000 . Those condos are >$1,000 PSF!!! Feel sad for the people that are buying into these hype . LINEAR is also a project by a well known architect , but , there are still many , many units unsold .... Zzzzzzzz , Waterplace won architect award , Top sometime back but still has left over units .... What else ???? ALAS , HYPE ,HYPE and MORE HYPE . Sounds like the DOTCOM HYPE , i remembered even a muslim housewife did up a website thinking that she will profit from it ..... without any knowledge of what to do about it ... LAMBS , SHEEPS and DOGS , beware of the BIG MACHINE . It will eat you up without any mercy .

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