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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Best Modern Houses

Powell: "I tried to do this book 10 years ago but there weren’t enough decent houses or talent." Photograph by Johnni Wong

Author, urban designer and former academic Robert Powell, 66, initially refused to pick his favourite house among the 25 featured in his latest book, The New Malaysian House.

"I’m not going to answer that. Every house was carefully selected. I visited them all with one exception. I actually looked at 40 houses and all have specific qualities," said Powell who was in Kuala Lumpur recently. He is now based in London where he resides with his KL-born wife, Shantheni Choralingam.

But the prolific author did point out that he loved the Sekeping Serendah house by architect and owner Ng Seksan because, "I slept in it". He also loved architect Kerry Hill’s Bukit Ledang Housein Federal Hill, KL, because the valley was an extension of the living space.

Powell remarked that new houses in Malaysia now are very different from houses in Singapore, where he resided, and taught at the National University of Singapore from 1984-2001.

"It used to be the case, some 20 years ago, that builders would flatten the site but now architects are more confident of building according to the land form. It has become much more interesting as houses now have views."

How did the author come up with a list and know which houses to select? "I know of a couple of well-known architects like Jimmy Lim, Ken Yeang and Kerry Hill for some 20 years and others like Frank Ling and Pilar Gonzalez-Herraiz for about 10 years and also younger architects like Kevin Low," said Powell.

"I started asking around and they recommended others who produce the same sort of (modern) architecture. And there are those coming out of the institute (Malaysian Institute of Architects / PAM). But also, little groups of people like Ng Seksan and Wooi Lok Kuang. Wooi had worked for Jimmy Lim and little bits of Jimmy Lim came out of the houses that he has done."

Powell regard such groups as a loose collective of intellectuals with an affinity for each other’s architectural work.

"Interestingly, every architect featured in the book has spent some formative years working abroad. They came back and brought with them new ideas and adapted them to the particular climate and culture."

The original list had 40 houses and the selection was limited by the author’s time and schedule.

"I didn’t have a fixed idea of what this book should be about. I talked with architects. They each have a common connection and interaction with the landscape in their work."

Does Powell detect a common trend in Malaysian architecture?

"Surprisingly, no. Some countries do reflect a great deal of repetition in local architecture. But there is a wide variety here from vernacular to contemporary that reflect a spectrum of approaches."

Among the houses featured in the book highlighted by Powell include the Johor House at the Leisure Farm Resort, Enderong House and Sum Sum Valley Housein Bukit Janda Baik. For houses that are regarded as experimental, the author picks the Mud Houses in Serendah, Rawang.

And out of the work of the 25 architects featured, Powell was proud to point out that 21 were Malaysian.

"I tried to do this book 10 years ago but there weren’t enough decent houses or talent. Even seven years ago this couldn’t be done.

"Now, Malaysian architecture is recognised as being of international standards. To be honest, I’ve only just scratched the sur¬face."

Which among the houses would Powell pick to represent the best of modern Malaysian architecture?

"The Sum Sum Valley House by Choo Gim Wah. This three-storey house is a concrete-and-glass structure sited in the jungle. It is a beautifully modern house in Bukit Janda Baik, some 40km from Kuala Lumpur.

"When inside the house, one can ‘touch’ the greenery outside. And from the outside, the house is almost transparent. This is pure modernist architecture. That would be my choice, closely followed by - for entirely different reasons - Ernesto Bedmar’s Sadeesh House. So sensuous."

And after authoring 27 books including the "seminal", The Asian House Powell has become wiser about production quality. He has his fair share of dreadful photographers, such as one who is notorious for underexposed pictures. "I’ll never work with him again," stressed Powell.

For this new book, he worked with Singapore-based Albert Lim Koon Seng whose works have been published widely in architectural journals, according to the book jacket. But hey, didn’t we see similar pictures of the Tierra House supplied by Frank and Pilar’s architectural firm, Architron Design Consultants? Perhaps, I missed the due credits.

By The Star (by

Belleview plans 8 new projects

PENANG: The Belleview group plans to launch eight commercial and residential projects here with an estimated gross sales value of RM1.2bil in the first half.

Managing director Sunny Ho told reporters the projects included an upmarket shopping mall, which was a joint venture between the group, Lion group, and a US-based investment fund company.

The shopping mall, located in the heart of Georgetown, would have total lettable area of 600,000 sq ft, he said.

Sunny Ho

“The other big project for 2008 is Season Park, comprising 800 condominium units in Air Itam.

“We plan to price the units from RM180,000, depending on the built-up area, which ranges from 850 to 2,000 sq ft,” he added.

Other projects lined up include the Palmyra Residences in Balik Pulau comprising terrace and semi-detached houses, 6 Western Avenue in Jalan Utama comprising solely bungalows, Seasons Place in Air Itam, comprising solely commercial properties, Melody Homes in Air Itam, comprising apartments with recreational facilities, Bukit Dumbar Residences in Bukit Dumbar, a landed residential project, and Moulmein Rise in Pulau Tikus, a luxurious commercial-cum-residential project.

“We will also be launching our new logo on the first day of Chinese New Year to re-brand and reposition the Belleview group and better reflect the diversity of our projects in 2008.

“We have also allocated RM4mil to RM5mil for advertisement and promotion of our new property launches this year,” Ho said.

Founded in 1984, the Belleview group has to date completed 4,238 residential and commercial properties in Penang and Kulim, Kedah, with an estimated gross sales value of RM1.3bil.

By The Star (by David Tan)

Frost & Sullivan: Mideast will be major FDI source

MALAYSIA will see a 10 to 15 per cent growth in foreign direct investment (FDI) this year, according to global growth consulting company Frost & Sullivan.

Its South Pacific partner and managing director, Manoj Menon, said the FDI will spill into sectors like services, manufacturing, real estate, property, and retail.

"We believe this year Malaysia will see growth in investment and it may come from the Asian region and the Middle East," Menon said at a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

"The Middle East is looking aggressively at the Malaysian market. So, for the Iskandar Development Region, we see collaborations increasing substantially," he said.

Menon said the top three FDI contributors are expected to be the Middle East, China and India.

"The overall outlook for 2008 is that investors are going to be a little bit cautious in making investments. Still, the FDI from Asia will grow in terms of value," he said.

Frost & Sullivan's director of chemicals, materials and food, Asia Pacific, Kumaraguru Veerasamy, said crude palm oil (CPO) prices are expected to soften to RM2,800 per tonne this year.

"We estimate that it should taper off at about RM2,800," he said.

"Malaysia exports 80 per cent of palm oil while the balance is for the local consumption, so I'm quite perplexed to understand why there is a shortage," he added.

According to Veerasamy, bioethanol is seen as the next market trend as in the case of biodiesel last year due to high feedstock prices.

Bioethanol is used as a petrol substitute and is mainly produced by the sugar fermentation process although it can also be manufactured by the chemical process of reacting ethylene with steam, he said.

Frost & Sullivan's Asia Pacific head of automotive and transportation practice, Kavan Mukhtyar, said the Malaysian automotive industry is expected to grow seven per cent this year.

"We believe that replacement car buyers, a lot of interesting new models and the fairly positive economic outlook for 2008 are among the factors driving sales," he said.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the healthcare market in Asia Pacific will grow to US$236.5 billion (RM766.26 billion) this year, a compound annual growth rate of 10 per cent, from US$214.8 billion (RM696 billion) last year.

By Bernama

Landmarks shares jump on news of Bintan deal

Shares of Landmarks Bhd jumped yesterday after the property firm inked an agreement that allows it to embark on licensed activities such as gaming at Indonesia's Bintan island.

The shares rose 22 sen or 7.4 per cent to RM3.18 at almost double the previous day's trading volume.

Early yesterday, research house ECM Libra reiterated its "buy" call on Landmarks and raised its target price to RM5.12 from RM3.68 before.

It became more bullish on the firm after the subsidiary - Bintan Treasure Bay Pte Ltd - announced an alliance with an Indonesian company, allowing the former to undertake certain activities at its Bintan Treasure Bay project.

These activities are medical tourism, multimedia and information technology hosting, as well as games and entertainment, including gaming.

Landmarks will pay the company, PT Wisata Hiburia, 10 per cent of its net profit from the integrated resorts project.

"While details are sketchy at the moment, we are very upbeat on the prospect of the proposed development of international class integrated resorts within such close proximity to Singapore," ECM said in a report yesterday.

Another research house, Aseambankers, also felt that the development is positive to Landmarks and its major shareholder, Genting Bhd, as this puts them a step closer towards realising plans to set up a casino in the proposed integrated resort in Bintan's Lagoi Bay.

However, the research house remains concerned as to how this development will fit into the framework of Indonesia's national anti-gambling laws.

It is also uncertain as to how Indonesia's predominantly Muslim population will react to the setting up of the country's first legal casino.

"We believe there could still be a few other approvals required before this integrated resort project takes off.

"Nevertheless, should Landmarks get all the necessary approvals to build the casino, this will significantly boost the profitability of the proposed Lagoi project," Aseambankers said in a note to clients yesterday.

It is understood that such as casino will cater only to foreign tourists and non-Muslims, it added. In 2007,

Bintan attracted around 330,000 visitors last year, mainly from Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

Aseambankers maintained its "hold" recommendation on Genting, with an unchanged target price of RM7.50.

Genting, which owns about 30 per cent of Landmarks, rose 25 sen to close at that target price yesterday.

By New Straits Times (by Adeline Paul Raj)

Berjaya Land aborts Vietnam project

BERJAYA Land Bhd's plans of developing residential and commercial properties in Vietnam's Nhon Trach district has fallen through.

In an announcement to Bursa Malaysia yesterday, Berjaya Land said it will not proceed with its co-development plans with Tin Nghia Co Ltd, a leading state-owned enterprise in Dong Nai.

The property development is inclusive of its transportation and infrastructure network.

"The board wishes to inform that after much discussion and consideration, the parties involved have decided not to proceed with the project based on the findings of the feasibility study report," Berjaya Land said.

Berjaya Land had signed a memorandum of understanding in November 9, 2006 but the memorandum will now be mutually terminated by the related parties.

By New Straits Times

Mideast investors keen to list REITs in Malaysia, Singapore

MIDDLE Eastern investors are keen to list property trusts in Malaysia and Singapore, said AmanahRaya-JMF Asset Management Sdn Bhd Datuk Mohamad Azahari Moha-med Kamil.

Singapore and Malaysia dominate the real estate investment trust (REIT) market in Southeast Asia, with a total market value of about US$22 billion (RM71.28 billion), he said in a statement.

Malaysian REITs have yields of around seven per cent, which is attractive to investors, especially for those who seek long-term stable return investments in the real estate sector.

"While Singapore, considered as a developed market for REITs, currently has weighted average yield of 4.9 per cent," he said.

Malaysia has some 11 REITs listed on Bursa Malaysia with a market value of about US$1.6 billion (RM5.18 billion). There is also a lot of growth potential as REITs are still buying assets to expand while new ones are preparing to get listed, he said.

Azahari attended the REIT Review Asia 2008 conference held in Singapore last Wednesday. Earlier on Tuesday, he was one of the panelists discussing REIT markets in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Azahari said liquidity is still investors' main consideration when looking at REITs, which means that the size of a trust matters.

They also look at a REIT's strategy to grow and improve yield.

"The only Malaysian REIT rated by Standard & Poors' as investable grade, AmanahRaya-Reit in 2007 had demonstrated a fine example of an attractively managed REIT that saw its asset size successfully increasing to almost double, its gearing reduced, and its projected yield improved by 50 basis points, all within less than a year after its listing on Bursa Malaysia."

AmanahRaya has tied up with Gapuraprima Group, a reputable Indonesia developer listed on the Jakarta Stock exchange. They are targeting to list a regional REIT in Singapore this year.

"We are expecting a consistent increase in the market capitalisation in Singapore and Malaysia, and we are confident that more investors will consider investing REITs in their portfolio.

"With the recent sub-prime, credit crunch and banking crisis, there would be opportunities for asset managers to conduct portfolio rebalancing and we believe that REITs will continue to be preferred in view of its defensive risk profile," he said.

By New Straits Times