Architect-developer Yeang ready for more projects

I've retired, this is just a hobby," jokes Datuk Kenneth Yeang. However, the 65-year-old architect is far from done despite all his accomplishments; he loves his job too much.

Yeang is known as the father of bioclimatic skyscrapers — low-energy skyscapers built with environmentally and climatically sensitive forms and construction methods. He has been a director at T.R. Hamzah & Yeang since 1976 and at British architecture firm Llewelyn Davies Yeang since 2005.

In three decades, Yeang has amassed a portfolio of over a dozen high-rise towers and over 200 projects. He was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal by the Malaysian Institute of Architects in 2011.

What is less known is that Yeang is also a property developer. His company — The Yeangs Sdn Bhd (YSB) — was formed in the 1950s by his late mother Louise Yeang as a property holding and investment company. Yeang is the chairman and one of four shareholders of the company, which focuses on niche markets, bespoke and hyper-green moderate to high-end residential projects and mixed-use developments.

"YSB was more into investment until 2004 when we embarked on our first project — Peel Avenue Homes — in Penang. We had land that was ripe for development and Peel Avenue was a way for us to learn the business," remarks Yeang.

Peel Avenue features four luxury bungalows that have an average of 4,500 sq ft. In keeping with the company's philosophy of ecologically sustainable design, the bungalows have spacious built-up areas, air-conditioning in key spaces and plenty of natural light and ventilation. Priced between RM1.72 million and RM2.31 million, all four units were sold within days of their launch.

"We became more confident after Peel Avenue. Going into property development also gave us an opportunity to become our own client. It's interesting, sometimes as an architect, that you don't really understand how a developer works. By doing this, we actually learnt a number of things that helped me improve my architecture practice," Yeang points out.

Two key developer concerns that Yeang understood better were the budget and the request to redo the design of a development.

"We realised that budget is very important. Even if it's just slightly off, it can throw the developer's financials out of sync. You must always respect the developer's budget."

It is not uncommon for developers to ask architects to redo the design of their developments, sometimes several times, which Yeang admits is not something he is fond of.

"There is this feeling that the developer doesn't know what it is doing. But we came to realise when developers ask you to redo the design, it is because they are developing their products and things need to be changed to enhance the products."

With more experience and a completed development under its belt, YSB is ready to tackle a bigger project — Y Cantonments.

First of its kind

According to Y K Woo, development manager of YSB, Y Cantonments is the first of its kind in Penang. The 20-unit townhouse project differentiates itself from the saturated luxury condominium market in Penang by combining the convenience and security of condominiums with the luxury of owning a landed property.

Sitting on Cantonment Road in a low-density upmarket neighbourhood, the 4-storey units are between 4,200 and 6,500 sq ft in size. Priced at an average of RM3.6 million, each unit comes with its own lift, in-house parking, a master bedroom taking up a whole level with an outdoor plunge pool, en suite bedrooms, smart home features and a private rooftop garden. The project has a gross development value (GDV) of RM75 million.

"It is designed for the extended family. There are five bedrooms plus a maid's room. For an old couple in a master family, the private lift can be very important and it is designed to fit a wheelchair. Eight years ago, I fell down and was in a wheelchair for a month. It was then that I realised how valuable things like a lift are," remarks Yeang.

He adds that instead of a communal car park, Y Cantonments' parking space is on the ground floor of each unit, making it safe for the residents to come and go as they like.

As expected of Yeang's designs, green features are important. The development was designed to attain Green Building Index (GBI) Platinum rating. Among its green features are building orientation, vertical planting, rainwater harvesting, Bio Swale - a type of storm water filtration system, passive cooling and natural lighting.

YSB started selling Y Cantonments in January and has since sold five units.

"The response has been good. We have another buyer ready to buy a unit and if that goes through, that would make it six. One of the owners is Datuk Jimmy Choo [the world-renowned couture shoe designer who is a Penang boy]," says Woo.

According to Yeang, the breakeven for Y Cantonments is six units. "We are going to keep one-third of the units for capital appreciation. After the development is completed, the prices will go up and selling them then will enhance our profitability."

Y Cantonments was officially launched in Penang on April 12. It is expected to be completed next year.

In the pipeline

Now that YSB has a handle on the property development business, it is ready to scale the heights of the industry.

Scheduled to be launched by the end of the year is the RM120 million Y-Storeys — a 20-storey mixed-use development in the corner of Jalan Burma and Jalan Bagan Jermal in the upmarket suburb of Pulau Tikus in Penang. Y-Storeys will comprise 120 SoHos, 48 two and three-bedroom apartments, luxury penthouses and three levels of retail space.

On a smaller scale is Y-Hijau, also in Penang. It is a regeneration and refurbishment of three 1,400 sq ft link houses. This project is an experiment, where each unit will be designed by a different Malaysian architect. The architects will be chosen through a competition and the winning entries will be selected based on quality of space, ecological sustainability and aesthetic aspect. The project, which has a GDV of RM1.5 million, is expected to be launched this year as well.

Not all of YSB's developments will be in Penang. In the pipeline is a joint-venture project in Selangor. This will be YSB's biggest and comprise more than 2,000 apartments and a mall. YSB is in the process of finalising plans for the project.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Apr 15 - 21, 2013.

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