City & Country: Creative retailing

Product differentiation separates one project from another, with high-end developers turning to art to enhance value. Sunrise Bhd's nearly completed RM1.5 billion Solaris Dutamas will offer a unique retail experience with its emphasis on art and culture.

Retail experiences beyond the ordinary

Art, culture and status are very often intertwined.

With Malaysian property investors getting more discerning, it is no wonder that high-end developers in the Klang Valley have begun adding artistic twists in a bid to differentiate their products.

Examples of art-related projects would be the Seni Mont’Kiara condominium in Mont’Kiara that houses a permanent art gallery within the property, PJ Live Arts within Jaya One in Petaling Jaya and The Actors Studio @ Lot 10 shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Sunrise Bhd, synonymous with the exclusive Mont’Kiara enclave in Kuala Lumpur, is the latest developer investing in the promotion of art and culture within its development projects and is set to take the arts-culture-property union into a whole new creative realm.

The effort will be unveiled in Sunrise’s upcoming retail component of the RM1.5 billion Solaris Dutamas mixed development that is nearing completion. Launched in December 2006, the project is slated to be fully completed by year-end. The retail centre, meanwhile, is expected to be launched in 1Q2011.

“Retail at Solaris Dutamas will be shopping with a difference. Both the atmosphere and the environment have been designed to be inspiring yet personal. The arts in their various forms permeate the whole development and will not just be contained within a designated space,” Anne Tong, Sunrise Bhd assistant general manager for branding and community development, tells City & Country.

For this purpose, Sunrise has set aside about a third of its net lettable space, totalling 335,000 sq ft of its retail component for the promotion of the arts and cultural activities. This is partly made possible because the developer owns the entire retail centre, the name of which will only be unveiled later this month.

A public arts and cultural platform, known as  “Making Art Personal” or MAP, has been set up to act as a catalyst for the exchange and exploration of contemporary ideas. MAP will also serve as a meeting point between artists, curators, critics and the public. It comes under the ambit of the retail centre manager, Sun Victory Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sunrise.

Solaris Dutamas will offer a new destination that is not only about shopping and leisure but also community participation in the arts and enrichment, says Tong.

MAP will be key to the art and design theme of the project. “These public spaces will host activities ranging from art exhibitions, performances, lectures, seminars and workshops throughout the year.

“There are so many shopping complexes but the retail concept in Solaris Dutamas will be unique,” says Tong.

Indeed, Sunrise needs to set its retail centre apart from the crowd. Based on the National Property Information Centre’s latest report, at 4Q2009, there was 22.7 million sq ft of shopping complex space in Kuala Lumpur alone, which will be expanded with an incoming supply of 5.63 million sq ft. In Selangor, there is 26.3 million sq ft of existing shopping complex space with an incoming supply of 1.29 million sq ft.

Besides the sprawling malls both in KL city and the suburbs, there are also neighbourhood malls.

Solaris Dutamas is designed to be self-contained — people can live, work and shop within the development grounds, Tong says of Sunrise’s debut integrated residential/commercial development.

While integrating art and culture into the development is the developer’s way of encouraging shoppers to interact beyond a mere retail experience, the retail centre will feature must-have stores that will be complemented by exclusive and quaint outlets.

Besides an anchor tenant, the developer is looking at junior tenants, including a bookstore. The developer is also eyeing homegrown retailers rather than those featured in other malls.

About Solaris Dutamas
Solaris Dutamas sits on a 17-acre freehold tract on Jalan Dutamas near Mont’Kiara in Kuala Lumpur. It comprises a 21-storey Grade A office tower, 231 shop-offices, 780 designer suites within three towers, 1,031 units of office suites and the retail centre, which has a gross area of 800,000 sq ft. The development is located in the vicinity of landmarks such as the Matrade Building, the old government complex, as well as the Kuala Lumpur court complex.

Save for the retail centre, which Sunrise is retaining for recurring income, all the other components of the project have been sold. The office suites have proved popular with corporate purchasers, especially those in the legal fraternity, oil-and-gas, and government-linked corporations, while the designer residential suites appeal to the young metropolitan segment. The retail centre, together with the residential units, will have 5,000 car parking bays.

The Grade A office tower with 255,000 sq ft of space, was sold en-bloc to Kencana Capital Assets Sdn Bhd and is now known as Menara Kencana.

Fluid use of spaces can be seen at the White Box, part of MAPThose who have put their money in the development have not been disappointed. Tong says secondary-market transactions have seen significant capital appreciation. The designer suites, launched in 2006 at an average of RM395 psf, were recently sold at between RM550 and RM640 psf. Office suites recently changed hands for between RM500 and RM545 psf, against the developer’s price of RM380 psf.

Among the interesting features of Solaris Dutamas is its eco-friendly district-cooling system for all air-conditioning in the development. This feature alone cost the developer a cool RM90 million.

Tong says Sunrise plans to be more environment friendly. “We launched our shuttle bus within Mont’Kiara last year. We will soon add another bus and the service will be extended to Solaris Dutamas once more people move in and more shops open there.” The service is exclusive for residents of Sunrise projects.

Making art personal
While MAP is the brainchild of Sunrise Bhd executive chairman Tong Kooi Ong, architect Nani Kahar put together and executed the plan.

Nani and Peter Kiernan are the retail consultants for MAP. If the names ring a bell, it is because they were also responsible for creating The Annexe Gallery at Central Market.

“Peter describes himself as an artist first while I call myself a scientist. We both paint in our free time but Peter does it every day. Maybe we are both best described as architect/artist,” Nani tells City & Country.

What has MAP achieved so far? It introduced, on March 27, what it calls a White Box (a 5,500 sq ft open exhibition space) and a Black Box (a 6,000 sq ft 200-seat experimental theatre or performance hall) located on the second floor of Menara Kencana.

An excited Nani explains: “MAP is an arts and cultural platform. We will have all sorts of performances at the White and Black boxes. This is the catalyst to drive the whole content that leads up to the retail centre opening in 1Q2011.

“We are basically going to populate the whole development with art and culture. Rather than having a gallery where you have exhibitions, theatre or a play within a specific space, what we are trying to do is to extend beyond our gallery into the whole development.

“MAP is more interested in the fluid use of spaces as opposed to the architectural direction. We want to enhance the retail experience, add value to the development. There will be interactive walls where colours, for example, can change when touched or will respond to movement or heat. There will also be an arcade, where the space can be used for theatre, fashion or bazaars,” says Nani.

Art will also be taken to the most unexpected spaces — even to the public toilets in the retail centre.  “We are also looking into the possibility of turning the public toilets into art galleries. We could have a ‘jamban tour’ [toilet tour], where we get an artist to contribute all the art work [murals, installations, and others] so when you go into a space, it is like a personal exhibition of an artist — we have 16 toilets altogether! So, for one to walk around just to check out the toilets will take a long time,” Nani adds with a wide smile.

For Nani and her team, art will drive the design, and the design will in turn drive the retail centre.

Kiernan says the retail space will replicate old European towns. “We’re trying to make it an urban environment where you never know what you’re going to find. The mix will be very different from a typical retail mall where specific sections are for fashion and food, for example. In a bigger picture, Malaysia’s stage of economic development, I think it’s reaching the point where people are looking for value-added qualities.”

Another unconventional feature about the retail centre will be the presence of non-governmental organisations that the developer will be grouping in a row.

Describing these as “little pockets of democratic space”, Nani says other unconventional ideas at the centre include the two parks within the development. These are The Art Piazza, a venue for events and activities, and a children-friendly Art Park featuring fun sculptures, water features and lush landscaping. “They will be unlike other parks; they will be like an outdoor gallery, with strips of poetry on the ground. We have also identified 100 spots for sculptures or installations for now,” Nani says.

MAP’s success will hinge on participation by the community. “We are in the midst of setting up a database of people who are interested in participating; we call them cultural producers. We’re reaching out to all communities, including universities, so they know there’s a place to showcase their work, to fill out the spaces to exhibit and perform,” Kiernan.

MAP’s approach is both facilitative and collaborative and its ultimate objective is change. “Social change, not political change. We want to help people bring art into their everyday life, and to create a more critical society and a lot of dialogue,” says Nani.

“In Kuala Lumpur, you see art galleries exist in isolation. Solaris Dutamas is the only place in Kuala Lumpur where a theatre and art gallery exist under one roof. It sounds ambitious because it is different. It is so difficult to get the market to go to where the art space is. Now, we are bringing art to where the market is. This is a huge plus for the art community,” Nani adds.

Everyday needs
Art and culture aside, one will find everyday needs like a supermarket, restaurants and cafes, and retail services at Solaris Dutamas, which has a residential catchment of over 330,000 people or about 80,000 households within a 10-minute drive, Tong points out. The onsite population is about 21,300 people.

The tenant mix is planned to be 30% for MAP, creative retail and activity studios,  20% for food & beverage and 50% for conveniences and general retail.

By integrating art and culture in a unique way into Solaris Dutamas, the developer is not only promoting Malaysia’s art scene but also adding value to the real estate.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 804, May 3-9, 2010

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