|It’s important to make sure that even if it’s an innovative idea, it’s cost effective to manage” — Tong|
THE white sand was soft under our feet, and the water before us, inviting. Behind us, palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze. It was easy to imagine we were lounging on a beach far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
We weren’t of course, but the Versilica Sky Beach in Vox — the final tower of the Verve Suites in Mont’Kiara — was a fine substitute.
“It feels good to see the idea come to fruition. Looking at the plans for the sky beach and the actual product, we surprised ourselves in a nice way. It came out nicer than we thought it would,” says Datuk NK Tong, group managing director of Bukit Kiara Properties Sdn Bhd (BKP).
Versilica, says Tong, is derived from a combination of “verve” and “silica”. Sitting atop the 34-storey Vox, it is the first and only sky beach in Mont’Kiara, and possibly Malaysia. Commanding a spectacular view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline, the sky beach was conceived as a resort getaway for residents of the Verve Suites, which comprises four towers — Viva, Vibe, Vogue and Vox.
The night before the interview, Tong invited about 30 people to the sky beach for a preview and feedback. Perhaps there is no greater endorsement than children who had so much fun that they refused to get out of the pool.
“There were eight of them of different ages in the pool from 7pm to 9pm. It was windy and the water was cold but the children just wouldn’t get out of the pool. My daughter would turn blue if she’s in the water for two hours,” laughs Tong.
While the sky beach pool is no doubt the centrepiece of the fourth and last Verve Suites tower, the sky lounge has more to offer. Spread across 10,000 sq ft, it also has a 20.2m by 3.3m sky pool, a quench corner, chill zones, recreational rooms, a jet pool, a sun garden and a grill terrace.
Vox, launched in 2010, comprises 250 fully furnished suites with built-ups of 462 sq ft (one bedroom), 926 sq ft (two bedrooms) and 1,395 sq ft (three bedrooms). There are four interior design themes to choose from — City Flux and Avant Storm for the 462 sq ft units, and Duo Centrix and Metro Lux for the 926 sq ft units. Priced at an average of RM1,250 psf, this tower is 99% sold.
Building a beach on top of a building
What does it take to build a beach 34 storeys above ground? Tong smiles and says, “A lot of work”.
Before work started, BKP sent the key people involved in the project to visit several resorts in Bali to learn how to build, run and maintain a beach pool.
“I think if you’re curious enough and ask enough questions, you will get answers,” comments Tong.
A total of 176 tonnes of sand was hoisted to the sky beach. Of the amount, 134.5 tonnes were laid at the sky beach level, 33 tonnes were used at the upper deck and the remaining 8.5 tonnes kept for future use.
The sky beach pool has a length of 14.5m and a radius of 16.5m, and the deepest point in the pool is 1.1m. The sand around the beach area has a thickness of 200mm to 300mm, and in the beach pool, 200mm thick.
“There are about 4,600 sugar bags of sand on this roof. We made sure it’s legal sand. We tried seven samples of sand and in the end, we settled for mining sand,” offers Tong.
BKP went to great lengths to make sure the right sand was selected. Beach sand from Terengganu, Penang, Ipoh and Singapore was collected and assessed, and weekly inspections done to determine the changes or loss of sand due to the natural environmental impact. Sand samples were also sent for external testing in Ipoh and Singapore to assess content purity, size, and weight and moisture level.
Silica sand from Ipoh was selected after months of research and testing. The chosen sand is fine grade sand with 99.2% purity as certified by the Minerals and Geoscience Department Malaysia, and doesn’t contain any degradable materials.
Top: The 10,000 sq ft Versilica Sky Beach offers a spectacular view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. Bottom-left:The sky beach was conceived as a resort getaway for residents of the Verve Suites. Bottom-right: Sand was introduced to the interior of the sky beach to create a beach feel.
Silica sand is chemically inert and measures 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. The Mohs scale measures how well a substance resists scratching by another material, ranging from 1 (softest talc) to 10 (hardest diamond).
What a lot of people don’t realise, says Tong, is that sand will dissolve over time and subsequently, the beach will “shrink”.
“It’s not a problem in the sea as sand is replenished by the waves, but here, we don’t have waves to carry sand back to the beach. That’s why we went with mining sand. It doesn’t dissolve and it’s heavy enough that it won’t get blown away. We even built sandcastles as part of the research to see how they held the shape,” he shares.
The water is salt chlorinated, which Tong says is about one-sixth the saltiness of seawater and thus, gentler on the skin.
Vacuuming used in normal swimming pools can’t be used on the sky beach pool as it will reduce the amount of sand. Instead, specially trained staff will rake the sand, remove rubbish and level the sand daily to keep it clean.
“We also have to keep the sand moving at all times. Otherwise, it’ll be like a fish tank with stagnant water where dirt is buried at the bottom,” says Tong.
To keep the sand clean, a network of perforated pipes are laid out at the base of the pool, and fine water jets constantly keep the sand moving to lift any dirt out for the pool filtration system to remove. Artificial carpet grass is installed at the lift lobby of the sky beach floor as an extra sand trap.
Care has been taken to address any minor leaks that may appear in the long term from the contraction and expansion of the concrete slab due to weather changes. The sky beach has a waterproofed double concrete slab system that allows the maintenance team to patch any leaks underneath the beach pool without inconveniencing the residents below. Any leaks will be retained and drained off by the second waterproofed concrete slab underneath.
“It’s important to make sure that even if it’s an innovative idea, it’s cost effective to manage. You don’t want to give them a white elephant,” says Tong.
The sky beach cost RM2.5 million to build but Tong reveals the real cost is more expensive.
“We could have sold penthouses at this level. They are the ones with the most capital appreciation. As a developer, we gave up quite a lot but this is to help the customers protect the value.”
Versilica Sky Beach will be open for public viewing in October and the handover of the units is expected at end-2013 or early-2014.
“Once we do the handover, only the residents and homeowners will have access to the sky beach,” says Tong.
A beach feel
Many believe the concept for the sky lounges came from Tong, but he is quick to dismiss this.
“It was a team effort. We go away every quarter for two days to brainstorm and the idea for the sky beach was a result of the brainstorming session. We had seven teams presenting their wish list for the project. Two weeks after that, 15 of us including the architects, consultants and interior designers came together to narrow down the ideas,” says Tong.
One of the ideas was a beach, surf and wave pool. Tong, at the time, thought it didn’t make sense to do something like this at such a high level and almost threw out the idea.
“But one or two people said, ‘Wait, let’s talk about this’. So what would have been a crazy idea turned out to be a central one in the end, and that’s how the idea came about,” shares Tong, who first came across beach pools about 20 years ago in Phuket, Thailand.
To create the beach feel, the Versilica space was designed to be open with no air conditioning, and sand is introduced to the interior as well.
“Another key focus when you’re up here is the beautiful city view. Imagine relaxing in a jet pool or swimming in the pools with a view of the city skyline, especially at night,” says Tong.
Setting itself apart
From the onset, the Verve Suites has strived to set itself apart from other developments in Mont’Kiara with fully furnished serviced apartments for urban professionals, and its living concepts and sky lounges. The development comprises 933 units spread across four towers.
The first tower, Viva, was launched in 2006 at RM600 psf, followed by Vibe in 2007 at RM700 psf and Vogue in 2008 at RM950 psf. In 2010, Vox was launched at RM1,250 psf. The Verve Suites units are currently tenanted at RM5 psf onwards, while secondary transactions have breached RM1,200 psf.
“Our rental rates are almost at KLCC prices and the neighbourhood rental rates are closer to RM3 psf. Two things come into play here — our units are compact so they are more affordable, and the features and facilities we offer,” offers Tong.
“We put sky lounges because we wanted to create a new lifestyle. We have also always wanted to make sure we can add value to the residents’ homes so that we can protect their investments. It’s sort of killing two birds with one stone.”
The Verve Suites introduced four living concepts — Vertigo in Viva, Hypercubes in Vibe, Concentrico in Vogue and now, the Versilica in Vox. The sky lounges have built-ups of between 6,240 sq ft and 10,000 sq ft. Residents have access to all four sky lounges.
“The one thing we have done in every sky lounge is provide a lot of facilities because our units are fairly compact. But then, they have four sky lounges with different concepts and facilities to use,” shares Tong.
He likens the success of the Verve Suites to the spread of Facebook.
“To coin a metaphor, I think the Verve Suites is a real estate equivalent of Facebook. Instead of virtual social networking, we have physical social networking where people come out of their apartments to hang out because they have all these space and facilities,” says Tong.
As for the profile of tenants and residents, Tong sees it more as a psychographic rather than a demographic. “As our units are fairly compact, they tend to be younger but it is more about people who want this kind of lifestyle.”
The average occupancy of the Verve Suites is above 80%. Viva, Vibe and Vogue have occupancy rates of 78%, 85% and 82% respectively. Tong estimates about 40% of the residents are Malaysians while the rest are expatriates. He notes that the only reason the occupancy rate is not higher is because some of the owners use the units as weekend homes.
The growth of the Mont’Kiara property market has slowed in the past few years but Tong remains confident about filling up Vox when it is handed over later this year.
“As for the slowdown, I would say it’s a cycle of the economy. We are aware there will be competition for residents, that’s why we created the sky lounges. It’s interesting because when we completed the third tower (Vogue) in early 2012, we thought it would be a while before we could fill it up but it turned out that the units in the tower were the fastest to be leased. I’m hoping for the same for Vox,” says Tong.
“If you look at what has worked in all the three sky lounges, especially the last two, you’ll see that people just want to get in touch with spaces. It’s not just about enclosed spaces, they want to take in the fresh air, feel the breeze, enjoy the landscaping and now, they will have the sky beach.”
“We are focused on two things right now. One is the delivery and handover of Vox, after which we will follow up with our customers for six months or so to make sure everything is in order. The other is completing the Verve Suites KL South,” says Datuk NK Tong, group managing director of BKP.
With an estimated gross development value (GDV) of RM310 million, the 1.36-acre freehold Verve Suites KL South is BKP’s first brownfield redevelopment.
It comprises 321 serviced suites, 45 small office/home office (SoHo) units and three retail units on the ground floor. Prices starts from RM600,000 and Tong estimates the yields to be between 5% and 7%.
One of the unique aspects of the development is the RM5.2 million Vercadiscos sky bridge, which will house a sky gym, a theatrette and chill-out areas, as well as a kitchen and dining area for private functions.
The project was open for preview in June and 40% of the first tower has been sold.
Also in the works are the proposed luxury apartment Verve Suites KLCC in Jalan Tun Razak and the RM100 million The Ambangan in Persiaran Madge.
The 0.9-acre freehold Verve Suites KLCC has an estimated GDV of RM350 million. The Ambangan will be located in the middle of KLCC’s Embassy Row on a 0.96-acre freehold tract. Both projects are still in the planning stage.
“We will continue to roll out developments based on the Verve Suites concept and it has been very popular with homeowners. I think offering all these facilities has made it appealing and customers have come to appreciate the way we execute our concepts,” says Tong.
This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 30, 2013.
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