(UPDATE) The Great Room Afro-Asia ups the ante with sustainable luxury

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Last week, hospitality-led co-working operator The Great Room opened its fifth and largest space in Singapore. The 37,000 sq ft space spans the sixth to eighth floors of the 19-storey, newly redeveloped Afro-Asia Building on the corner of Robinson Road and McCallum Street in the CBD.
The space is already over 50% leased and enquiries have surged. “We never had such a good response,” says Jaelle Ang, co-founder and CEO of The Great Room. However, with mandatory work from home (WFH) still enforced until Nov 21, many companies are still uncertain about committing to a start date on their contracts. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she adds.
With a capacity of more than 600 workspaces and occupying about 26% of the floor area at Afro-Asia Building, The Great Room is its anchor tenant. Rival co-working operators in the vicinity include JustCo’s flagship across the road at 120 Robinson Road. On the other side of McCallum Street is 71 Robinson Road, where WeWork occupies three floors with a capacity of 1,000 workspaces. At 77 Robinson Road, IWG’s Regus has taken up the 34th floor of the building. At the neighbouring 79 Robinson Road, CapitaLand’s own flexible work space Bridge+, with 56,000 sq ft across three floors, has positioned itself as a FinTech hub. Directly opposite is Capital Tower, where The Work Project occupies a 50,000 sq ft space.
19-storey Afro-Asia Building - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Artist's impression of the newly-redeveloped, 19-storey Afro-Asia Building, where The Great Room occupies 37,000 sq ft space spanning the sixth to eighth floors at Robinson Road (Photo: Afro-Asia)
“The whole of Robinson Road is probably the most dense in terms of co-working space,” concedes The Great Room’s Ang. “We are probably one of the last ones to the game. But when we went in, we knew we had to do it well or not be there at all.”
The Great Room has positioned itself on the premium end. With companies more cost-conscious, Ang was initially concerned that it could put pressure on rates, especially given the competition in the area. Instead, The Great Room has been able to “clock a good price”, which she attributes to “a flight to quality”.
It is the ongoing flight to quality that has led to “a slow but steady increase in the commitment levels of some existing and pipeline projects”, according to Tricia Song, CBRE head of research for South East Asia. “The beneficiaries are new developments with high-quality specifications,” she comments. Grade-A (Core CBD) rents tracked by CBRE Research showed an expansion of 1.4% q-o-q to $10.65 psf per month in 3Q2021. “As the pandemic evolves into an endemic, this has paved the way for firms to adopt a hybrid working model while reassessing their space requirements,” she adds.
Ang: We are probably one of the last ones to the game. But when we went in, we knew we've got to do it well or not be there at all (Photo: The Great Room)

New and sustainable

Developed jointly by the Tan family of Afro-Asia Shipping and Japanese giant construction company Shimizu, Afro-Asia Building has attained a Green Mark Platinum rating, the highest accolade for sustainability awarded by the Building and Construction Authority. The building was initially scheduled to be completed in May 2020, but Covid has delayed the completion until this year. It has a total area of 143,875 sq ft, with average floor plates of 12,200 sq ft, according to JLL, which is handling the leasing of the building.
“It’s the first time that we are moving into a new building,” says Ang. “We were working with the [Tan] family early on and were involved in the project during the planning stage.” It was an industry first in terms of an “asset-light model” for the co-working operator, with the landlord footing the bill for capital expenditure.
Award-winning, Hong Kong-based interior designer Joyce Wang was the appointed interior designer for the Great Room at Afro-Asia. Wang visited the site once when The Great Room secured the space two years ago while it was under construction.
Wang: We wanted to feature more organic lines, more raw-edged timber tables, an undulating sculpture to soften the space (Photo: Joyce Wang Studio website)
With Covid restricting travel, Wang had to contend with site visits via Zoom twice a week for the duration of the project. “It was super challenging,” she says via a Zoom interview. “We were lucky we got to tour the space with Jaelle and her team, and to get an intuitive feel about the space.”
The overall design narrative was that of a treetop sanctuary and to draw on materials that communicate that idea, according to Wang. “We wanted to feature more organic lines, with raw-edged timber tables, and an undulating sculpture to soften the space,” she says.

Materials sourced locally

Disruptions to the global supply chain created uncertainty around freight rates and increased the risks of further delays if working with different overseas suppliers, says Ang. She decided to source locally for materials instead.
The sawmill of Roger & Sons - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The sawmill of Roger & Sons with its stockpile of Singapore mahogany (Photo: The Great Room)
To source for a long, raw-edged communal table at the centre of the Drawing Room and a number of smaller tables, Ang visited one of the last sawmills in Singapore, Roger & Sons, a family business now in its second generation. “I didn’t even know that we had our own Singapore mahogany,” she recalls.
Known as Khaya tree (African mahogany), it was planted in Singapore in the 1970s, and managed by National Parks Board (NParks). The mahogany is said to be a fast-growing species in tropical climates like Singapore’s. Roger & Sons is also a furniture make. NParks grows a mahogany tree for every tree that it cuts down. This results in a net-zero carbon footprint.
The marble used at The Great Room at Afro-Asia came from local supplier, Hafary Holdings. Instead of using whole slabs, marble offcuts were used for the floor tiles. Sustainable cork wallpaper was sourced for the walls. A light installation crafted from recycled PET bottles made by Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat and designed by internationally acclaimed designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroulle, will be “a hanging sculpture” at the arrival hall.
Ang choosing marble at Hafary Gallery in Eunos - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Ang choosing marble at Hafary Gallery in Eunos (Photo: The Great Room)
The Great Room, Afro-Asia is Wang’s first dedicated co-working space and her first project in Singapore. However, Wang, who has a studio in Hong Kong and London, has a portfolio that includes luxury gym and lounge Equinox, St James’s in London, a conversion from a historic bank building at Mayfair; Kyubi restaurant at The Arts Club, an exclusive members’ only club in London; and upscale Chinese restaurant Mott 32 at The Venetian Resort, Las Vegas. “We would love to do more projects in Singapore,” she says. “We especially love the F&B and hospitality scene.”

Social changes

Some tweaks in the interiors included more flexibility built into the space, notes Wang. “People are using the workplace so differently. They might come in just to meet someone, but then choose to work from home or in a different location,” she observes.
The Conservatory at The Great Room - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The communal area, The Conservatory at The Great Room, Afro-Asia (Photo: The Great Room)
As the nature of the space is quite luxurious, with booths for smaller meetings and gathering, “there’s an innate social distancing if you choose to”, observes Wang. “So that works quite well.”
A wellness room has been incorporated at The Great Room, Afro-Asia, for activities such as yoga, coaching sessions, talks or gong therapy, says The Great Room’s Ang. “When we first started gong therapy at One George Street [The Great Room’s flagship], only two people signed up. Today, it gets filled up within two hours and we have up to 15 people,” she adds. “We’ve tested different things over the years, and we see people being more open to different types of wellness activities.”
The Library with booth seats - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Library with booth seats at The Great Room, Afro-Asia (Photo: The Great Room)
As many employees transition from being fully remote to a post-pandemic future that includes a return to the office, they are increasingly seeking workplaces that support mental, social and physical health, as well as an employer who endorses flexible company policies and an inclusive managerial mindset, according to JLL’s latest report on Regenerative Workplaces, released on Nov 2.
JLL’s survey findings show that healthy food services, relaxation spaces and fitness centres top the list of what employees want in their physical workplaces. Yet, only one in four employees currently have access to those amenities.
The demand for such workplaces has spurred The Great Room to seek expansion opportunities — both in Hong Kong and Singapore. “The desire is to have much more alignment, and deeper partnerships, with landlords,” adds Ang. “And now is actually the right time.”
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