GuocoLand: From integrated developments to place maker

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
Cheng: Even though we came up with the concept for Guoco Midtown back in 2017, it is still found to be relevant today (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Cheng Hsing Yao, CEO of listed property group GuocoLand, feels it is important to have a routine and continues to go to the office every day: if not for the full day, at least for part of the morning or afternoon. His office on the 31st floor of Guoco Tower offers a view of the Tanjong Pagar and CBD skyline.
“For me, that transition is very useful mentally and gives me that separation between work and home,” he says. Prior to Covid, Cheng strove to “preserve the sanctity of my home space”, preferring to work late in the office rather than bring work home. “Now, I’m forced to work from home,” he says.
It has made him even more convinced that office space remains relevant. Hybrid work may be the new norm, but everyone has a different notion of what it means, says Cheng. “Beyond considering the format of hybrid work to adopt, companies should ask themselves if they are creating a workplace that encourages innovation,” he adds. “Ultimately as a company, you need to be competitive and for your human resources to perform at their best.”
Cheng believes mixed-use developments are the urban solution for the future, especially in Asia, where cities have some of the highest population densities. “With or without Covid, mixed-use developments are a critical solution to achieving both density and liveability,” he says. “It’s about the quality of life — enjoying the convenience of living in the city, yet having access to recreational spaces and amenities.”
Showflat of Midtown Modern - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Showflat of Midtown Modern where a bedroom has been converted into a workspace (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Developers as ‘futurists’

Cheng recently came across a sketch he had done when GuocoLand was acquiring the Guoco Midtown commercial site for $1.62 billion in September 2017. “I had the residential and office components and the Network Hub,” he says. “So we already had that concept in mind for the integrated development when we bought the site.”
The $2.4 billion Guoco Midtown integrated development sits on a 3.2ha site, and is led by GuocoLand with a group of investors, Hong Kong-listed Guoco Group, Hong Leong Holdings and Hong Realty.
Guoco Midtown has a 30-storey office tower with 770,000 sq ft of premium office space, a five-storey Network Hub, three retail clusters, an F&B village and event space. The former Beach Road Police Station building has been conserved, and will be used for F&B on the first level and offices on the upper floors. Adjacent to it is the 33-storey, 291-unit Midtown Bay, with units designed as home offices.
“As a developer, you have to be future-oriented,” notes Cheng. “Even though we came up with the concept for Guoco Midtown back in 2017, it is still found to be relevant today.”
The 558-unit Midtown Modern designed by four-time President Design Award winner, Yip Yuen Hong of ipli Architects and ADDP Architects. The project swept up seven awards at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2021 (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The 558-unit Midtown Modern is built on a site across the road at Tan Quee Lan Street, which GuocoLand and its consortium partners purchased for $800.2 million in 2019. The project is designed by four-time President Design Award winner, Yip Yuen Hong of ip:li Architects in collaboration with ADDP Architects. The project swept seven awards at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2021, and also earned GuocoLand the Top Developer Award.
Right from the start, GuocoLand had already arrived at the conclusion that at work, people need recreational facilities to balance their lives. “When you’re in the office, you must have access to greenery, the garden, shopping and recreational spaces — to make up for all the work you’re now doing at home,” he adds. “So the office has to be enticing.”
Guoco Midtown and Midtown Modern have a combined area of 3.8ha of greenery, spread across 30 gardens, with more than 350 species of plants and trees. “The idea was to bring nature into the city,” says Cheng.
Chia Jui Siang, partner of Ortus Design, is the landscape architect for Guoco Midtown and Midtown Modern. He describes the integrated development as having “a very people-centric and environment-conscious design approach”. He says: “We are trying to create an oasis in the middle of a very built-up district.”
The greenery enhances the wellness and productivity of the community, mitigates heat, as well as collects and purifies rainwater for use or as run-off into the city reservoir, according to Ortus Design. All these features have contributed to the sustainability of Guoco Midtown and Midtown Bay, which have been awarded the Green Mark Platinum certification. Meanwhile Midtown Modern is targeted to achieve Green Mark Gold Plus certification.
Cheng Hsing Yao, CEO of GuocoLand receiving the Top Developer Award at the EdgeProp Excellence Awards 2021 from Bernard Tong, CEO of EdgeProp Singapore (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Rising expectations

Cheng sees people’s expectations evolving over time. He points to the concept of proximity to the MRT station as an example. “Back in the 80s and 90s when there were very few MRT lines, living within a five- to 10-minute walk of a station was a good thing,” he says. “Now with more MRT lines, expectations have gone up. I was talking to someone who moved into a building, and she complained that when it rains, she has to carry an umbrella to cross the road to the MRT station, and that to her is ‘terrible’.”
At Guoco Midtown and Midtown Modern, both residents and office-occupiers have direct access to the Bugis MRT Interchange Station without having to worry about inclement weather, and direct access to covered links to neighbouring buildings and the City Hall MRT Interchange and Esplanade stations without having to cross any busy road or carry an umbrella.
Covid has made Cheng rethink the overall concept of office space at Guoco Midtown and the Network Hub. Pre-Covid, the trend was already towards flexible work, but Covid has sped up the trend,” he notes. “We didn’t expect it to be so extensive.”
Cheng is reviewing the layout for Guoco Midtown’s Network Hub too and believes there will be more demand for individual video-conferencing rooms. “All you need are small booths, with good lighting and a nice backdrop,” he says.
Hybrid work has also increased the relevance of Midtown Bay’s home office concept (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp SIngapore)
He wants to extend the video-conferencing booth concept to GuocoLand’s condominiums too. “When you have multiple people working and studying from home, privacy is a challenge,” he observes. “You cannot have multiple zoom calls happening in the same space at the same time.”
Hybrid work has also increased the relevance of Midtown Bay’s home office concept, notes Cheng. The units at Midtown Bay have marble flooring on the first level so that the bedrooms can be converted into offices too. Even the choice of the finishing is more neutral, so that the space does not look domestic.
When the units at Midtown Bay are completed, they will cater to those who desire a workspace at home, and yet have access to the lounge and meeting room facilities at the nearby Network Hub, especially if they have to meet clients in a more formal setting, notes Cheng.

Upcoming development at Lentor Central

In July, GuocoLand won the 99-year leasehold site at Lentor Central with a bid of $784.1 million or a record land rate of $1,204 psf per plot ratio (psf ppr). The 186,000 sq ft, 99-year leasehold site has a gross floor area (GFA) of 651,007 sq ft. The upcoming project will be a mixed-use development with three 25-storey residential towers, each with a double-volume sky terrace. There will be a total of 600 apartments.
In the future, residents of GuocoLand's Lentor Central project will have access to two more parks, namely Hillock Park and Linear Park, both near GuocoLand’s upcoming development. The project is expected to be launched sometime in 2H2022 (Credit: GuocoLand)
The ground floor will have 96,000 sq ft of commercial, F&B and retail space, including a supermarket and childcare facilities. The development will be integrated with the Lentor MRT Station on the Thomson-East Coast Line that opened at the end of August. (Find Singapore commercial properties with our commercial directory)
“We were very keen on the site because it’s the only one that is linked directly to the MRT station in the whole Lentor area,” says Cheng. “It will be the project that will define the future of the area.”
The F&B and retail space is another draw. “There aren’t many such amenities in the area,” he observes. In the vicinity is the landed housing estate of Lentor Hills, located off Yio Chu Kang Road. “It’s an affluent neighbourhood, and the Thomson-East Coast Line serves many other affluent areas all the way to Marina Bay,” he points out.

Transforming neighbourhoods

With hybrid work, Cheng reckons the retail and F&B outlets at Lentor Central should see a steady trade throughout the week as there will be people working from home. “That’s why we feel good about our retail and F&B concept,” he adds.
Guoco Midtown and Midtown Modern have a combined area of 3.8ha of greenery, spread across 30 gardens (Credit: GuocoLand)
Another plus is that the site is close to nature reserves and parks, including the 50ha Thomson Nature Park, Bishan Park, as well as Upper Seletar and Lower Seletar Reservoir Park and Lower Peirce Reservoir Park.
In the future, residents will have access to two more parks, namely Hillock Park and Linear Park, both near GuocoLand’s upcoming development. The project is expected to be launched sometime in 2H2022.
Tang Kok Thye, associate partner of ADDP Architects, is the appointed design architect for GuocoLand’s project at Lentor Central. “It’s going to be the Holland Village of Lentor area,” says Tang. “However, the location is more suburban, and is surrounded by nature reserves. Right from the start, GuocoLand emphasised a biophilic design for the project.”
GuocoLand is known for transforming neighbourhoods, as can be seen at Guoco Tower in Tanjong Pagar and the upcoming Midtown area at Bugis-Beach Road.
GuocoLand's investment property portfolio includes Guoco Tower, its flagship integrated development at Tanjong Pagar, which has 890,000 sq ft of premium office space (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore
“The developer has demonstrated time and time again that it wants its projects to be a catalyst for the rest of the neighbourhood,” says ADDP’s Tang. “And they are likely to do the same in the Lentor area.”
Beyond being a developer, GuocoLand is also a property investor, points out Cheng. The group has a market capitalisation of $1.88 billion and investment properties worth $4.975 billion as at end-June 2021. Its portfolio includes Guoco Tower, its flagship integrated development at Tanjong Pagar, which has 890,000 sq ft of premium office space; and 20 Collyer Quay, a prime office building in the Downtown Core with a total area of 246,924 sq ft. The occupancy rates of the office space at Guoco Tower and 20 Collyer Quay stood at 100% and 94%, respectively, at the end of June.
When Guoco Midtown is completed, the 30-storey office tower with 770,000 sq ft office space will be injected into the portfolio of investment properties. “We are more than just a traditional developer who religiously buys land, develops and sells,” says Cheng. “We have the capabilities to operate and manage these assets too. Down the road, we have many options open to us for these investment properties — whether it’s a REIT or a fund.”

Capitalising on integrated developments

Increasingly, the group is moving towards developing integrated developments, not just in Singapore, but in other markets in Asia as well.
In China, Guoco Changfeng City, a mixed-use office and retail development in Shanghai, has partially opened its office component in September, with the rest of the project to be completed in phases in 2022.
Its inaugural project in Chongqing — Chongqing GuocoLand 18T — is a large mixed-use residential and commercial development. The 450-unit luxury residences in the project were launched in September last year, and 43% were sold as at end-June, according to GuocoLand’s 2021 annual report.
In Malaysia, GuocoLand’s projects include integrated mixed-use development Emerald 9, where 83% of 816 serviced apartments have been sold. The residential component of Emerald 9 is linked directly to the office and retail components.
In Selangor, Garland Residence, part of the 1,000-acre (404.7ha) master-planned township of Emerald Rawang, was fully sold at the close of the financial year ended June. GuocoLand is also in the midst of revamping its existing integrated development, Damansara City.
When it comes to integrated developments, place management is a key factor. “We want our integrated developments to be destinations for people to enjoy,” says Cheng.

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