UNIQUE DEVELOPMENTS LIKE KL’S UPCOMING M101 SKYWHEEL MAY SEEM ECCENTRIC TO THE NAKED EYE, BUT ITS VALUE RUNS DEEP IF YOU CARE TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK
If there is one clear trend that defines our changing world, it is that urbanisation is now happening at a rate that has never before witnessed in human history.
Unprecedented population growth and migration to city centres have also ignited the pace of development, so much so that it is now increasingly difficult for specific projects to stand apart from the crowded competition – especially if the goal is to win global recognition.
Where once being the “tallest”, “longest” or “largest” would win substantial acclaim, the shelf life for attention on these platforms is rapidly diminishing because such achievements are quickly overtaken by the next attempt.
History tells us, however, that one attribute that never fails the acid test of time is uniqueness; structures that dare to be so different that they have a long-lasting impact on the human psyche, winning lustre that is enduring. Sometimes, that requires pushing the envelope far beyond the borders of convention, and attracting a certain amount cynicism, but I would argue: isn’t that what attracting attention is all about?
Naturally, it is a risky ploy. Ultimately, uniqueness only delivers lasting impact when a balance is struck between ingenuity, flamboyance and sense of purpose. Falling short could mean being quickly dismissed as a joke, or worse, an eyesore.
When done right, the reward is an icon the likes of Big Ben, or Sydney Opera House, or the Eiffel Tower – all of which are neither the tallest nor largest of its kind, and yet indisputable landmarks of the global skyline.
This should prompt us to view endeavours taking shape closer to home through a lens of optimism rather that scepticism. Architectural flair is beginning to seep its way into the Kuala Lumpur silhouette and one development worthy of notice is the audacious 101 SkyWheel, which is taking shape at the heart the city.
The RM1.8 billion mixed development by M101 Holdings Sdn Bhd has certainly attracted attention in the most unconventional way, with an aspiration to host a Ferris-wheel (currently the highest in the world) on the 53rd floor of a giant 316m tall twin-towered structure.
There’s more. The Ferris-wheel will, in fact, crown a multi-floored bridging podium extending from the 48th to 52nd floor that features a 200,000 sq ft mall, offering the world’s highest shopping experience.
The two towers will also host residential units in the form of designer suites and the first Planet Hollywood Hotel in Asia. The entire integrated development lays claim to being the first to be fully designed by Studio F.A Porsche – a design firm affiliated with the world-renowned automotive brand.
There’s plenty here to chew on, and certainly eyebrows across the country have been raised in response to the quirkier elements of this development (specifically the Ferris-wheel). This has begged the commonly asked question: “why?”
Having spent almost 20 years covering the property sector as a journalist, I’m confident that the answer to that is self-evident in the fact that we are all talking about it.
No matter our opinion, in coffee shops across the nation, people are talking about it. We’re discussing it now, in this article. Work has only just begun on M101 SkyWheel, which is slated for completion in 2020, and already we are all marvelling (admit it) at the ingenuity required to get it done.
For a development that aspires to garner global attention, this is precisely the point. You don’t draw attention to yourself by being safe.
Furthermore, there is a “Kennedy-an” approach to M101 SkyWheel that is potently admirable, and that is to dwell little on the question of “why” but instead ask “why not”.
This is an outlook which that tugs at a Malaysian point of pride. It says we are willing to achieve things beyond the boundaries of necessity to tell the world that we have come-of-age and we’re capable of achieving the unique through innovativeness and imagination, simply because we want to.
Peel through the façade of gimmickry and you will find substance, because the feat of architecture, design and engineering required to bring M101 SkyWheel to life is something we can all be proud of. That is why I count myself among those who are cheering it on.
I am also drawn by the considerable amount of property know-how that has been employed in the provision of residential, retail and hospitality space. The choices are not accidental; they are specific to changing trends and sensitive to current demand, and this deserves greater recognition.
Furthermore, there is little dispute about overall aesthetics because the building is as sleek and sexy as you would expect given the renown of the design team behind it. In question, however, is the wisdom behind parking a Ferris-wheel atop this beautiful structure, especially since it sits in the KL’s distinguished central business district.
There are those who say this goes beyond a regular dose of architectural eccentricity, and I would agree. But if we broaden our minds to take a global view, we may realise that there is a strong case to be made for peculiarity, and the power it wields to draw crowds – which is a key aim for the project.
For example, consider the Sagradia Familia, an imposing church in Barcelona city that seems more at home in JRR Tolkien’s imaginary world of Middle Earth than at the heart of a vibrant and colourful metropolis. And yet, millions throng to see this artistic oddity.
Similarly, the impressionist -inspired clamshell form of the Sydney Opera House stands out like a sore thumb in the linear skyline of the Australian city, but this distinction has made it an architectural icon of the 20th century.
Ask yourself; what is Big Ben other than a giant clock tower wedged against the side of an enormously historically significant building? Added on to Westminster Palace in 1859, it is today a more defining emblem of London city that the hallowed structure it is attached to.
Perhaps the best example of quirky appeal in the heart of a city is “The Gherkin” in London’s central business district. Properly named 30 St Mary Axe, The Gherkin’s rather unfortunate nickname was born out of criticism for its very unceremonious shape. Accused of resembling a pickled cucumber, local Londoner’s thought it would be an aberration to the stoic London skyline when plans were announced in 1990s.
Today, it has become the city’s symbol modernity despite retaining its nickname, because it dared to be different. A Google search on London’s prime financial district will reveal that there are very few images without this landmark featured. It defines the area. Global tourists visit the CBD for no other reason than to have a picture taken with it. And guess what? The locals have come around too.
By comparison, M101 SkyWheel’s peculiarity goes beyond Instagram appeal as it is designed to draw crowds in and provide a catalyst for its commercial components. While some may be dismissive of this attraction, statistics show that global travellers do have a penchant for experiencing city skylines – you’d do it too if you were travelling.
We only have to look at the undiminished weekend queues to the rotating apex of KL Tower and the suspended bridge linking the Petronas Twin Towers to know that this is true. M101 simply taps into this appeal by proposing a different experience, offering partakers a view from 220m above ground level from a unique perspective.
Similarly, a unique perspective is presented with its retail component. While market reports currently point towards a glut in retail space in KL, the solution say experts isn’t necessarily to retreat from this offering, but to reinvigorate it by creating a shopping ambience that is unique, exciting and experiential.
Despite the slow economy, the retail sector remains one of the city’s major draws, in terms of domestic and regional consumers. The answer to waning numbers must surely be to an effort to rekindle consumer interest with fresh appeal – or better yet, motivate international spenders to return to our shores.
Making M101 SkyWheel’s mall the first elevated shopping experience in the world and a key tourist draw is an effort to help put our retail scene back on the global map, and that certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Being a property writer, it is difficult to avoid gravitating towards the residential component of this development to pose questions about its authenticity as an investment option and ultimate contribution to the local landscape. The answers are pleasantly surprising on a number of fronts.
While M101 SkyWheel offers lofty designer living within the vibrant pulse of the city, it does so with acute insight into current market trends and existing demand.
For example, units sizes start from 400sq ft and are priced from the RM300,000-plus mark. The estimated entry price bracket of RM750psf to RM800psf is not just remarkably reasonable for an inner-city residence, but the absolute price of RM300,000 makes these units attainable for a younger set of upwardly-mobile professionals looking to take advantage of a strategic location.
There is certainly demand for this, and it pays mind to an emerging trend among ambitious young professionals who require less space so long as they are intrinsically connected to work, lifestyle and leisure facilities at their doorstep. Apart from retail, F&B and day-to-day facilities that will be undoubtedly provided for within the M101 SkyWheel ecosystem, it is also immediately connected to an MRT station.
At an attractive per square foot price, investors too will be zeroing-in on the draw of inner-city real estate and the handsome rental yields it represents. With over 80% of the units from the first phase already sold (to mostly local buyers), I suspect I am not the first to make this assessment.
The positive sales response also puts to rest initial inhibitions about the project’s immediate location, which despite being in central KL, is also on the periphery of Kampung Bharu. This is an area that has astonishingly escaped modernisation despite being at the epicentre of it – largely due to traditional sensitivities surrounding a historical settlement in the vicinity.
Here too, M101 has employed effective marketing know-how by adopting the position of a rejuvenation endeavour. Rather than being invasive, it presents itself as a catalyst for much-needed socio-economic transformation that has long evaded the surrounding community.
Indeed, the project’s proximity will not only represent convenient job opportunities for local residents, but also increased business opportunities resulting from a spillover effect.
Despite all the points covered, for many, the final quandary that persists is ultimately a visual one. Will M101 SkyWheel have a place in our already lovable KL City skyline?
The same question was asked of The Gherkin when it rudely interrupted the ultra-dignified London skyline two decades ago. Instead of being the anomaly everyone expected it to be, it was a catalyst for many other vibrant creations, giving rise to a landscape that eclectically archaic and dynamic in equal measure. It is representative of the modern and cultural global capital London is today.
KL too aspires to be a global city. As we move towards this goal, should we not also aspire towards a skyline that more accurately reflects who we have become as a people? Are we not enterprising, resilient and innovative? Do we not possess aspiration, boldness and the capacity for flair?
Perhaps part of that story has already been told by towering icons we have already raised, but I wonder if it’s time to begin completing the picture with just a little bit of (dare I say it) pizazz.
If global recognition is what we seek, then maybe it’s time to stop dwelling on the “whys” and start celebrating the “why nots”.