Friday, August 3, 2012

CapitaLand puts art and soul in projects


Business Times: Wed, Aug 01

[SINGAPORE] Art collecting is a hobby for most, but now it is serious business for mega property developer CapitaLand Group.

It has more than 120 yet-to-be completed developments in the pipeline and wants to set aside 1-2 per cent of their construction cost to buy and install pieces of art on their premises, said president and CEO Liew Mun Leong in an interview with BT.

Behind this push is Mr Liew's belief that art in developments is the next big thing, after developers' current drive to introduce environment-friendly features in their projects.

"I am totally convinced that by putting up arts, your architecture and building value will increase," said Mr Liew, who himself is an avid arts collector.

He likens his belief to the famous theory in psychology put forth by Abraham Maslow, with a slight twist to suit the property world rather than human motivation.

"It's like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. First, we go for the design of the building, then we go for sustainability, and then now we go into arts.

"This is how I see it. We get sophisticated this way... So this is our attempt to go beyond sustainability."

He may well be right. In 2005, the Urban Redevelopment Authority introduced an initiative that encourages developers to install art pieces in their projects in central Singapore. Called the Art Incentive Scheme for New Developments In Central Area, it allows developers and building owners to apply for additional gross floor area (GFA) if art works are installed within developments

This additional floor space comes over and above the prescribed gross plot ratio of a site - which has to be located within the central area based on the 2008 master plan - no doubt a boon to developers.

Mr Liew said that CapitaLand and its units have tapped onto the URA scheme by applying for additional GFA for CapitaGreen - a Grade A office tower currently under development at the old Market Street Car Park site.

The additional floor space is pending approval from the authorities, and could amount to as much as 1,000 square metres, or about 10,000 sq feet, he said.

Apart from the usefulness of extra floor space, art helps a building to stand out, and Mr Liew recounted an incident that ingrained this in his mind.

CapitaLand, he said, used to have a sculpture by well-known Chinese sculptor Gao Xiaowu at the lobby of Ascott Beijing.

"When we moved that sculpture back to Singapore, many people felt the absence of that piece of art. And they said, hey, the lobby is very empty you know. Can you buy another art piece for the lobby?"

Now that Mr Liew is due for retirement from CapitaLand in June next year, will his successor be as passionate about investing in art as he has been?

"Sure. Why not?," said Mr Liew. "I didn't do it as a personal wish. I did it for the project winning features. The project winning features is that you've got design, you've got sustainability and then you've got the arts.

"It's a business strategy, if that's what you want to call it. It's not the whim and fancy of a particular person."

In April this year, the group set up the CapitaLand Art Management Unit to manage its investments in the hundreds of sculptures and paintings it has snapped up over the years.

The unit is led by Francis Wong Hooe Wai, an architect by training who is also chairman of CapitaLand's green committee. To date, the Singapore corporate offices of CapitaLand and its strategic business units have on display more than 150 artworks.

In addition, there are many artworks in the Group's overseas properties, such as serviced residences. The collection of artworks include those by artists such as Han Meilin, Kumari Nahappan and Kurt L Metzler.

Mr Liew declined to reveal how much CapitaLand has spent on art, but shared one rule the group has set: each of the pieces should not be "awfully expensive".

This means that pieces can cost up to a few million dollars, but not "tens of millions", he said.

Mr Wong elaborated: "The direction we are taking is to invest in pieces that delight, rather than museum-quality pieces, some of which may scare you."

He added that the unit will focus a lot on investing in sculptures because they last longer. CapitaArt will also look at collecting a mix of local and foreign works.

"Also we go for contemporary arts. The contemporary and living artists so that we can look forward to some appreciation (in value)," said Mr Liew.

  
Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
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