THE MAVERICK BEHIND THE MASTERPIECE

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As CEO of TA Global Bhd, Tiah Joo Kim talks about the re-orchestration of the Damansara Avenue masterplan, of which Ativo Suites is his first brainchild.

By Helena Hon

Ativo Suites launched with much aplomb last month at their award-winning show gallery in Bandar Sri Damansara, Kuala Lumpur. For most of the Saturday afternoon into the early evening, the air around this northern Selangor township was charged with sound and merriment, courtesy of a lion dance performance, live music, a fire eating show, salsa dancing as well as Cuba cigar making and wellness workshop activities alongside an endless flow of food, drinks and people. It was a glittering affair marking a fitting occasion − the launch of the above-mentioned serviced apartment component of 48-acre, freehold mixed development, Damansara Avenue.

Tiah Joo Kim − the fresh-faced CEO of TA Global, the developer of said master development of which Ativo Suites is its second residential component (after the condominium Azelia Residence), and third in launched phases (after retail and office Ativo Plaza) − was there to announce the new mission for his company and the turnaround he had given to the Damansara Avenue masterplan, since his installation as CEO of TA Global. Looking dapper in his teal-blue suit and winklepicker leathers, he spoke on the podium: “I’m a young guy but those of you who are slightly older will remember that the TA Group of companies was a financial powerhouse in the 90s. In the past years, we have grown to be a property investor and developer. We haven’t been that active locally but the focus now is to grow our property developmentbusiness and to really establish ourselves as a leading real estate player in Malaysia.”

Damansara Avenue Re-Orchestrated

Damansara Avenue, primed to showcase Tiah’s input, is one of those pivotal Malaysian property  developments he was speaking of in his opening speech. Situated in verdant, affluent Bandar Sri Damansara along the LDP, Damansara Avenue the super-hub, was actually launched as far back as 2010. Although it boasts the afore-mentioned two award-winning completed phases, the masterplan has, since Tiah’s stewardship of the company in January 2016, seen a complete revamp.

For those unaware of his illustrious past, Tiah, despite his relative youth, is someone who comes with his own bag of accolades and experience. Prior to this – at an even earlier time in his youth − he was in Canada, building, completing, selling out and winning awards for the architecturally-acclaimed Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, the second tallest skyscraper in the city. Tiah was in charge of the whole project as CEO of the Canada-based developer Holborn Group.

The 63-storey, 187.8-m twisting tower bearing the brand of the President of the United States was jointly developed by TA Global and Holborn. In November last year, the world was electrified when they announced they had won seven prestigious Americas Property Awards for Best Hotel Architecture, Best Hotel Interior, Best Residential High-rise Architecture, Best Mixeduse Development, Best New Hotel Construction & Design, Best Residential High-rise Development, Best Development Marketing; and the mother lode of it all: The International Property Awards for Best International Hotel Architecture 2017-2018 where only one winner in the world gets to earn it for that year.

Now, back in Malaysia, and imbuing a lot of what he has learned from his Trump Tower Vancouver experience into his current works, he announced that he’s “really excited” about showcasing Damansara Avenue. “It’s not everyday that we get to work in such a great project. As a developer, sometimes we get to build a hotel, we get to build a condo or a mall, but in this masterplan, we get to build all of that. So, we get the opportunity to create almost like a small township or a small city and you get to integrate everything together so you can live, work and play in the same area.”

The Damansara Avenue masterplan was thus reintroduced in 2017 with a brand-new identity catering to the needs of an up-to-the-minute, urbane and sophisticated community. With a GDV of approximately RM7.6 billion set for project completion 10 to 15 years into the future, it is designed by an impressive line-up of award winning architects namely GDP Architects, VERITAS Design Group, RSP Architects and JRD Landscape Architecture.

“When it comes to building a masterplan,” he explained about his selection of entrusted teamplayers, “you have to work with an experienced team and the best people such as the best architects.” And 10 to 15 years encompass economic cycles of ups and downs, he acknowledged of market realities. Therefore, as a developer, “we have to stay focused on the end goal to ensure that we have the elements to animate the area, and to allow for a symbiotic relationship; it’s going to be green with a big park in the centre, there will be retail, a sports complex, a performing arts centre, there’s going to be a lot of creativity and vibrancy. That’s what makes a masterplan successful.”

 

REINVENTING THE WHEEL

“FOR EVERY PRODUCT, I DESIGN EVERYTHING. IT’S ALMOST STUPID I WOULD SAY BECAUSE IT GOES AGAINST THE BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY OF WHERE IF YOU STANDARDISE MORE OR DUPLICATE AND REPLICATE AND HAVE ECONOMIES OF SCALE, THAT’S HOW YOU MAKE MONEY. BUT I DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT THAT. I AM LIKE AN ARTIST.

I WANT EVERYTHING TO BE SPECIAL. AND I TAKE THE TIME AND TAKE PAINS TO MAKE IT SPECIAL. THAT’S WHY, IN EVERY PRODUCT, OUR GOAL IS TO BRING A NEW BENCHMARK. WE ALWAYS TRY TO REINVENT THE WHEEL. IN ANYTHING THAT WE DO, WE ALWAYS WANT TO IMPROVE,

AND BE DIFFERENT. I AM NEVER SATISFIED.”

 

 

Where Life Connects

To that end, Damansara Avenue bears the tagline: “Where Life Connects”. It features six complementary components of residential, retail, office towers, lush green landscapes, a dedicated sports complex and a performing arts centre that connects the resident to Relationships [Residential], to Lifestyle [Retails & Shopping Mall], to Success [Office], to Nature [Landscape], to Health [Sports Centre], to Art [Performing Arts Centre] and to Your Destination [Highways & MRT Connectivity].

The newly completed Sri Damansara Link (SDL) to Duke 2, and the due-to-be-operational-in-2022 Sri Damansara East and West MRT Stations in Bandar Sri Damansara along the MRT 2 SSP line are the fellow gamechangers that up the ante for Damansara Avenue, in as far as accessibility is concerned. Furthermore, a proposed, elevated pedestrian bridge of approximately 250m in length will link the MRT East Station to the development.

 

 

Up Close and Personal

Five days earlier, away from the hubbub of the launch in a private interview in the company’s headquarters at Menara TA One, KL, Tiah was reflective and philosophical about the role he plays as a developer and creator of community ecosystems.

“I am so blessed to be in the position of facilitating and creating that dynamic for people’s memories and  experiences,” he mused. “These kinds of things are priceless because at the end of the day, that’s really all we have.

“I am so glad to have the experience of getting to shape the city skyling and to contribute to the creation of the community. I get to impact the way people eat, sleep, play and work every day. Although I know parts of it will always evolve, I always try to figure out what makes people happy. When they live in a place, or go out to eat or play, what do they want to experience? How can I make their life better? This is the thing that motivates me. It’s not profit-driven.”

He was earnest when he revealed that he never copies anything. “I always start from scratch, on a blank piece of paper and I begin by asking, what is the best product that we can have here?”

These ruminations, sum up in a single word, the branding for TA Global products from now on: Quality: crafted by the very hand of Tiah Joo Kim.

While there are a few more Malaysian developments in the making such as TA Hotel & Residences, KLCC and a Dutamas residential project; in as far as Damansara Avenue is concerned, he said: “With all due respect, I think we easily have the best product in this market here in Bandar Sri Damansara.”

The April 2018 issue with Tiah Joo Kim

 

About Ativo Suites

True or not, the proof is in the pudding as they say, and some of that can be seen in the Show Units (see pg 14) as well as by the take up rate of Ativo Suites. The serviced apartments were 50% sold out by launch day. “We have already started construction,” said Tiah, “and are in the piling stage now.” But while the façade was finalised before Tiah came into the picture, he disclosed that everything else inside, including the programming and the interior design (ID), “had my hand in it”.

In fact, he added, the ID won two MIID REKA awards: “One for the Show Gallery which I was also in charge of, and one for the Show Units.” They won Bronze for the Sales  Gallery, (“only one other guy beat us, there was no Gold, only Silver,”) and Silver for the Show Units (“there was no Gold, so we were the highest”).

Facilities Galore

Speaking of what Ativo Suites comes with, he said in Malaysia, we are quite spoilt, referring to the number of facilities people get in condos. In comparison with other countries, “the facilities they get are nowhere near”. Coming from a person who has lived most of his life overseas and still shuttles between Vancouver and Malaysia regularly, there must be truism in that.

Ativo Suites comes with as many as 50 facilities and amenities including two infinity pools, a full-fledged gym, sky jacuzzi pods, a theatre room and many, many more spread across 53,000sq ft over five different levels of the podium and rooftops of both towers.

That’s not even mentioning the interior of the 668 units which boasts a Smart Home System with LCD screen, door camera and sensor connection that monitors everything remotely, as well as a biometric door lock set that is fully integrated with Bluetooth and Mobile App for state-of-the-art security. “People are going to realise the value they are going to get,” he smiled. “I think this is really the way of the future.”

I GOT THE MUSIC IN ME

Perhaps the passion that goes into Tiah’s real estate conceptions emanate from an inner artistic core. When asked if his creative muse might be lending a hand in composing his designs, he answers:

“I am hugely into music. I play the drums. I am a heavy metal drummer in a band in Vancouver where we write originals. We have six finalised songs and there are plans to record an album. When writing a song, we try to make sure that we don’t follow a set formula even though you must stick to some rules. You can’t write a song that’s exactly the same as the last one you wrote even though it may be in a different key or one that’s 20 minutes long with no chorus.

So I think there are certain things we can apply to creation in general.

Similarly, when you are trying to do design, you have to stay within boundaries but you don’t want to be formulaic at the same time. You’re always trying to create and reinvent but you still have to stay within parameters. In metal, to get a really strong impact of how heavy you sound, you contrast it with a soft section. In interior design, you do the same thing. You juxtapose soft with hard, or raw, or elegant, to accentuate the difference, you put these elements in tasteful amounts, you vary it, you take it back a little and you try to find the balance.”

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