Designer of quiet luxury

Mok Wei Wei, managing director of W Architects, can lay claim to being the architect who has designed the most condominium projects in one of Singapore’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, Nassim Hill. The first project he undertook was the design of The Loft at Nassim, a 99-year leasehold, 77-unit private condo completed in 2002. This was followed by the freehold 43-unit Tanglin Residences, which was completed in 2005. The third and latest is the 55-unit freehold The Nassim, completed in August last year.

Not only do the three projects have the same architect, they also have a developer in common, namely CapitaLand Singapore. Nassim Hill ranks among the most coveted Good Class Bungalow (GCB) enclaves. The area is dominated by mansions belonging to business tycoons and the nouveau riche.

Steeped in history, The Nassim is clearly the most anticipated project. It is a redevelopment of the former 457-room ANA Hotel, which began operations in 1990. Prior to that, the hotel was called Century Park Sheraton, which had operated on the site since 1979. ANA Hotel was acquired by DBS Land (now part of CapitaLand) in 1999. ANA Hotel ceased operations in 2004 and was rezoned for redevelopment into an upscale condo. Mok had been involved in the design of The Nassim since its inception in 2006. Right from the start, CapitaLand had envisioned a project reminiscent of the black-and-white bungalows of the early 1900s, characterised by overhanging eaves, wrap-around verandas or balconies on both ends, as well as extensive gardens.

The heydays — the bigger, the better
A decade ago, big was beautiful. Developers were snatching up prime sites in collective sales and minting ultra-luxury condos that catered to the world’s richest. Investor-friendly policies and prospects that opened up from the multi-billion-dollar integrated resorts with casinos were the main catalysts luring the ultra-rich to Singapore.

Property prices soared to dizzying heights. SC Global’s The Marq on Paterson Hill was the first to see the sale of a private condo unit cross the $5,000 psf  threshold. That was achieved in July 2007, when a 6,157 sq ft unit with a 15m lap pool was sold for $31.4 million or $5,100 psf. This was followed by The Orchard Residences, which saw all four penthouses sold at prices of $5,000 to $5,600 psf. The 175-unit Orchard Residences, a 99-year leasehold condo sitting on top of ION Orchard shopping mall, was jointly developed by CapitaLand and Sun Hung Kai Properties.

The Nassim was conceived against this backdrop of global wealth flowing into Singapore. Even in those heady days, Mok had made a name for himself as an architect who specialised in understated luxury. Recognition for his work bagged him the President’s Design Award 2007 for architecture and urban design. “ Personally, I really like projects that look plain on the outside, but once you step in, you will be surprised,” says the 30-year veteran in the industry.

“It [has] to do with my love of traditional Chinese architecture,” Mok continues. “When you wander around Beijing’s hutong for example, you cannot tell what lies beyond the doorways. From the exterior, the doorway of the biggest mansion looks exactly the same as that of the rest. Once you step across the threshold, it’s a different world within. I love this kind of concealment, with a delayed revelation.”

Reinterpreting the black-and-white bungalow
Mok’s W Architects has successfully reinterpreted the black-and-white bungalow at The Nassim. Just like the hutong in Beijing, from the entrance of the condo development, one can hardly guess what it looks like within.

There are only 55 units on the sprawling 122,568 sq ft freehold site. They are arranged in eight five-storey blocks surrounding a 50m swimming pool, with adjoining play pool and reflective pool. Units have spacious interiors, ideal for owner occupiers. Typical three-bed room units are sized at 1,927 sq ft, while those with private enclosed spaces can be as large as 3,089 sq ft. Three-bedroom units with an additional family room range from 2,906 to 3,391 sq ft.

The four-bedroom units have a wide range, including duplexes. Some of the units on the ground floor come with private enclosed space, an additional basement level and dedicated basement parking spaces. Sizes of these units are from 5,307 to 6,060 sq ft. Duplex penthouses are sized from 4,564 to 6,598 sq ft. These contain the master suite and a lounge on the attic level, and a rooftop swimming pool. There are also four-bedroom deluxe units that are sized from 3,897 to 5,177 sq ft.

Within the development are also five-bedroom units. One of the biggest and only unit of its kind in the development is on the first level of a corner block. It has a total floor area of 8,945 sq ft and includes generous private enclosed spaces, a basement level with its own entrance lobby and dedicated parking space for up to three cars. It is ideal for those who love to entertain, says Mok. The five-bedroom duplex penthouses are sized at 7,061 and 8,913 sq ft. The penthouses come with an attic containing the master suite and a private rooftop swimming pool.

The two biggest units at The Nassim are over 9,000 sq ft. One unit on the first level is 9,149 sq ft and also has five bedrooms. It has its own enclosed formal dining room, a wraparound balcony and private basement parking for three cars. The biggest unit of them all has a total floor area of 9,300 sq ft. It contains five bedrooms, a generous balcony space which is ideal for entertaining, and dedicated basement parking for five cars.

Understated luxury
In keeping with the black-and-white bungalows, the living and dining areas at The Nassim are tiled with white Italian Carrara marble slabs measuring 90cm x 90cm. Many units feature a palatial master bathroom with double-sink vanity top, separate shower and luxurious bathtub. The bathrooms also use white Carrara marble, but the tiles have chamfered edges, which have to be fashioned by hand. “The difference is very subtle, but you can see it in the changing light,” says Mok. “We wanted to create understated elegance that appeals to people with discerning taste.”

The kitchens are enclosed and are equipped with Gaggenau appliances as well as Sub-Zero refrigerators. The feature walls and kitchen cabinetry are of high gloss ebony veneer.

The main focal point in the old black-and white bungalows was the veranda, which functioned as a second living room. The verandas maximised cross ventilation and were, therefore, the coolest part of the home, says Mok. “It was where the family spent most of their time,” he adds. “It was also the most nicely furnished part of the house.” He, therefore, ensured that units at The Nassim came with spacious balconies that act as extensions of the living and dining areas.

The units on the first three levels of The Nassim have balconies designed as sky terraces linked to each other by landscaped bridges. The units on the upper two levels have verandas with louvred window shutters that can be opened to allow cross ventilation, or closed for privacy or when it rains. “The individual condo blocks themselves resemble black and white bungalows,” says Mok.

Sustainability was also a factor. While the flooring of the bedrooms and the balconies are of natural timber, the louvred window shutters are of aluminium infilled with reconstituted timber. “I would have loved to introduce natural timber for the planter boxes and window shutters, but I reckon natural timber will be very difficult to upkeep as it’s exposed to the elements,” explains Mok. “I [decided] to use reconstituted timber, so even though it’s artificial, the effect is not jarring. From afar, they look like wooden shutters. Good design is not just about looking nice on the day of the photoshoot; 10 years later, it must still look as good.”

Designing for the global rich
Although there was a three-year hiatus between the inception of The Nassim in 2006 and its revival in 2009 after the global financial crisis, the essence of the project and its inspiration remained unchanged, says Mok. The only difference was that the units were scaled down to their current sizes owing to the property cooling measures, especially the additional buyer’s stamp duty of 15% for foreign buyers of residential property.

Despite that, the units are still large, with three-bedroom units sized from just under 2,000 sq ft, and four-bedroom units from close to 4,000 sq ft. The five-bedroom units are over 7,000 sq ft. “This condo is in the style of the days when big apartments were sought after,” says Mok. “They are designed for the global rich, people who like to buy property in Hong Kong, London, New York and are now looking at Singapore. The project is in Nassim Hill, the prime of the prime. How many units in Singapore are like that?”

Indeed, there are only half a dozen private condos with a total of 298 units that can boast having the Nassim Hill address. Besides CapitaLand’s The Loft, Tanglin Residences and The Nassim, the three other developments on that road are the 39-year-old Nassim Mansion, with 72 freehold units, located at the cul-de-sac; the 35-unit Nassim Woods, which obtained its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) in 1998; and 8 Nassim Hill, with 16 freehold triplex units completed in 2014.

Located behind Nassim Hill is Nassim Road, which has another half a dozen low rise condo blocks snuggled among GCBs, the British High Commissioner’s Residence (Eden Hall), the Embassy of Japan and Embassy of the Republic of Philippines. The condos include the 39-unit Nassim Jade completed in 1998; the 30-unit Beaufort on Nassim, completed in 2008; the 100-unit Nassim Park Residences which obtained TOP in 2011; and the 33-unit Sage, which was completed in 2013. That brings the total number of condo units on Nassim Road to 231.

Even though The Nassim has yet to be launched in Singapore, Jerry Tan of JT Resi, a specialist in marketing luxury property, has already brokered the sale of a unit in the project. It was for a ground floor, three-bedroom unit of 2,809 sq ft. The transacted price was $7.66 million ($2,725 psf), according to the caveat lodged with URA Realis on May 24. The buyer is believed to be an Indonesian.

That was the catalyst for four other units to be sold, with the buyers also believed to be Indonesians. According to sources, the units were the four- and five-bedroom apartments with absolute prices in the range of about $12 million to $20 million each.

“Some people who are looking at the luxury market now are asking themselves: How many projects will there be in Singapore with the address that I want?” says JTResi’s Tan. “There’s no other new supply on Nassim Road or on Nassim Hill with such a setting.”

In today’s market, the buyers are predominantly end-users. “You must have the right product, one that is properly planned and well designed to appeal to such discerning buyers,” says Tan. JTResi showcased The Nassim at a roadshow in Hong Kong on May 28 and 29. The project will preview in Jakarta, Medan and Surabaya in the coming weekends.

The luxury condo market has come full circle. The high-net-worth investors are once again making Singapore their next destination, says Tan. “They know the stamp duty is still in place, but when the right product comes along, they do not mind making a commitment. And there are only 55 units in [The Nassim].”

This article appeared in the City & Country, Issue 731 (June 6, 2016) of The Edge Singapore.