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the chairman
Charn Srivikorn
Gaysorn Property, Thailand


March sees the reopening of Bangkok’s Amarin Plaza after an extensive renovation. Renamed Gaysorn Amarin, the 1980s shopping mall, flanked by postmodern Grecian columns, sits in Ratchaprasong, the Thai capital’s retail centre. Landowner Gaysorn Property bought back the building’s lease in 2007, and, after exploring several different plans, it is set to become the final part of a trio of buildings that make up Gaysorn Village.

The initiative is led by chairman Charn Srivikorn. Originally an investment banker, he took over the family business after the Asian financial crisis in 1997. He first worked with Hong Kong Land to redevelop Bangkok shopping mall Gaysorn Centre in a union brokered by lvmh brands. He then went on to build Gaysorn Tower, the most sought-after office space in Thailand.

Srivikorn’s family ties to the area go back to the 19th century and his siblings work alongside him as caretakers of the neighbourhood (twin brother Chai was instrumental in the construction of Ratchaprasong’s elevated walkway, which connected the district’s shopping malls, offices and hotels with the skytrain, transforming the visitor experience).

A respected figure in Asian property circles, Srivikorn describes himself as an urbanist rather than a retailer. He wants Gaysorn Amarin to be a lounge where the entire district can “mingle” – a favourite word. At 62, he has no intention of slowing down (despite nursing a stubborn pickleball injury), with his sights set on developing other parts of Bangkok.

Did you ever consider knocking down Amarin Plaza?
We did. The first scheme with architecture firm Aedas involved merging Amarin Plaza with our neighbouring building, Maneeya. We decided not to redevelop in the end because there’s too much supply in Bangkok. By renovating, we can operate at a lower cost to the competition and still provide quality. And we can always redevelop later, when the market normalises, which we think will take another 10 to 20 years.

Gaysorn will be operating a lot more of the space inside. Why?
Brands used to be the activators of traffic and there was the seasonality of spring/summer and autumn/winter retail and fashion seasons. But today, Louis Vuitton needs to change its visual merchandising every two to four weeks. Smaller brands don’t have the same resources and that creates a gap. So yes, we have had to move from b2b to be more b2c, but we are looking more at placemaking and activating space, not retailing. Activation can come from a civic space and urban areas can be designed to [bring life to] a place or drive a retailing programme.

The Gaysorn Amarin mall
It’s one of a trio of buildings that make up Gaysorn Village
Gaysorn Tower contains sought-after office space

Louis Vuitton is back as one of your anchor tenants. How did this relationship reignite?
That wasn’t intentional. We had planned for a speciality concept store. But when they heard what we were doing, they came to us. It’s going to be different; they’re not calling it a shop. Louis Vuitton loves to innovate and I think this concept will be a first in Asia. We used to work with a number of their brands at Gaysorn Centre but lvmh changed its strategy more than a decade ago and they needed a bigger floor plate. We didn’t have the space, so they have their flagship stores in Iconsiam, Siam Paragon and Emporium.

You operate a number of residential buildings too. Why did you venture into this alongside retail development?
It’s fun. Also, we can make an impact by bringing in what we’ve learned on the commercial side. Retail is more than just a collection of brands. The way we think and design the customer journey and experience can be applied to residential, which is all about creating the environment for people to enjoy living.  

Are your residential developments the biggest revenue contributor?
Well, our latest residential project, Tela Thonglor, generated about thb4bn [€104m] in revenue but that’s project-based. It’s not annualised. The revenue for our mixed-use properties last year was about thb1bn [€26m]; we closed the retail in Amarin. This year it should be about thb1.3bn [€33m] and eventually around thb1.6bn [€41m].

How do you feel about 2024 compared to last year?
Much better. The curve is going up. But looking ahead at 2025 to 2030, we are facing a different geopolitical environment and a lot more unknowns. I went up to Everest Base Camp in search of answers and I came to this conclusion: we invest to improve people’s lives and as long as we are doing that, we are adding value.

Any worries for the coming year?
My wife wants me to spend more time with her but I am not ready to do that just yet.

Markets to watch

Leading lights

Wondering which property markets have the most to offer in 2024? Look no further. We highlight the top cities worldwide according to five categories. 

Hong Kong: Best for new homes
While many cities, such as Paris and Berlin, struggle to cope with demand for property, Hong Kong’s supply of new homes reached a record high in 2023. Though these tend to be concentrated on Hong Kong Island because of a lack of terrain suitable for construction further afield, a new initiative that taps into private land is opening up a host of possibilities.

Valencia: Best for rental returns 
Investing in rental property is particularly lucrative in the laid-back Spanish city of Valencia, averaging a yield of more than 7 per cent. And while demand is already greater than in Madrid or Barcelona, it’s still growing. Overseas real-estate investment and high availability have helped to drive this boom.

Zürich: Best for co-op housing
Switzerland’s largest city has a long history of supporting non-profit housing. That’s why one in five multi-residential buildings are run by private co-operatives (known by the catchy moniker of Wohnbaugenossenschaft). Unlike in most European cities, Zürich’s co-operatives are not subsidised. They instead follow the municipal government’s century-old formula for calculating rents, ensuring a consistently low rate. Residents are so satisfied that no co-operatives have ever opted out of the model.

Tokyo: Best for retail space
Bricks-and-mortar retail across the globe is on the up and Tokyo is leading the way. Not only does it boast one of the most attractive prime rent-to-gdp ratios but Tokyoites still have a strong attachment to physical retail. This makes it one of the world’s most attractive cities for brands looking to set up shop.

Dubai: Best for hospitality
A buoyant tourism industry in the most-visited Emirate has created significant demand for hospitality spaces in recent years. Even better, the relatively straightforward process of setting up a business in Dubai means that investors are increasingly keen to back new hospitality ventures there.

the co-founders
Lyndsay Caleo Karol and Bill Caleo
The Brooklyn Home Company, USA

Too often, developers are happy to ignore aesthetic and social values to boost their bottom line. The Brooklyn Home Company, based in New York, is trying to do things differently. It was founded in 2007 when real-estate developer Bill Caleo asked his sister, Lyndsay Caleo Karol, and her husband, Fitzhugh Karol, to help him design a property he had bought. The company specialises in renovating and constructing residences according to sustainable principles, integrating art and design features from local creative talent.

How do you do things differently?
bill caleo: Developers get a bad reputation for their history of abandoning projects once they’re complete, leaving new homeowners confused and worried. We consciously label all our projects as The Brooklyn Home Company properties, because we want to stand by our developments. I wouldn’t say we’re perfect – issues do come up. But we make sure to take care of our customers. 

We also try to do things the right way by surrounding ourselves with craft, supporting local artists. We also focus on the carbon footprint of our buildings. Many years ago, we started studying passive house-building techniques. It involves super-insulating buildings and bringing in filtered fresh air. This lowers carbon emissions and eliminates fossil fuels from the picture. 

Brooklyn Home’s Bill Caleo
Lyndsay Caleo Karol
One of the firm’s light-filled interiors
It is guided by sustainable principles

How did your approach of working with local artisans develop? 
lyndsay caleo karol: When we first started out, my husband Fitzhugh and I were in art school at Rhode Island School of Design, so we know a lot of craftspeople, from woodworkers to metalsmiths.

We work with young artists who are still in a discovering phase in their careers. But we also work with older master craftsmen. For 608 5th Street, a Brooklyn townhouse project, we worked with the third generation of a Polish family who are master stair builders. When we come to a project, we often think we know exactly what kind of materials we want to use. But we always learn by working with master craftspeople like them.

What are the challenges when it comes to developing on a residential scale according to passive house principles? 
lck: I’ve leaned on details from historical buildings – architecture from 100 years ago – to create a certain type of romance, an air of nostalgia. Features like fireplaces and gas ranges do create a sense of intimacy. But they’re highly polluting. So I have to focus on creating that sense of warmth through natural materials. Having said that, we’re now seeing the development of induction ranges that are ecologically sustainable. 

bc: In our early days, our customers demanded gas ranges. But people are embracing induction now and changing their perspective on what can be considered beautiful and high-end. We’re seeing a shift.

the developer
Michael Shvo
Transamerica Pyramid 

Developer Michael Shvo

The flight of businesses and workers from central San Francisco has turned one of America’s most productive cities into a case study in downtown decay. Look a little closer, however, and the green shoots are hard to miss: major investments are happening again in the urban core and the soon to reopen, skyline-defining office tower, Transamerica Pyramid, is a beacon for this revival. It’s also a billion-dollar bet on the city’s office property market.

“The Pyramid is a symbol of San Francisco, no different from the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge,” says Michael Shvo, the Israeli-born developer who snapped up the building in 2020 for $600m (€550m). Shvo (pictured) brought in architecture studio Foster 1 Partners to give his 48-storey modernist skyscraper a top-to-toe refurbishment, ahead of its reopening this quarter. “We’re upgrading the building for the next 60 years,” says Shvo.

Most floors of the Pyramid have been turned into offices and, according to the developer, 80 per cent of these were leased ahead of completion, mostly to venture funds, law firms and San Francisco’s growing cadre of artificial-intelligence companies. A restaurant and skybar are in the works, along with a members’ club by New York institution, Core.

San Fran’s Transamerica Pyramid

The Foster 1 Partners team have sought to turn the ground floor into a public plaza, opening up the lobby to the surrounding streets and boulevards with vast and inviting windows, while making space for a coffee shop, architectural bookshop and florist. “My goal here is really to activate the entire city block,” says Shvo, who envisions the Pyramid’s base as a thoroughfare connecting and enlivening multiple neighbourhoods downtown. “We want people to have a reason to come here that’s not just for work.”

Enticing those people back to downtown, however, is going to be a challenge. Shoplifting and flagrant drug use continue to plague San Francisco’s image and the city has been slow to address a dramatic rise in rough sleepers. The city is on the mend but it will take a charm offensive to convince many that the centre is the place to be. 

monocle toured the Pyramid ahead of its reopening and the lobby is particularly impressive, with the diagonal beams that hold up the tower now revealed. The Transamerica campus also includes a spruced-up park of historic redwood trees along with a second tower nextdoor, which has been entirely gutted for a mixture of retail and office spaces, and an adjacent 1930s building that has been reskinned by the Foster team. Both are still some years from completion.

When the Transamerica Pyramid first opened in 1972, designed by William Pereira for the eponymous insurance firm, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Shvo often tells an anecdote about visiting San Francisco as a seven-year-old and drawing a picture of the building that he would one day own. He’s less enamoured, however, by many of the other blocks that dominate the city’s skyline. “The reason buildings are vacant is not because Twitter decided to cut space; it’s because these buildings are not functional any more or relevant to the needs of today’s tenants,” says Shvo. There is a flight to quality, he adds. “As long as tenants are provided the right kind of office space, they will come to work.”

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