The First Prime Location Project of The Development Studio

Former Swire Properties chair and CEO Keith Kerr is having an active retirement. As founder and chair of the new The Development Studio (TDS), Kerr knows a thing or two about property, having worked at the behemoth when it raised projects like Pacific Place, Festival Walk and Taikoo Place among others. With his latest venture, he hopes to use decades of experience to contribute something new to Hong Kong’s changing urban environment.

Wisdom and Youth

That said, TDS has no aspirations to compete head-to-head with major players like Swire or Cheung Kong. “We don’t see ourselves in the same league as the large established players,” says Kerr. But as a lean, young boutique operation he hopes to fill the gaps, whatever those gaps
may be.

Kerr and TDS are also embracing the urbanisation that’s making the so-called living city more crucial in every corner of the globe. “Developers have a particular responsibility to society, because what we do lasts for a long time. We have a responsibility to make it part of the urban fabric that will stand the test of time, and will be a responsible contributor to the neighbourhood … It’s about respecting the people who live and work in the city.”

With stamp duties such as they are and prices at near-record highs, most would wonder if this moment was the ideal one for a developer to announce itself, but TDS didn’t have much of a choice. “The process of getting development done determined when we would come into the market. It’s quite complex to develop in the urban area. It’s very expensive to develop in the urban area. I think the process chose us,” reasons Kerr.

That may be so, but the market is robust, interest rates remain low, and despite (potentially) crushing stamp duties people are still buying — though they may be becoming more discerning shoppers. Prices at 28 Aberdeen are steep, nearly $30,000 per square foot, but Kerr is confident in the product’s superior value. “We’re very conscious of the high cost of property,” he says, noting the efficiency at 28 Aberdeen is high and wasted space is low. But Kerr also points out one of the biggest factors, often overlooked, in the city’s high prices: construction costs are through the roof, posing a challenge for the industry and the community.

TDS has four projects lined up, each cleaving closely to the studio’s design-forward philosophy emphasising functional and stylish living spaces. Though the early response to 28 Aberdeen Street has been strong, Kerr isn’t convinced consumers are putting preference first just yet; it’s still about affordability. But TDS is just getting started, and could become one in the clutch of boutique developers remaking the cityscape one swish flat at a time. Is TDS up for some redevelopments? “Of course, we’d be delighted to. We love a challenge and would love to take on anything that challenged our creativity,” says Kerr. “Being creative is fun… There are great things happening in London and New York, and I think there are lessons to be learnt from them.”

Rare Occasion

TDS’s inaugural 28 Aberdeen Street is that rarest of beasts in Hong Kong — newly built flats for sale on Hong Kong Island. With the overwhelming majority of new stock in the pipeline located in The New Territories or Kowloon-side locations like Kai Tak or Tseung Kwan O, 28 Aberdeen represents just one in a handful of new developments in the appealing Central, Western and Mid-Levels districts. Interest, not surprisingly, has been strong. Ralph Wong, TDS’s head of development and investment, notes enquiries have been diverse, and “There have been investors because of the location, and end-users who can actually justify the purchase by living there for a few years and renting it out later on at a fairly good yield. We’re finding a lot of young professionals who work in Central and would like new product, and well thought out spaces.”

The Aberdeen Street project is 22 storeys across from the PMQ, home to 38 one-bedroom units, one duplex and a penthouse with roof. The tower’s design comes courtesy of a little architecture firm called Wong & Ouyang, who designed moderately recognisable addresses like ICC, Three Pacific Place, Taikoo Place, The Cullinan, and The Austin, with interiors designed by young studio via.. “We went to [Wong & Ouyang] because we could rely on their scale, and skill, and knowledge, but we actually worked with some of the younger architects within the firm. And I think they had quite a journey. I’ve known [via.] for some time and again, it’s a young firm with aspirations and we wanted to harness that energy,” remarks Kerr.

28 Aberdeen Street has been in the works since 2010, and will be finished this year; TDS wasn’t interested in a long sales period prior to construction, but most crucially Kerr hopes to make an impression on the market. “We’re really trying to create projects that you can use, and live in — in the core, busy, urban area. When you get home everybody wants an oasis. So we try and provide a space that gives that calm, but is functional and liveable. Hopefully there are enough people in the market to appreciate what we’re doing,” he explains. “It’s a thought process. I’m sure others do as well, but we do devote a lot of time and effort into design, thinking about how people might use a space, live in it, entertain friends and so on.”

To that end, the flats and common spaces are defined by welcoming natural materials, classical accents, and pivoting doors that maximise interior space.

Natural light is the order of the day, and for those budding gourmets, state-of-the-art Bulthaup kitchens await. Flats start at 407 saleable square feet in size, and very little needs to be said about the property’s location on Aberdeen Street, between Caine and Hollywood Roads.

Launch prices began at approximately $13 million, or just under $29,000 per square foot. 28 Aberdeen Street is scheduled for completion in 2017.

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