Boutique developer wins big in Shanghai (Part One)
AUGUST 28, 2019
NEX Tower has been selected as the winner of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia Pacific Awards for Excellence. Over 50 projects were submitted to the awards program from leading developers across the region. NEX Tower was the sole finalist and the only award winner from the Philippines, with other winning projects by major developers from Singapore, Tokyo and Beijing.
Developed by Nova Group in partnership with VelcoAsia, NEX Tower is designed by the internationally renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The 28-story structure stands boldly with its striking crystalline form on Ayala Avenue, offering world-class architecture, top-level construction, premium materials and the highest sustainability criteria.
Recognized as the property industry’s most prestigious awards program, the ULI Asia Pacific Awards for Excellence reflects ULI’s objectives throughout the region. The competition is based on ULI’s guiding principle of recognizing and honoring best practices that foster the highest standards in land use and development.
The ULI Award for Excellence recognizes the full development process of a project, not just its architecture and design. The criteria for the award includes leadership, positive impact, relevance to the contemporary and future needs of the community, environmental sustainability, stewardship and resiliency, strategies and techniques that other communities can replicate or adapt, and financial success. Jury members are recognized leaders who represent a broad geographic diversity and are drawn from many areas of real-estate development expertise, including finance, architecture, design, land planning and development, public affairs and professional services.
Ricardo C. Cuerva, managing director of Nova Group, had a specific aspiration for the project. “Our vision is to raise the level of commercial office development in Metro Manila, and to build projects that can compete with the best from other global cities. Winning the ULI award not only affirms this ambition, but it challenges the Philippine real-estate industry to strive for excellence,” he said.
We had a quick interview exchange shortly after the win where the very coy Cuerva shared with us what’s in store for Nova.
Tell me about the rise of the boutique developer vis a vis the big large-scale ones?
Over several property cycles in the last three decades, I watched the rise of boutique developers. I recall in the early 90s, you saw companies that were not traditionally in the property business start to venture into development. Back then, property cycles were shorter and during the down cycle, these new developers were hit hard and many of them had to shut down. The property cycle we are currently in has lasted much longer, so boutique developers have fared much better.
Today you see a number of boutique developers building projects, particularly in the premium office market. Many of these companies are now led by second- and third-generation business owners, a lot of whom are my friends. You can notice overall that there is a stronger focus on quality, as the projects tend to be legacy projects that pay tribute to and symbolize the success of these families. It also helps that the younger leaders are highly educated and have global exposure.
What’s the competitive advantage of the boutique developer?
Certainly the smaller scale can be an advantage. When you’re only building one or two projects at a given time, the focus on the project is very different from when you’re building 100 projects simultaneously. However, real estate is a highly complex business and only experience can teach you a lot of the hard lessons that you need to learn.
What’s the design philosophy behind Nova that differentiates you from other boutique developers?
I can’t speak specifically for the developers, who I feel are doing good projects, as well. But I can tell you what differentiates Nova Group from the property industry as a whole.
In a sense, Nova is a hybrid of the large-scale developer and the boutique developer. We have over 30 years of experience in the real-estate business and have developed over 2 million square meters of property. We’ve been through multiple cycles, which has endowed us with the resilience, the track record and the expertise that comes with that history. Concurrently, we choose to develop a number of smaller projects like NEX Tower, to really push the envelope, focus on quality and build the best-in-class projects.
Our organization has always been vertically integrated, as we construct all of our own development projects. This enables us to closely control both the quality of the product, as well as the cost. When a developer farms out construction to a general contractor, their builder will tend to have a different set of priorities when building that project.
The fact that I am an architect leading our company is quite unusual. I studied architecture knowing that it would provide me with deep insight into the actual product that developers create. My architectural education enables me to speak the same language with our architects and I am able to push the design even further than they would with a typical client. I have a graduate degree in real-estate development, as well and I have years of managing our construction company, so I wear several hats and approach a project with these multiple perspectives. The ability to integrate these different but related disciplines makes our project execution very unique.
To be continued