BACK TO ROOTS: Is there a place for cultural themes in modern property development? NST RED asks Sr Adzman Shah Mohd Ariffin, Director and Chief Real Estate Consultant of Exastrata Solutions Sdn Bhd for his opinion
In Malaysia, cultural themes in property developments are a major part of the booming tourism industry. Chalets and residences permeated with various elements of Malaysian culture are a rave with tourists eager to experience Malaysian culture first-hand. Despite the richness of our cultural heritage, however, there is not much emphasis on cultural elements in terms of residential property developments “If you look at tourist areas, there are developments which embrace traditional designs, but these are for tourists,” says Adzman, “not for permanent residents.”
Indeed, contemporary property developments in general have been skewed more towards western design and architecture, long associated with modernity and higher standards among Asians in general. Adzman thinks it’s a shame, stating that these days he has not seen much with regards to incorporating traditional concepts when it comes to property.
Catering to the market: According to Adzman, the dearth of cultural themes in contemporary property developments may have been caused by the multi-racial nature of the market itself. What appeals to a certain group of buyers may alienate another group. And developers naturally prefer not to alienate any group of buyers if they can avoid it.
“When we look at our society itself, we have a multiracial society,” says Adzman, explaining that “if a property is too ethnic-specific in its design and appearance, you may be excluding certain segments of the market.”
In terms of the property market, the general perception is that catering too much to the cultural appeals of a specific group of buyers would unnecessarily lessen the range of potential buyers for a development, to the developer’s detriment.
Malay homebuyers for example would likely be willing to pay extra for houses closer to a mosque whereas Chinese or Indian buyers would not.
“I think that is why most developers go on a general-concept basis — for instance a Mediterranean theme — in terms of developments, which caters to the general public,” Adzman opines. Finding value in culture: However, imbuing a residential development with cultural themes associated with any particular race may not necessarily exclude buyers from other races. It comes down to understanding and respecting cultural differences.
“In terms of the property market, it depends,” says Adzman. “Some people can be understanding.” Citing Shah Alam as an example, Adzman explains that while Shah Alam has always been an Islamic township since the early days, that did not stop non-Muslims from moving in and staying there.
“It could even be a unique selling proposition for properties — going back to roots,” suggests Adzman. In addition, instead of focusing on cultural themes and motifs per se, Adzman thinks incorporating good cultural building practices instead may also add value to developments. Beneficial cultural practices transcend cultural pre-conceptions and would appeal more easily to a wider group of buyers as opposed to purely aesthetic preferences. “I would say that there are certain developers who actually have been able to incorporate good Malay building practices,” says Adzman. “For example, from the concept of the kampung house, we see roomy and airy designs with good ventilation, as well as usage of certain materials in the house to cool it down.”
But Adzman feels architects and developers should take the initiative in re-injecting cultural influences into property developments. “We need some architects who are bold enough to incorporate traditional designs and concepts into their designs,” states Adzman.