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How Good Design Can Improve The Bottom Line

Massimo Mercurio assesses its importance in the residential real estate industry


If you have passed Tanjong Katong Road recently, you would have noticed the distinctive Amber Skye, a recently-completed 22-storey condominium with a sexy, wavy façade. Developed by CS Land and OKP Land, it was designed by Mercurio Design Lab in collaboration with AM Architects.

To date, more than half the 109 apartments have already been sold, with some transacting at above $2,000 per square foot and most at 10 percent above market valuation – an exemplary result given the existing real estate market conditions in Singapore. 

Undoubtedly, Amber Skye boasts many selling points, including unobstructed sea views on the higher floors, a convenient location near many amenities such as malls, schools and the future Tanjong Katong MRT station, and bordering the lively enclave of Katong.

But what stands out the most about the condominium is its graceful, fluid architecture. The dynamic weaving of the façade, inspired by the idea of rekindling the relationship between Singapore and the sea, creates the impression of motion, in contrast to the stale immobility of its stout, boxy neighbours.

“The sea is often a source of good inspiration,” says Massimo Mercurio, creative director of Mercurio Design Lab, who was ranked this year among the top 50 designers in the world by A’ Design Award & Competition.

“Everyone has experienced the incantation of staring at the far horizon, where the water line merges with the sky, and the mesmerising effect of the relentless waves breaking on the shore. That was exactly the mood we wanted to infuse into this project.”

Amber Skye, Tanjong Katong

Amber Skye, Tanjong Katong

Massimo Mercurio, creative director of Mercurio Design Lab

Massimo Mercurio, creative director of Mercurio Design Lab

Additionally, the thoughtful, functional layout of the apartments and communal spaces culminate in a resort-like ambiance, rather than an urban residential environment, allowing homeowners to feel like they are walking into a personal daily holiday.

Clearly, much effort has been made into creating a strong, unified design concept – something that Mercurio is an ardent advocate of. “Good design brings higher profitability, which is something a market (such as Singapore’s) realises as it becomes more mature and discerning. Buyers are willing to pay more for a product that yields a better experience. In the long term, it also provides a significant branding component to developers’ bottom lines.”

This naturally begs the question of what good design is. On one hand, Mercurio says it is about ensuring a project sells well. On the other hand, and more importantly, it is the understanding of its purpose and the meaning attributed to it.

“At our studio, we follow a holistic approach to design. Everything is part of a three-dimensional whole, and the design solution needs to come about solving every aspect of the composition at the same time,” he says. “There should not be such a thing as designing the façade. You either design a building in its entirety, or you should not be designing at all.”

Mercurio believes good design brings two beneficial effects to any project. One is the perceived value of a residential development, “The higher this perceived value is, the more people are willing to pay to experience living in it.”

The second is the way good design enriches the environment, creating better living conditions. “This obviously has an impact on every aspect of social life, from productivity to well-being, but it also has a great branding reward. Companies that are investing in good design stand out from others that don’t,” he shares.

The Italian designer is amazed that investors can still be quite myopic when it comes to giving value to the importance of design, “At only two or three per cent, the cost of the design of a project is only a very marginal percentage of the overall development cost. 

“The difference between a good and bad designer might be just a percentage point of the overall cost of the project but eventually, the benefit that an investor might reap could be many times more than its cost. 

“I frankly do not believe that developers can’t pay for quality designers. Smart designers can find the way to render great composition at a reasonable cost.”

However, cost-cutting has resulted in the increasingly common phenomenon of designers simply dressing up and designing the façade of a building, which, according to Mercurio, “resembles the application of make-up”.

“Unfortunately, because of the commercial essence of most projects today, designers are forced to skew the balance towards function and leave form to only a marginal role. In reality, I believe that for any given commercial problem, there is always a beautiful solution. As designers, the responsibility falls upon us to find it.”