Thailand’s distinctive architecture gives the country its unique look. Environmental practicalities and cultural preferences meet at an attractive, exotic intersection that ensures visitors always know where they are.
This presents something of a challenge to foreign property developers looking to break ground in Thailand, whose local developers are enthusiastically embracing international collaboration.
Building regulations in Thailand are tight, and the government provides little in the way of direction when it comes to new construction projects – particularly compared to neighbouring governments such as Singapore, where big windows and balcony spaces are currently in vogue.
“When presenting to a local developer, you do have a more international view of things,” says Matthew Lin, Design Director of Point Grey Group, the real estate company he co-founded in Hong Kong in 2008.
“Developers are always looking for new ideas, and to do that you have to explore outside your country. Whether it’s design or sales and marketing, Thai developers appreciate the fact we’re foreigners in Thailand and that we’re using our experience to help them conceive and conceptualise their projects.”
Chiefly based in Singapore, Point Grey shifted focus to Thailand nine years ago with goals of adding value to the local approach to design and sharing Singapore’s style. A decade in Singapore had left Matthew with a sound understanding of what worked – and what didn’t – in the city-state’s architectural sector.
“Singapore’s model of space efficiency is something we’ve tried to export,” he says. “In Singapore, spaces are kept very small, so we’re able to explain to Thai developers what minimum sizes are, what can be done, what’s already been done and either doesn’t work or works very well.”
When Point Grey first established itself in Thailand, Matthew began collaborating with a local developer on a budget hotel project. “He liked our ideas because we brought that Singapore flavour to it; something more modern,” he says.
The use of space was critical to what was envisioned as a boutique budget hotel chain, so Matthew suggested an idea well outside the box. “I said, ‘Let’s do it as a cookie cutter with a fixed module for easy adjustment, depending on site conditions,’” he says.
Developers are always looking for new ideas, and to do that you have to explore outside your country.
“It’s more sustainable for future projects because they can re-use the same plans, and if they build multiple sites at once, construction costs are more effective by virtue of the modular design. Coming from Singapore, we’re a bit more forward thinking, and the client was very happy with how it turned out.”
Innovation is integral to Point Grey’s culture, from how it operates, where it’s located and even how its employees think. “Every single employee – and even our strategic partners – are encouraged daily to innovate and explore new ideas. I think Thailand is very receptive to new ideas now,” Matthew says.
“It’s still very much a developing country and I think that gives Point Grey more value-add than somewhere like Malaysia. It’s a huge melting pot of new ideas and new technology.” Its strategic location in the heart of South-East Asia also makes Thailand an ideal base for Point Grey to expand into nearby countries such as Laos and Cambodia.
“Thai architects are good at what they do, extremely good designers, and we’re able to use that expertise to market ourselves in countries like China.”
Point Grey began as an extension of Matthew’s architecture studies and experience in New Zealand and Singapore, and as a way to develop family land. This personal stake gave the Point Grey management team – which consists of Matthew, his wife, Watcharaphorn, and an additional partner – a sense of ownership in the work he does that today takes place in a real estate industry drastically different to the one in which he began his journey.
“We understand our clients and treat each project like our own family land,” he says. “We see more projects catered for millennials, who have a see-andbe-seen approach to development, so common spaces, open plans and roof gardens are becoming popular.”
Keeping it simple
Although the firm began with a decentralised system of construction and design managers enlisted on a per-project basis, business has been handled entirely in-house for the past five years. “We have a construction arm and a design arm under one roof,” Matthew says.
“Especially during the COVID-19 situation, keeping things local and having a centralised management team that could work from home made sense. We’re able to share the workload.” COVID-19 had construction projects around the world reeling when supply chains were disrupted by lockdowns and restrictions, but Matthew says his suppliers were accommodating.
“Materials delivery was unavoidably pushed back, but it’s actually made suppliers more competitive,” he says. “We have more and more suppliers coming to us to promote their products. We need three quotes for every item just for transparency, and suppliers are going out of their way to find the best solution for us in terms of time and cost. They understand us and we understand them.”
As Point Grey’s projects continue to flourish in Thailand, Matthew feels his decision to relocate to the ‘land of smiles’ has been justified many times over.
“Thailand has always looked to Singapore as an innovative city, and being one of the few Singaporean architect companies here, it sees us as a source of new ideas, new concepts, sound financial planning and strong sales and marketing,” he says.
Relocating his family to the Thai city of Chiang Mai has also given Matthew insight into how best to apply his experience to the local way of life – in essence, he’s still developing family land. “We have two kids, so when we’re not working, we’re out with them in Chiang Mai. There’s so much to see and do here and, professionally, there’s so much potential.”
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