Since the company was established in Malaysia in 1995, Gamuda Land has grown into a leader in creating sustainable, holistic townships in cities across the region, including two major development projects in Vietnam — Celadon City in Ho Chi Minh City, and Gamuda City in Hanoi.
In this episode of Vietnam Innovators, Hao Tran sits down with Angus Liew, Gamuda Land’s general director, to reflect on his 13 years in Vietnam, his beliefs on sustainable development, and his vision of the company’s future.
It starts and ends with people
One of the things that stands about Angus Liew is that, unlike the overwhelming majority of expats in Vietnam, he’s taken the time to learn Vietnamese to a fluent degree.
As general director of Gamuda Land, the property development arm of Malaysia’s largest government infrastructure contractor, Gamuda Berhad, you could be forgiven for assuming that he’d be too busy, but in his own words, “Real estate is mostly to do with human beings.”
When he arrived in Vietnam 13 years ago, he was drawn by an enormous national growth opportunity which he still sees today. His learning of the language came from a desire not just to more effectively lead the Gamuda Vietnam workforce (97% of which is Vietnamese), but to better gauge people’s needs and wishes.
It’s an ideal that goes beyond Angus himself, “Most senior management from Malaysia at Gamuda Land speak Vietnamese.” In doing so, the company is able to leverage its own international market experience and localize it, “When we speak the language, we can understand the culture more. When we do that, we can design products that are closer to the hearts of the Vietnamese people.”
However a simple, people-driven principle is what drives Liew’s beliefs and Gamuda’s operations. “All people are looking for a good environment to stay in. That’s pretty much everyone’s wish.”
Cultivating a community
As for what makes a good environment, all of Gamuda’s “Townships” bear the hallmarks of what it knows people need to thrive; living space, work space, greenery, sports and activities amenities, clubhouses, and shopping facilities. In short, all the things needed to create not just a place to live, but to create a community.
“When we talk about townships, we talk about cultivating communities,” Liew tells us. In Ho Chi Minh City’s Celadon City in Tan Phu District for example, there’s a 16 hectare park, four schools, the city’s largest shopping mall AEON Mall, a soon-to-open office facility designed by OfficeHaus, as well as a state of the art sporting facility and publically accessible club house where regular community events take place — each within walking distance of the next.
While the benefits of this kind of circular environment is hitting the spotlight as pandemic-induced restrictions limit people’s freedom of movement, Angus and the Gamuda Land team’s work far predates COVID-19. Rather, it’s been led by a generational shift in the work-life balance. “Millennials tend to work without (traditional) time limits. So, in that time it’s important that they can work, unwind, exercise and shop within a close distance.”
OfficeHaus’ premium office building in Celadon City, due for hand-over in Q4 2022, epitomizes this vision for an easy work-life balance. The Bauhaus inspired design has been carried out by leading architectural studio Korn Architects and will offer world class, LEED Gold certified office spaces right in the heart of the township. “It actually completes the township. We have a workplace, a shopping place, a sports place, a green area and living space,” said Liew of the project.
However, Gamuda Land’s approach is about more than convenience, it’s also about environmental sustainability.
“Custodians of the land”
The most distinguishing visual features of both Celadon City and Gamuda City is how green they are, with many publicly activated spaces and few skyscrapers at all. “Here you can see the difference between us and other developers,” explains Liew. “About 60% of Celadon City is green. This is something we champion.”
Three years ago, the Gamuda Parks initiative was launched as a commitment to integrate large scale green spaces into its developments, and to in turn boost the ecosystem of the area, and improve the health of the city at large. As Liew states, “When we develop a place, we believe that we become the custodians of the land. We have a responsibility to make the land better.” In Celadon City, a 16 hectare park is the centerpiece of the township. “This becomes a ‘green lung’ for the city as a whole.”
Beyond incorporating green spaces into its townships, the Gamuda Parks initiative commits the company to keep an eye on the overall ecological health of the land it manages. "We carry out biodiversity audits to make sure flora and fauna are thriving. We believe that if it’s good for plants and animals, it’s good for human beings."
Smart townships and the future
As the term “Smart City” fixes itself in the lexicon and developments integrate the latest technology to make for smoother function and liveability, Kiew has an interesting viewpoint on the concept. “What’s smart now may not be smart in three years' time, so in our townships, we create a smart infrastructure, a platform that allows us to integrate and adopt new tech as it comes along.”
Gamuda’s vision for tech-integrated developments is driven by the aforementioned fundamentals on which it bases its holistic approach — to respect nature, build communities, and innovate to create value in the property and the wider area.