To the Manor Born

Perspective Magazine, Hong Kong, December 2008
Along the Aegean coast an intriguing new boutique hotel seeks to celebrate and reinvigorate traditional Anatolian-style architecture with a contemporary twist and a healthy injection of Turkish art

When the world “homey” is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte on the Aegean coast.

When the world ‘homey’ is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte, on the Aegean coast.

Preserving a sense of ‘home’ was the main design aim of the Büyükkuşoğlus, a prestigious family with a prime piece of ocean-side real estate in Bodrum, Turkey’s…

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Minding their Business

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 5, 2008
Asia’s designers find a silver lining in the credit crunch

Speakers at Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week have long pushed design as a money-making tool, but this year audiences will probably be listening to the advice more closely than usual. With big business in trouble, the question on everyone’s lips at the event, December 8 to 13, will likely be, how are we going to weather the storm?

Developer Morgan Parker thinks designers are in for a leaner time. Having spent more than 13 years in Asia developing luxury real estate, he is now the president of Taubman Asia, which is behind Macao Studio City and Seoul’s flashy Songdo IBD Shopping Center, both still underway. “Business is the origin, the genesis of design. We use design to improve the world around us but it really starts with the consumer,” says Parker, who will be showing the firm’s retail projects at the event. “It’s a mistake to think…

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Built to Last

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 12, 2008
Tadao Ando has 40 years of genre-defining architecture under his belt, but don’t assume he’s ready to retire.

As a veteran architect in high demand, Tadao Ando knows how he likes his press meetings to run. “Give me three or four questions and I’ll answer them in a row,” he instructs through his interpreter, before delivering a series of diplomatic clichés and being whisked off to his next gig. But Ando can hardly be blamed for being perfunctory; he is just part of the way through a 24-hour publicity spree that includes a Hong Kong architecture tour, a speech at a business lunch, a series of interviews and an evening lecture at Hong Kong University to an arena of slack-jawed students. Despite the jaunty bowl cut and the kindly eyes, the 67-year-old is tired.

This schedule is a just hint of the demand Ando finds himself in after 40 years in the business. His small, 30-strong design studio has whipped…

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Election pledges a matter of life or death for inmates

October 22, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

There will be little sleep tonight for the inmates of Adiala jail’s death cells, but though the rooms in Pakistan’s notorious northern prison are concrete, cold and small –they measure about eight by five feet – discomfort is currently a side issue. This is because for the first time in years the men and women on Pakistan’s death rows have been given some hope about their futures.

On 25 August a letter reached a Pakistan news agency from the prisoners at Adiala. It warmly congratulated the new President on his appointment and it carried the reminder of a promise. “You had spoken on the floor of National Assembly that our government wants to commute death sentences,” they wrote to President Zardari, and to Prime Minister Gilani. “We are now alive since then … Please, once again look in to our matter.”

The reminder was badly needed. On June 21 Yusuf Gilani announced that, in tribute to its…

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Losing Ground

October 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong,

150,000 Cambodians are at risk of eviction from their homes as developers exploit a corrupt system which fails to protect property rights

Losing Ground

In June 1975 waves of black-clad guerilla fighters entered Phnom Penh and emptied it – by persuasion, coercion and violence – in just a few days. The Khmer Rouge north had beaten the south, and as a first step, more than two million bewildered people were banished from the city and sent to live in the countryside. Today, facing the prospect of its first skyscraper, a rash of Special Economic Zones and numerous foreign-backed developments, Cambodia is boasting of a new era. Yet some things haven’t changed.

“See that tree?” asks Son Chhay, a bespectacled Cambodian minister, as we stand on the steps of the new national assembly building and look south. “Behind that there’s a company, 7NG Group, that’s trying to move 600 families more than 20km away. They’re…

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Courage under Fire

July 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

A Catholic priest is helping to give hope to young human rights victims

With a rakish side parting and a smile behind his eyes, it’s hard to imagine Father Nandana Manatunga at work, not because his job involves kids – for that he seems well suited – but because of the situations his wards come to him in. Dancing eyes seem at odds with the grim task of torture rehabilitation.

The small island nation off the coast of India often hits the news for the long-waged and bloody war between its government and the Tamil Tiger separatists, but there are domestic issues that affect the populace even more deeply. Father Nandana runs the Kandy Human Rights Office, a young, independent organisation in Kandy, Sri Lanka that takes care of child victims of police brutality and sexual abuse, and helps them and their families take their cases through the courts. His story brings to light a collapsing legal system and a police…

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Playground Attraction

July 2008, Gafencu Men Magazine, China

 Dubai is the fastest growing city on earth, and as the strategic financial centre the Middle East it is becoming a playground for the very, very rich



There is a frission of guilty pleasure to be had from heading to one of the earth’s hottest, driest places to ski, swim and indulge in climate-controlled shopping sprees, and it is one that this year prompted around seven million to pack light and head to Dubai. This small nation of 1.3 million people will soon have forty mega-malls, 7 new theme parks and over 530 hotels to its name, not to mention a pulsating new club scene and a penchant for luxury sporting events. And with that kind of party laid on – well, it would be downright rude not to show up.

Back in the early sixties, when Dubai had one hotel and a lot of sand, there were few who could have looked at the old trading port and camel herding turf and thought: “chi-CHING”. But oil – oil changes everything, and after its discovery the emirate turned itself into a thriving commercial hub. It got its World Trade Centre in 1979, a beautiful 39-storey testament to modern Islamic architecture, then a lucrative free trade zone was established, with more to follow in the 90s under the new crown prince: starry-eyed, business-savvy General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Now, tap ‘Dubai’ into Google news and you won’t just find pages on the new airport (the world’s largest when completed) or the latest height report from the Burj Dubai (629m); you’ll get camels going for US$2.7 million in beauty contests, the chance to buy an island the shape of Switzerland and CEOs boasting of a “Disneyland on steroids”.

As a record breaker Dubai ticks a lot of boxes (largest pair of chopsticks? Look no farther), but it’s also competing quite seriously as a business destination. It is the commercial capital of the seven United Arab Emirates, and though the old industries –pearls and oil – have dwindled they’ve been happily replaced by financial services, manufacturing and top tier sports championships from horse racing to power boating, placing it firmly on the international circuit, with a running supply of the world’s rich and famous. Freehold property developments like The Palm Jumeirah and Arabian Ranches have done the same, but they tempt more than just the nouveau riche trying to keep up with the Beckhams. Property rushes in the earlier part of the decade reduced would-be investors to fisticuffs as they fought to get their deposits down.

In Dubai business and pleasure are locked in an amorous clinch. Mega malls, theme parks and hotel projects push ever farther out into the desert, and stretches of bare sandy road are littered with billboards boasting of that area’s future as a theme park or residential oasis. It may make life tough for taxi drivers (the city layout changes more often than Paris Hilton’s arm candy) and for an abused migrant workforce that continually crops up, overworked and underpaid, in the news, but for those born to shop, the emirate’s arms open very wide.

Dubai residents are very proud of their malls, which are formidable in size and assortment with wares that are tax-free. While the Burj Dubai aims to outdo Minneapolis’ record-breaking Mall of America in girth when complete this year, the Mall of Dubai is the biggest the UAE has to offer right now, and is the only mall in which shoppers can hit indoor ski slopes between sprees . Each giant has its own character: Deira City Centre is best for local people watching and international high street chains; Wafi City serves up Diors and Pradas; Souk Madinat’s outlets are smaller and more boutique.

For those expecting the musty pandemonium of Morocco’s souks Dubai may be a welcome relief – the covered shopping alleyways are easy to negotiate and the same can be said for the prices. They can also give the best blend of both worlds, local and tourist, with goods that range from delicate pashminas, silver and henna kits, to rosewood furniture, saffron and kitchen implements.

For the retail weary there are other kinds of action to be had, and the water parks and pristine, waveless beaches make it a worthy family destination. Fresh water may be scarce but there are at least ten golf clubs, all with courses designed by the best in the business, from Greg Norman to Robert Trent Jones II. Thrill seekers hit the sand dunes and wadi (dry river beds), either by board or full pelt in 4X4s, and many tour companies venture briefly into neighbouring emirate Sharjah, where the colour of the sand deepens from pale ash blonde to a spicy orange, and belly dancers serenade diners over Arabian barbeque as the sun dips.Desert hotels such as Bab Al Shams capitalize on the ‘desert castaway’ vibe with infinity pools among sand dunes and cocktails on floor cushions. Adrenaline can run as high as the prices at the Nad al Sheba’s Dubai Racing Club, especially during the world’s richest horseracing event, the World Cup, in March. The annual calendar sees everything from the PGA Dubai Desert Golf Classic to the Dubai Open Tennis Championship.

This emirate is the most cosmopolitan of the seven and it is free from many of the restrictions of Muslim law in neighbouring Sharjah, Ajman or even the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. Laws governing alcohol intake have relaxed  (though officially just for non-Muslims) and there’s a high tolerance for western clothing and customs, which has helped fashion one of the hottest party scenes in the Middle East. “The scene has completely changed,” says Sadiq Saboowala, whose family has run a gold jewelery business in town for more than two decades. “Five years ago it was calmer, more about visiting sheesha bars and having long meals.

July 2008, Gafencu Men Magazine, China

Dubai is the fastest growing city on earth, and as the strategic financial centre the Middle East it is becoming a playground for the very, very rich

There is a frission of guilty pleasure to be had from heading to one of the earth’s hottest, driest places to ski, swim and indulge in climate-controlled shopping sprees, and it is one that this year prompted around seven million to pack light and head to Dubai. This small nation of 1.3 million people will soon have forty mega-malls, 7 new theme parks and over 530 hotels to its name, not to mention a pulsating new club scene and a penchant for luxury sporting events. And with that kind of party laid on – well, it would be downright rude not to show up.

Back in the early sixties, when Dubai had one hotel and a lot of sand, there were few who could have looked at the old trading port and camel herding turf and thought: “chi-CHING”. But oil – oil changes everything, and after its discovery…

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Mad World

South China Morning Post Style Magazine, Hong Kong, June 2008
Young and radical, Ma Yansong is pioneering a new, ideological path for Chinese architects

Having your business name linked with madness might not seem a savvy move, but it has served Ma Yansong remarkably well.  During the past few years both his name, and that of his small architecture studio, MAD – which stands for Ma Design – has built an enviable reputation. Ma has buildings under way in countries from Canada to Costa Rica and is the first Chinese architect to win an international competition outside of China.  For a guy not too long out of his master’s degree, and with only one thing actually built, he certainly knows how to create a buzz.

This psychic angle makes more sense when you look at his buildings; they’re almost like people. Underneath each image of steel, concrete or glass sits an ideology, a thought process about technology, society or quite often, politics.  “I think we use architecture…

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Bay City Rollin’

April 2008, Gafencu Men Magazine, China
Times may be tighter, but the Bay City is still rolling in it

Of all San Francisco’s incarnations, the one most loved in Asia is its face from the 1990s – a thrilling time when the dot-com boom made a millionaire a minute and the city’s more bohemian, beatnik impulses were buried deep.  “There were parties every single night and they were always totally over the top” remembers Charlotte Milan, who runs a luxury travel and wine public relations firm there, C.Milan Communications.  “People were bringing in dance troupes from Israel, doing shot after shot of caviar and it was like: how much can we have? How much, how much?”

Ten years later and the brashness has gone. The Bay Area remains one of the most expensive places to be in The States with real estate prices scandalously high, a third of its households on six figure salaries and at least forty of America’s 400 richest people calling it home, according…

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Chill Out Chiang Mai Guide

For Smart Travel Asia in 2007, regularly updated.

AFTER being curtly relieved of his newly acquired farm at gunpoint up in Sisaket province, my flight buddy Richard – a former management professor from the States – seemed surprisingly unperturbed. “That’s Thailand for you,” he shrugged, mildly. But he had higher hopes for Chiang Mai, his latest choice for building a home. “It’s not the same there,” he said. He was right. We landed, emerged from the airport, and there was not a gun-toting farm-grabber in sight (I’d hidden my own twelve-acre ranch in my hand luggage, just in case). Chiang Mai cuts a most welcoming picture – and not only due to its apparent lack of property pinchers.

Compared to the hot chaos of Bangkok, this is a temperate city, set on a northern plateau with a laid-back vibe. Even the hawkers seem more sedate. The sun may feel stronger at this modest elevation, but just a short trip takes the traveller to cool green waterfalls and verdant…

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