The Edge Markets, 24th January 2022

Conceived as an international financial hub, Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) has received the thumbs up from financial institutions that are making this address their home base. The 70-acre development’s well-crafted master plan, which takes into consideration its location, connectivity, accessibility and ample green spaces, ensures that TRX will remain relevant and create value for the country.Creating developments that will stand the test of time requires more than just sound engineering; it calls for a careful consideration of what’s to be built and the sustainability elements needed to ensure that it is future-proof. That was what the master plan for Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) — Malaysia’s upcoming global financial services hub located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur — aimed to achieve, and it placed people as a top priority.

“TRX’s master plan has been carefully thought out with the people in mind. Its location, physical and digital connectivity, ample green spaces and easy access to a centrally located shopping centre and city park are all important to support life inside and outside of work, delivering a high-quality working life that is critical to improving the work-life balance,” says Datuk Azmar Talib, CEO of TRX City Sdn Bhd, the project’s master developer.

The 70-acre development’s components include the international financial hub, residential and retail properties, and spaces for leisure and recreation as well as culture. With construction work picking up steam following the reopening of economic sectors, TRX Residences and Core Residences are making great strides towards their completion in 2023, says Azmar.

“Our infrastructure development has reached 80% completion, and of course the much-anticipated lifestyle destination Exchange TRX and the amazing 10-acre park on top of it will be ready by the end of this year. We are also very excited to welcome HSBC Bank and Affin Bank, which will be operating from their new headquarters in TRX this year,” he adds.

Given its scale, the development of TRX has been undertaken in phases, with the early phase focused on the main components, namely the park, 5-star hotels, a retail mall, residential towers, office towers and a signature tower. Such an approach provides flexibility in planning for upcoming phases based on demand, says Azmar.

“This allows us to be agile,” he points out. Still, he concedes that the long-term nature of the development coupled with the current climate of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic is not without its share of challenges.

One of the biggest questions in the property market since the onset of the pandemic has been about office occupation and what the future of work will look like in a post-pandemic world. A recent report on a survey done by Savills Malaysia Sdn Bhd, What Workers Want — Malaysia, offers some insights into the needs and preferences of office workers in the country. One of the key findings of the study, released in November, was that four out of five persons surveyed believed that the office would continue to be a fundamental aspect of working life, whether for the long or medium term going forward.

Savills Malaysia deputy managing director Nabeel Hussain says that although there has been a concern about the demand for office space dropping permanently as a result of the work-from-home trend, the feedback received to date suggests that this has been somewhat overblown. “First, remote working doesn’t necessarily translate directly to reduced office space, as some employees who are working remotely will still have a full-time desk in the office (this was another key finding from the study, that employees had a strong aversion to hot-desking). Second, the pandemic and transmissibility concerns have made the high office workstation densities of yesterday less viable now. This means that, in order to accommodate the same number of workstations, companies will require a greater amount of office space than previously.”

As more office spaces reopen, the initial focus will be on keeping employees safe and protected, he adds. “Employees have expressed a clear concern about their health and safety, and also about the level of amenities available at the workplace. Companies risk ignoring these sentiments at their own peril.”

Companies will therefore need to figure out how to create a better, healthier and more flexible future workplace for their employees, says Nabeel.

“Some of the changes will be less significant than others. Companies would be well advised to start with these. Digital technology is here to stay and some thought needs to be given to how best to harness this powerful tool to make the environment more adaptable or flexible,” he adds.

Designed to be future-proof

As the master developer of what is to become the country’s global financial and business district, Azmar is cognisant of the evolving needs of office space occupants. What is to TRX’s advantage, he says, is that even though the development strategy may change over the time in response to market demands and requirements, the unwavering vision is to deliver a dedicated financial district. And this is achievable due to the master plan, which has been designed to ensure that TRX is future-proof.

“We are lucky that our master plan has taken into account things like sustainability, smart city elements and the importance of the public realm. This has allowed us to give solutions to the evolving workplace needs such as open spaces, good ventilation and smart solutions in safety, security and hygiene,” says Azmar.

“We have seen the pandemic change the needs and requirements of the market, not just in Malaysia but everywhere. Recent studies on what workers want in a post-pandemic world have shown that a seamless connection between remote working and working in the office will continue to be critical, with hybrid working becoming the norm.

“There is also greater priority placed on the safety and well-being of workers and the provision of better work-life balance. It is not enough to just provide a place to work, but also to foster creativity and collaboration, along with the right amenities for a safe and conducive environment.

“TRX is equipped with the infrastructure, services, facilities and technology to become the workplace of the future. All these elements put together provide an enhanced level of services that will make TRX distinct from other workplaces.”

For HSBC Bank Malaysia, which has invested US$250 million in its new headquarters at Menara IQ, the district’s attributes that put people as a priority were a key selling point. Chief operating officer Mily Liang says the well-being and work-life satisfaction of its employees was a critical factor in its decision to invest in TRX.

“The role of the head office is changing and employees require so much more than just a traditional office space, especially given the busy lives they lead, juggling work and personal commitments. In this regard, we are moving to a hybrid working model wherever possible, giving our people the flexibility to work in a way that suits both them and their customers,” she adds.

Describing the move to TRX as a logical next step in its growth strategy that will enable HSBC to further service current and future clients, Liang notes that it also signifies the company’s “enhanced focus on flexibility, providing a fit-for-purpose modern working environment and integrating the highest standards of environmental sustainability, in which we can all thrive and embrace new ways of working”.

Aligned with ESG principles

TRX has been developed with environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles in mind from the start, with sustainability in particular, deeply embedded since the project was on the drawing board a decade ago, says Azmar.

“Our sustainability strategy covers everything from energy and water efficiency to digital backbone resiliency, an efficient transport network and community welfare,” he adds, pointing out that it is an all-encompassing approach that considers the priorities and needs of the city’s occupants, visitors and users.

“People are now more conscious about how they want to protect the environment, and the unique thing about TRX is that it is outfitted with district-wide features that allow occupants to automatically be green when they operate and work in the district. Our on-site wastewater and recycling treatment plant recycles at least 80% of district-wide water usage for non-potable uses, reducing water demand in the district by 50%. TRX is also a smart city as it utilises Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to improve operational efficiency and minimise waste.”

Safety and security are also a priority at TRX. To this end, Azmar points to a centralised platform that provides a complete overview of the district’s operational status. This is supported by a comprehensive monitoring system and further complemented by the presence of on-site security personnel. “This allows for effective monitoring and a quick response time,” he says.

What’s also a key attribute of the new financial district is its stellar public transport accessibility with the TRX MRT interchange. “On top of this, our green open spaces are designed specifically to encourage walking, with high pedestrian permeability beyond TRX boundaries,” says Azmar.

While these attributes are a definite win for the population at TRX, the developer has been mindful of its place within KL, particularly the surrounding neighbourhoods of Imbi, Pudu and Bukit Bintang, and has taken pains to ensure that the benefits the district brings can spill over to these addresses.

“We did not want TRX to stand apart, but to be very much part of the community it sits within, which is why we have made walking in and out of the district a priority,” says Azmar. He adds that the improved accessibility also means that existing businesses, especially food and beverage outlets, in the surrounding neighbourhoods will benefit from an influx of customers once TRX is fully realised.

What has been crucial in TRX’s journey in catalysing its surroundings have been the collaborations with the local authority and relevant agencies. Some of these include partnering with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to improve a 700m walkway linking TRX with the Bukit Bintang shopping belt, as well as to build a modern market complex in Pudu called the Integrated Commercial Complex, which replaces Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang.

The seven-storey building constructed on a 2.5-acre piece of land, brought in modern, streamlined infrastructure standards for the traders and the surrounding community, aligned with TRX’s development ethos.

“We are also working with DBKL to upgrade and expand Jalan Tun Razak, the city’s major thoroughfare, for improved traffic flow and to ease movement in and out of the financial district. We’re constantly exploring and discovering ways to bring value to everything we do,” says Azmar, pointing to TRX City’s relationship with MRT Corp.

“Given that the city’s one and only interchange station is in TRX, we have agreed to coexist and share usage of the MRT site. We allow MRT to do their work underground without them having to acquire the land, while we maintain the right to later develop it,” he adds.

“This is not only a unique way of doing business that is cost-efficient, but also allows both parties to benefit from making KL’s transport system seamless. TRX has also worked with Tenaga Nasional Bhd to bring the national grid on-site, which will also serve the surrounding areas, catalysing this entire side of KL.”

The collective and collaborative approach is very much integral to the overall development as more components begin to take shape. TRX has a development code that all partner developers follow. These encompass energy and water efficiency, indoor environment quality and sustainable site planning and management, to name a few, says Azmar.

“It is through the collective effort of TRX City and its partners that TRX has achieved the GBI (Green Building Index) Township Platinum certification, the highest rating,” he says, reiterating that the certification demonstrates the level of commitment the company has towards sustainability and building a resilient and future-proof development.

Looking at the future with excitement

With the new financial district steadily progressing, the excitement shared by the developer and occupants is palpable. HSBC, for one, is very excited about the move to TRX. “We believe that the relocation to Menara IQ at TRX will enable us to create an environment that is conducive to collaboration, encourages innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset, and triggers new ways of working for our employees,” says Liang.

She adds that the feedback from the first teams who have moved into the new building has been extremely positive. “Our new office layout and design have been well received, staff like the location and look forward to the overall completion of the TRX development, in particular the lifestyle mall.”

For Azmar, who has had a front-row seat to the shaping of TRX, the feeling is one of excitement and gratification. “It is very exciting to witness the steady progress of the district, particularly once an area has been activated. At the MRT station for example, we can now see people taking the train to get to the offices in the district and surrounding areas. We can also see visitors coming to have lunch at Plan B, located in a beautifully designed transparent glass structure, while taking in the views of the outdoor greenery.”

“Seeing people use the services and enjoy the public spaces in our district is very satisfying. It certainly meets our expectations and serves as a great motivation for our continuous efforts in this project. I cannot wait to see the other areas come to life too.”

And once the entire development comes to a fruition, Azmar reckons that TRX will be home to the 24/7 global financial community. “It will be buzzing with life and activities, with a steady flow of workers, residents, families and tourists going about their day and enjoying the world-class facilities and diverse offerings of the district such as our retail and F&B outlets, rooftop park and carefully planned public spaces.”

“TRX will be the destination of choice for local and international visitors alike. It will not only add value to the city but also take KL to the next level.”

To find out more on leasing or JV opportunities with TRX City, kindly email [email protected]