RO SHROFF on LinkedIn: The quest for interesting conversation (2024)

RO SHROFF

Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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Dubai or bust!As an ardent fan of this city, it’s always a revelation that there are supercilious elites who often scoff at its “artificiality” compared to the historical authenticity of London or Istanbul. Granted there are many things wrong about its growth (the never-ending quest for the biggest, tallest, and most outrageous), but its superior infrastructure, its laissez-faire governance, and its can-do DNA makes it the preferred destination for tourists or residents of South Asia, the denizens of the Levant, Egypt and KSA, Russian ex-pats, and Jumeirah Janes from Edinburgh or Amsterdam, all in search of a benign place to park their wealth, careers and sanity, while the rest of the world stews.Funny that it comes up in this article by Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times, on the art of discourse. "The Dubai Test", (among other anecdotal points), is the quintessential conversation starter (or abrupt concluder) with the cognoscenti or the globalist adventurer!A few paraphrased points.....·Soon after meeting someone, mention Dubai. If it provokes a smirk, and a jibe at the crassness of the place, that is useful. You can filter that person out. ·Knocking Dubai took over long ago from knocking LA as the blandest opinion in the world. The case for the Gulf city? The transfer of power from the west is visible there as it is nowhere else: in the Asian big-spenders, in the Russian sanction-dodgers. You needn’t like the place, but to not find it stimulating is to not find this century stimulating.·Look for people a notch or two down: those who were too dreamy to be leadership material. Lots of places are diverse. Dubai is cosmopolitan, to an extent London alone among western cities can touch, and that spirit infuses the old quarter near the airport as much as the bling centre. Looking down at the city, and at new-money Brits who love “Doobs”, has come to characterize a certain kind of box-ticking, not-very-elite elitism, like having an Elena Ferrante on the go.Funny and insightful!

The quest for interesting conversation ft.com

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Wayde Tardif

Senior Architectural & Urban Designer, Master Planner and Tall Building Expert @ FREIHEIT Architecture

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Good for you RO. I miss my former home there in Old Town, my old friends, and my clients there. I’ll admit to participating in the bigger, better, and more prestigious climate of the place whilst running my office there, and as HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum ‘s architect for the World Trade Center Residences, a tower in the Marina district for his daughter, and nice villa for one of his sons, and a master plan for a Maritime Academy to be located in Maritime City, amongst other projects.

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Art Garcia AIA NCARB

Project Architect / Custom Home Design / Real Time Experiences

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Paywall...

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  • RO SHROFF

    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    The Cup and the LipYesterday’s WSJ article on Neom and The Line is a quick read, well researched and editorially nuanced. Unfortunately, the contractors and some engineers come across as keystone cops, and the architects equally hapless.The drastic reduction of the initial phase was something we all saw coming 105 miles (170 km) away. It’s still mind-boggling that even the reduced one and half mile megastructure 500m tall will ever be built ......at an anticipated cost of $100 billion. Seriously?I guess we will wait till 2030 to see how it all evolves. But, as Aristotle stated….."There’s many a Slip ‘twixt the Cup and the Lip"

    World’s Biggest Construction Project Gets a Reality Check wsj.com

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    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    The Titan of Real Estate……is not who you think it is.No, it’s not The Donald, although he may think so.Last week’s Wall Street Journal article (https://lnkd.in/d2fqw3fX) suggests it is 75 year old Bernard Arnault, the owner of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH (with a $400 billion market capitalization), and the world’s richest man, worth $233 billion.The story articulates how Mr. Arnault started his career as a modest Parisian developer in the 1980s, till he stumbled upon acquiring a bankrupt textile company that owned the fashion brand Christian Dior, and using his business acumen redefined a growing collection of other brands (from LVMH to Tiffany) into great real-estate enclaves.From Miami’s Design District to Montreal’s $1.5 billion Royalmount, and New York’s $500 million Tiffany store to Paris’s La Samaritaine Department Store and the new Louis Vuitton flagship store on Champs Elyse'es ready for the 2024 Olympics, Mr. Arnault is as savvy about brick and mortar as he is about finesse, design and elegance. According to Michael Burke, head of LVMH Fashion Group, Bernard was a reluctant real-estate developer, and more of a frustrated architect. No wonder he hired Frank Gehry to design the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, as well as a series of luxury handbags.True, there have been roadblocks and pushbacks, ranging from China’s depleting economy and the preponderance of on-line shopping, to NIMBYs in Beverley Hills and Vancouver.Other billionaires who may be nascent real-estate titans? How about Elon Musk, who has plans to colonize Mars in 20 years using SpaceX and the Boring Company? Or Jeff Bezos, who’s on- again, off-again love affair with Seattle, may have secret plans to turn the lights on again in the city’s struggling downtown with a billion-dollar investment? Or one Mr. Trump, who has plans to develop upscale correctional facilities close to Mar-a- Lago?

    You Know LVMH for Its Luxury Bags. It’s Also a Titan of Real Estate. wsj.com

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  • RO SHROFF

    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    The Brancusi EffectConstantin Brancusi, the Romanian / French sculptor is having a resurgence in popularity and recognition with an exhibition and retrospective currently running at Paris's Centre Pompidou through July 1st. But there are many global examples in the architectural arena where his work has been an inspiration.The recently completed Skyglass Tower in Seattle and Shanghai’s SOHO Gubei Tower, (designed by KPF), completed five years ago were both ostensibly inspired by Brancusi’s Endless Column, an almost architectural piece expressing beauty, chutzpah, and infinite height. One of the two towers is graceful, exuding the right mix of height, solidity and transparency. The other is an amalgam of a curtainwall façade, squat proportions, and an unfortunate hat. Granted, it’s always easy to offer snarky comments and critiques without knowing the challenges that architects and designers confront, whether they entail zoning, budgetary or subjective constraints. So, kudos to the Seattle team for at least going against the conventional grain.Interestingly, the Skyglass Tower’s developer is Gemdale USA, a subsidiary of China’s Gemdale Corporation, once one of the country's premiere property developer, but now nearly bankrupt (and, ouch....also a past client!). Constantin Brancusi must either be smiling or rolling over in his grave!

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    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    EvolutionsThere’s always a circuitous way that projects evolve, from blue-sky thinking to pragmatism, and from outrageous explorations to conformity.Case in point are some initial doodles for a feature focal pavilion (incorporating boutique shops, a cineplex and a museum) within a large development, that eventually evolved into a sculptural entity, currently under construction in the Xuhui District in Shanghai.Love the process!

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    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    What Happens in Vegas.....I often marvel at how ideas, concepts, and their various evolutions stand the test of time in new and different avatars.Dubai today has over 325 man-made islands, the majority of them being the small blobs constituting The World Islands. The others range from massive archipelagos like the Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah, Port Rashid and Dubai Islands, Dubai Marina and Bluewaters, and the iconic Burj Al Arab, built more than two decades ago, all in the quest for creating new waterfront properties with private beaches.One of the last to be developed is a 25 acre / 10 hectare blob of reclaimed land off Jumeirah Beach, overlooking the iconic Burj-al-Arab and the Wave Hotels. Technically it is not an “island” but a reclaimed patch of land jutting out into the Gulf. The property has been looked at by several developers ranging from Nakheel to Limitless to Wasl, from several development perspectives over the last 20 years, and concepts have ranged from an exclusive Villa Island (2003) to a fantasy iteration of resorts within man-made hills (Rio De Jumeirah / 2004), to a multiple tower concept (Porto Island /2014). Mea Culpa!In its final and current version “The Island” (2018-2024) consists of multiple Vegas-centric hotels (without Casinos), and was finally approved for construction late last month.Developed by Wasl, and initially conceptualized by UN Studio, The Island is a conglomeration of three resort hotels radiating from a central feature tower, and include the MGM Grand, Bellagio and Aria Resorts, several extended beaches with villas, exclusive F and B facilities, and previously “The Dubai Sphere”, an elevated entertainment orb over the 100m tower. With the counterpart of the Vegas Sphere, now being planned across the waters on Palm Jumeirah, the current team of designers must be feverishly trying out Plan B for The Island.The decades-long process is thankfully finally coming to a closure, with a $1.5 billion development contract being awarded by the Government to the China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, which is presumably happy to gainfully employ its underused crew, as the China property market keeps slumping.What happens in Vegas, now stays in Dubai……..but within a more benign context!

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    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    Altitudinal AmbitionsNow that Foster and Partners have been (reportedly) appointed as the Architects for the 2,000m (1.25 miles) tall tower in north Riyadh,it solicits a variety of questions, criticism and snarky commentary. (https://lnkd.in/g382cuzq)·Will the design be a rehash of their Millennium Tower (380m) designed 35 years ago, a supremely elegant diagrid cone, just five times taller? And will this be the swan song for 88-year-old Norman Foster?· Will the design be a singular obelisk of 400 floors (presumably 9 million square feet in area) with an unusable base 200m in diameter, or will it be a series of inter-connected and braced slivers of slender towers with multiple voids? ·Is the firm’s pledge of being carbon-neutral hypocritical, or valid anymore?·Will the tower predominantly be Residential, overlooking infinite expanses of sprawling desert, and will potential buyers primarily be Russian oligarchs and Chinese tech billionaires, eager to reinvest their fortunes, now that their country’s economy is flailing? · Is the leadership of stalwart firms like AS+GG, SOM, and KPF pissed off at being passed over?·Will Foster and Partners’ fee be $250 million dollars at a minimum?·Does KSA have spare change of $25 billion to construct this edifice, given it is desperately trying to finance and fund multiple NEOM projects? Will the PIF and Aramco presumably come to its rescue?·Will the stagnating kilometer-high Jeddah Tower ever be completed?·Would this potential expenditure generate better goodwill if invested in rebuilding Gaza?·Will Dubai experience a severe case of FOMO, and soon announce the development of a 2,500m tall edifice?·Final question: WHY?

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    Weekly ConundrumsThis week’s mandate by a Hong Kong court to dissolve and liquidate the highly indebted ($300 billion) property developer Evergrande will likely have major repercussions on China’s economy. But not everything is clear. First, most of the company’s assets have already been sold, and the company’s stock is worth just 2 cents on the dollar. It is also uncertain if the local jurisdictions within China will honor the HK mandates and surrender the properties to a liquidator. Short of a massive property bailout or a major stimulus, the Chinese economy is about to receive another blow.The conundrum is that despite the property implosion, new projects and initiatives are launched (or at least announced) daily, and a cursory analysis of major projects in the media easily surpasses $100 billion, just in the last three months. Go figure!Not to be outdone, a developer in the bustling American town of Oklahoma City announced a 1907’ / 575m tower to commemorate the state’s admittance to the Union in 1907. Casting no aspersions on the developer's ability to finance this project or the design teams, this is indeed an aspiration with little chance of success. If this was NYC, it could engender much more credibility…...but even then! And 1776 is already taken by One WTC.Meanwhile, Dubai and Saudi Arabia are in a veritable race to announce more projects that could collectively exceed $1 trillion. This is despite the current wars in Gaza and Lebanon, sabre-rattling by the US, and Iranian puppeteering within 500 miles of either country. It goes on to prove that politics and economics are strange bedfellows. Also, in a guarded turnaround to entice tourism, Riyadh has opened its first liquor shop for foreigners and non-Muslims, and the top three groups of property buyers in Dubai are Indians, followed by Russians and Brits. Talking of India, the metropolis of Mumbai is proceeding with a $3 billion rehabilitation of one million inhabitants of Dharavi, (of Slumdog Millionaire notoriety) Asia's largest slum, into a contemporary city hub. After six previous initiatives, this time it is spearheaded by Gautam Adani, the billionaire entrepreneur of the Hindenburg short-selling debacle, and closely knit to Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP. Chances are that this attempt, fueled by liquidity, professional management, and a team of renowned Architecture and Engineering firms has a very good chance of succeeding and a boon to the city’s economy which boasts a current GDP of $450 billion.Now, if only Mumbai can bail out Evergrande and underemployed Chinese contractors can rebuild Dharavi, it will be a total win-win.

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    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    QWERTYCAWhat do the following words have in common?Trojena, Norlana, Utamo, Leyja, Siranna, Epicon, Treyam, Aquellum, Jaumur, Gidori, Xaynor, Safana, Elanan, Sindalah, Oxagon, Zardun, Tonomus, Enowa, Topian, Magna……!No, they are not new and improved versions of Ozempiq, Wegovy, Viagra, or Puncture-resistant Condoms.They are patented names, and most are actual projects designed by world-class firms, ranging from ski resorts (Trojena / Zaha Hadid) to spiky towers (Epicon / 10 Design), to inverted voids within mountains (Aquellum / LAVA), to floating logistics cities (Oxagon / BIG), collectively belonging to the overarching concept of NEOM, and located adjacent to, or around The Line, in the Saudi desert. FDA, J and J, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Merck, Novo Nordisk, please take notice, before highly paid Architects, Ad Agencies, and PR firms get carried away further!

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  • RO SHROFF

    Senior Vice President, 3MIX / Seattle

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    NOT GONNA HAPPEN!It’s time for my annual punditry and predictions for next year. As usual, none of my 2023 prognostications came anywhere close to reality. Whew!January: Ahead of the Chinese New Year, President Xi Jinping will approve a $500 billion (3.5 trillion RMB) stimulus for the country’s flagging property market. Shares of almost bankrupt Evergrande will go through the roof, and China will retain its moral high ground as the world’s most indebted nation.February: Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) will announce a design competition for his ambition to build a 3,200m (2 miles) high tower at the mid-point of The Line in the Saudi desert. Selected Architectural firms will be required to pay the government $3.2 million for the privilege of participating in this salivating opportunity. CTBUH will remain non-committal.March: Elon Musk will dispose of X to Meta for $4.4 billion, a tenth of what he paid to buy it. Mark Zuckerberg will rebrand Threads to the French-sounding X-Cre’ment.April: Argentina and Lebanon will start printing counterfeit US dollars to prop up their economy. Inflation will rise to 200% annually.May: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will trounce the Congress Party in the nation’s elections, with a margin of 85%. He will be disappointed that the margin wasn’t much higher.June: Jerome Powell will start cutting interest rates by 50 basis points. The US Federal debt will increase to $40 trillion. But only in cryptocurrency.July: At the Republican Convention in Milwaukee, Speaker and ultra-MAGA supporter Mike Johnson will wax eloquence about the p*rn-monitoring Covenant Eyes app, much to the terror of Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert.August: At the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Joe Biden will read Lyndon Johnson’s speech about not accepting his party’s nomination, to the joy and delight of all delegates. He will start a think-tank named The Biden Institution, whose mission is to bail out all unsavory progenies.September: The Ukraine and Gaza wars will come to an end, brokered by MBS. The genius behind the deal is that Putin will be awarded part of Dubai instead of Ukraine and Bibi Netanyahu will become Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Minister.October: As an October surprise, the Supreme Court will uphold the US Constitution and judge that Donald Trump should be incarcerated for Federal crimes, but only for a 2-week house arrest at Mar-a-Lago, equipped with uncluttered bathrooms. Melania will sue for divorce citing cruel and unusual affection.November: Gavin Newsom and VP Gretchen Whitmer will completely obliterate Trumpism with an overwhelming majority. Kamala Harris will be chosen by HBO for its new show Veep 2, about a sassy but clueless Vice President.December: Elon Musk will take the first trip to Mars in his SpaceX rocket. The journey of 300 million miles will take seven months but with no access to X-Cre’ment facilities.Naah…..Not Gonna Happen!

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