With a stunning new collection of terraces, apartments and lofts coming to the city fringe suburb of East Sydney, HIGA (Hansen Investment Group Australia) is seeking to make a thoughtful and considered mark on Sydney’s inner-city landscape with its East Sydney Collection.
HIGA’s legacy of high-quality developments in suburbs further afield makes this an exciting and bold foray into the trendy inner-city ring, with a project that responds to the texture and culture of this sought-after location.
We sat down (from a distance) with HIGA’s young managing director, Winkie Zhang, who is charting an influential course for the organisation.
Winkie Zhang’s career path began as a journalist for a political Q&A series for the People’s Daily, interviewing Australian politicians like Clover Moore, Adam Giles, Kent Johns and various other political figures.
With a father in development for 25 years, and little personal interest in the field, herself, Winkie was compelled to join the business out of a sense of duty. When her father was struck with some health challenges 4 years ago, Winkie took over the running of the business.
Ms Zhang says: “It was barely an interest when I first started, more of a responsibility – something I had to get into. However, several months in – I realised I am quite fascinated by seeing a bare plot of land transformed into a beautiful new place for people to live. The construction, the design, and the development of it is just a remarkable process.”
BD: What training or experience has prepared you to run a successful development company, overseeing such disciplines as acquisitions, feasibility, project design and positioning?
WZ: I took on part-time construction and development courses while I was working full time in HIGA.
I started as a receptionist, printing emails and excel sheets at HIGA, then spent 6 months camping out on a construction site, and then grew into the PA of our development manager. I learned everything by both studying in theory and being hands-on with all tasks.
My father and the development manager made sure we looked at multiple case studies of land acquisition on a weekly basis to get a better understanding of development, in terms of its feasibility, its design and its market positioning.
Then I started negotiating on land acquisition and leading its design on my own – making independent decisions on land purchase and project hunting. It also forms a part of our company strategy.
I also have a very strong team at HIGA that is hand-picked by me. They are vibrant, innovative and full of ideas. We work together collaboratively.
BD: What are the key criteria that drive your decision-making with respect to new site acquisitions?
WZ: I am driven to create residences and homes that are extremely liveable – while it means we need to deliver good finishes, it also means we acquire properties that are conveniently located (close to schools, trains, buses, town centres) or those that have their own special characteristics, such as water views or beautiful garden landscapes.
If you look at the projects we have built and developed, they all have stunning views: landscaped green hills for Ashton Hill Turramurra, city and ocean views for Breeze, water views for Sovereign, city views for Sapphire, and Hyde Park views for East Sydney Collection.
BD: Your latest project in Darlinghurst, the East Sydney Collection, appears to expand upon the emerging sophistication, creativity and texture of this historical city-fringe suburb.
With increased demand and requirement for gentrified high-density living in and around our cities, what are residents looking for from their homes and lifestyle? – and how does The East Sydney Collection respond to these needs?
WZ: Following what I call the ‘craze’ period of 2016-2017, growth in property slowed considerably, and negative press around off-the-plan sales was everywhere: Construction defects, bankrupted developers, price bubbles etc.
Buyers nowadays have learned what a ‘good’ investment is – location, quality and lifestyle.
East Sydney Collection is a response to this new landscape.
Not only is the quality of design and finish of the highest calibre, with a team including MHNDU Architects and Lawless & Meyerson on interiors, it is also situated on the cusp of the busy Sydney CBD, but far enough from the crowd and next to the Park.
It is opposite Sydney Grammar and right next to grocery shops. There are no new projects around, so stock is limited. The area is quiet – and dotted with beautiful restaurants, bars, galleries and fitness centres.
BD: What was the thinking in developing a project comprising terraces, apartments and lofts and what type of community mix do you envision for this development?
WZ: There are not that many projects in the area offering this spectrum of living options. It was important to us that our clients to be able to choose a product that best suits their personal needs.
East Sydney Collection is located in an area that is quite cosmopolitan – it comprises young families, downsizers, professionals, artists, investors etc. They all have different needs – some want more bedrooms for their young kids, some want to downsize from a big house to a smaller three bed and some want a boutique loft where they can relax after a long day of work in the city.
I suppose there is a relatively universal appeal though, in that the product is timeless in its design and informed by a desire to interpret luxury and sophistication through a city-fringe lens.
BD: Can you describe in your own words what it is about the neighbourhood that makes the site so appealing?
WZ: East Sydney is what I call a ‘ying and yang’ location. It is tranquillity in City. It is Gourmet food and Fitness. It is heritage and art.
It is a mix of fast-paced city life, art culture, wellbeing and fitness, luxurious retail, iconic bars and restaurants on the edge of Sydney CBD and Sydney Hyde Park. Boutique galleries abound, such as Watters Gallery, Stanley St Gallery, COMA, ARO etc, with Art Gallery of NSW moments away.
It is a hub of creativity offering gourmet cuisine and food, served by renowned industry personalities, one of my personal favourites being Eau De Vie. The much-loved iconic Beppi’s restaurant is just moments from the development.
The area has a rich and colourful history, for instance – the building of East Sydney Collection itself was the display for Rolls Royce and Aston Martin for many years.
In contrast to the human scale of the area, glitzy shopping experiences such as Hermes, Chanel, Acne Studio etc are just 10 minutes away.
BD: What is the vision for HIGA over the next 5-10 years?
Strategy-wise, HIGA aims to grow steadily with a constant and meaningful presence in the market. Our objective is quite simply to build and develop dream homes that respond to geographical and demographic nuances.
As a relatively young female in this industry – I want to encourage more young females to be a part of Property and Construction. There is yet a prevailing stigma that it is a ‘man’s job’ – although I do see the number of female leaders growing, which is an encouraging sign.
I want people to know HIGA, to believe in our capabilities and product, in order to understand that it really isn’t just a ‘man’s job’. Women are strong; we are detail-oriented, patient and empathetic. These are basic requirements for developing quality product and the industry sorely needs these qualities going forward – more attention to the detail, more care for clients and more thoughtful design!