It’s said that a country’s architecture tells its stories. Not only do these physical structures reveal history, civilisation, culture and memories, but in the bigger picture, architecture plays a role in shaping our collective national identity.
Winston Churchill put it this way, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
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As our nation commemorates its 65th anniversary of ‘Merdeka!’ or Independence Day, it is apt to revisit some of the best in Malaysian architecture, its iconic landmarks and hidden gems, as well as the architects who brought them to life:
Menara Maybank (Photo: Calvin Teo)
Regarded by many as the father of 20th century Malaysian architecture, Singapore-born Hijjas Kasturi, now 85 years old, is responsible for many of Kuala Lumpur City Centre’s landmarks under his firm Hijjas Architects & Planners. These include the iconic Menara Maybank (1987), Tabung Haji (1986), Telekom Tower (2001), Putrajaya International Convention Centre (2004) and more.
Known for his emphasis on “rationale” – that is the building’s relationship with its surroundings, neighbours, function and even climate, Hijjas was also said to pursue a “universal architecture that was nevertheless imbued in local tradition”. His projects were ahead of his time, timeless structures that still capture the imagination today. Among those he’s most proud of are his buildings from the 1980s, particularly the “hour glass” Tabung Haji tower, and Maybank, once the tallest building in Malaysia at 53-storeys, which is known for its design that particularly took into account the tropical weather, natural light and ventilation.
Dayabumi Complex (Photo: Dmitri Kalvan)
Pioneering Malaysian architect Kington Loo was among those who helped modernise the Southeast Asian region post-World War II. The great-grandson of Loke Yew, the KL-ite had lived for a few years in India during the Japanese occupation.
Loo’s architectural designs include the Dewan Tunku Canselor at the Universiti Malaya, the Subang International Airport and most iconically, the Rex Cinema in the heart of Chinatown on Jalan Sultan. The art deco building was burnt down in the 1970s, however, and renovated in 1976. Also the architect of the city’s first high-rise building, the 13-storey Police Cooperative Building on Jalan Sulaiman, Loo’s most recognisable work today is probably the Menara Dayabumi, completed in 1984. Built to resemble the geometric decorative motifs of Islamic style, the complex’s distinctive Islamic arches and eight-point stars also resemble a mosque. Such is his influence that the Malaysian architectural body (PAM) named its highest honour after him.
The award-winning Salinger Residence by Jimmy Lim (Photo: Aga Khan Development Network)
Jimmy Lim may give one the impression of an activist and philosopher more than an architect, passionate as he is about the practice of architecture steeped in culture, tradition and environment. Or as he famously said, he practices the architecture of humility, one that prioritises honesty and solutions.
But Lim is every bit a visionary architect, having advocated and practiced tropical architecture for years – one involving ventilation shades and natural materials. The design most associated with him is the Salinger Residence, a stunning timber home raised on stilts that has been built in the traditional Malay way, but with a decidedly modern form. Designed with sustainable ecological principles in mind, the house won him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998.
The Bamboo Playhouse at the Perdana Botanical Garden KL (Photo: Eleena Jamil Architect)
As the capital’s skyline increasingly soar with towering buildings displaying prominence and development, architect Eleena Jamil looked towards the earth for inspiration. Situated in Kuala Lumpur’s oldest park, the Perdana Botanical Gardens is the Bamboo Playhouse, a sprawling public pavilion perched on a small island overlooking part of the park’s lake.
Designed for UNHabitat to promote a sustainable social environment, the pavilion uses one of the architect’s favourite materials – the “cheap, strong, sustainable and very light” bamboo. Made up of 31-elevated platforms which upholds tree-like columns, the design draws from the traditional ‘wakaf’ structure found in Malaysian kampungs. Shortlisted for an award at the World Architecture Festival 2014, the work is part of an oeuvre that draws frequently from the social and climatic needs and practices of Southeast Asia, coupled with the modern principles of architecture.
View of George Town City Center in various vantage point and lighting
Lim Chong Keat
You’ve never been to Penang Island if you’ve not seen the Komtar Tower. Often the first and for a long time the only skyscraper one would spot as one approached the heart of George Town, it is a legacy of one of Malaysia and Singapore’s most prominent architects, Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat. Then an ambitious modernist monument, the 12-sided cylindrical shaped Komtar – which also features a geodesic dome performance hall named Dewan Tunku – was Asia’s third tallest building when it was completed in 1988, and was named after Malaysia’s second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak.
In addition, Lim, a true blue Penangite, is responsible for some of Singapore’s famed buildings, such as the Singapore Conference Hall and the Jurong Town Hall, both of which were among the first to be designated as national monuments. Aged 92 today, Lim is also well-known as a botanist, being the owner of a private research garden in his hometown of Balik Pulau. He believes that botany is an important tool for nation building.
Rendering of IOI City Mall in Putrajaya (Photo: PI Architect)
Tan Pei Ing
The founder of PI Architect, Datuk Tan Pei Ing’s interest in architecture developed as a child. Choosing a career that traditionally favoured men, Tan nevertheless earned a reputation as the “iron lady” of architecture, becoming one of the country’s leading architects.
Among her most recognizable projects is the IOI Mall in Puchong, the sprawling IOI City Mall in Putrajaya and its nearby Marriott Hotel. She has also been a trailblazer for women architects, having been the first female president of the Malaysian Institute of Architects, and was a past president of the Architects Regional Council Asia.
MITEC in Kuala Lumpur by RSP Architects (Photo: MITEC)
When Hud Bakar wanted to pursue a scholarship to study architecture, he was strongly discouraged. Yet the Managing and Design Director of RSP Architects Kuala Lumpur persisted, eventually fighting his way through for a scholarship to complete his Master of Architecture at UC Berkeley California, making the Dean’s List.
His persistence has certainly paid off. Today the prominent architect has made his mark on several urban developments in Kuala Lumpur, including the Hilton Kuala Lumpur, the futuristic MITEC building – Malaysia’s largest exhibition centre, and the Merdeka 118 tower, the second tallest building in the world. Among these firsts, Hud is also the architect of 8 Conlay, KSK Land’s maiden project featuring the world’s tallest twisted twin residential towers inspired by the Chinese shape of “8”. When completed, it will house the world’s tallest Kempinski hotel tower, and Malaysia’s first Kempinski, as well as the first YOO studio residences with interior design by award-winning architects Steve Leung and Kelly Hoppen.
8 Conlay in Kuala Lumpur is selling Tower A and Tower B of its branded residences, YOO8 serviced by Kempinski. To get in touch or visit our 8 Conlay Gallery, contact us here.