From the ground up

Com­pact ex­hi­bi­tion re­veals role of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture in Malaysia dur­ing the post Merdeka-era.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By DARYL GOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE Par­lia­ment House, Masjid Ne­gara, Subang In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Univer­siti Malaya’s Great Hall (now called De­wan Tunku Canselor) and Sta­dium Merdeka are just some of the early ex­am­ples of Malaysia – a newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion in 1957 – mak­ing great strides in the world of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture.

Th­ese his­toric build­ings are part of the 16 scale mod­els that are fea­tured at the Man­i­fest: Mod­ernism Of Merdeka ex­hi­bi­tion, which is cur­rently on at Ga­leri Petronas in Kuala Lumpur till July 30.

The ex­hi­bi­tion show­cases how Malaysian ar­chi­tec­ture shaped the trans­for­ma­tion of the na­tion dur­ing its heady pre-and post-in­de­pen­dence pe­riod of the 1950s and 1960s. The build­ings fea­tured in Man­i­fest were built be­tween 1957 and 1969.

“This ex­hi­bi­tion is not to dwell on nos­tal­gia. The idea is to cap­ture that sense of em­pow­er­ment in Malaysia back then. The coun­try was mov­ing for­ward and ar­chi­tects were at the fore­front of the ur­ban de­bates, giv­ing shape to plan­ning and (an­swer­ing) ar­chi­tec­tural ques­tions that were part of the many chal­lenges of a new na­tion,” says Ang Lee, director of Kuala Lumpur Ar­chi­tec­ture Fes­ti­val 2017 (KLA2017).

This Ga­leri Petronas ex­hi­bi­tion is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Malaysian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects and it is part of the KLA2017 pro­gramme, which is mak­ing a more pro­nounced pub­lic pres­ence this year, with the Man­i­fest show, and also the Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects: Reimag­in­ing Ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion at the

White Box, Pub­lika in KL, which ends on July 26.

“For Man­i­fest, we wanted to relook at what was hap­pen­ing dur­ing our Merdeka-era devel­op­ment, and how mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture came into play. This show spot­lights

the land­mark build­ings and the unique ar­chi­tec­ture that re­flected all those am­bi­tious and pro­gres­sive ideas,” adds Lee.

Grand projects are not the only high­lights at Man­i­fest. For a mod­ern hous­ing project, the Teren­dak

Camp mil­i­tary com­plex in Me­laka – funded by Bri­tain, Aus­tralia, and New Zealand in the late 1950s – serves as a re­minder of how a re­mark­able and ad­ven­tur­ous reper­toire of mod­ern build­ings (Olympic-size swim­ming pool, two schools, an­cil­lary build­ings, three churches, can­teen and ceme­tery) came into ex­is­tence at the height of the Emer­gency.

The Suleiman Court, in terms of a pi­o­neer­ing project, was the first high-rise apart­ment com­plex in KL. It was the govern­ment’s first foray into pro­vid­ing multi-storey hous­ing for low-in­come fam­i­lies. Sim­i­lar projects, like Razak Man­sion and Peke­lil­ing Flats, are also fea­tured.

In pre­sent­ing the legacy of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture in Malaysia to the masses, Man­i­fest, though com­pact in size, does man­age to cover the sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tion­ship be­tween ar­chi­tec­ture and na­tion build­ing. In many ways, Man­i­fest fol­lows the blue­print of Dr Lai Chee Kien’s book Build­ing Merdeka: In­de­pen­dence Ar­chi­tec­ture In Kuala Lumpur, 1957-1966, which was also the sub­ject of an ex­hi­bi­tion at Ga­leri Petronas in 2007.

Apart from scale mod­els, the Man­i­fest ex­hi­bi­tion also as­sem­bles build­ing plans, books, sketches, and his­tor­i­cal pho­to­graphs to com­mu­ni­cate the achieve­ments and ideals of the pi­o­neer­ing gen­er­a­tion of Malaysian ar­chi­tects.

“This ex­hi­bi­tion is de­signed with the pub­lic in mind. It’s ac­ces­si­ble and the his­tory be­hind some of the build­ings will con­tinue to amaze. Malaysia’s ar­chi­tec­ture sto­ries, and the he­roes be­hind them, must not be for­got­ten,” says Lee af­ter fin­ish­ing a re­cent cu­ra­to­rial walk­through.

Man­i­fest: Mod­ernism Of Merdeka is on at Ga­leri Petronas, Level 3 in Suria KLCC till July 30. Open­ing hours: 10am-8pm. Closed on Mon­days. Free ad­mis­sion. For more info, visit ga­leripetronas.com.my and klaf2017.com.

— FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

A model of the Masjid Ne­gara dome, which has 16-points and re­sem­bles an open um­brella, is a high­light at the Man­i­fest ex­hi­bi­tion. The Masjid Ne­gara com­plex was built be­tween 1963 and 1965.

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