Mem­o­ries of Malaysian build­ings

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - star2@thes­

THANK you Wong Li Za and Daryl Goh for such stim­u­lat­ing sto­ries in Wed­nes­day’s print edi­tion of Star2: “Green by ex­am­ple” ( star2-spa­ces) and “From the ground up” (search for “mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture” at

In Wong’s story, Per­tubuhan Akitek Malaysia’s (PAM) new cen­tre does in­deed de­serve plau­dits for show­ing the way for­ward – but did you know, Sir Nigel Grimshaw once grum­bled (in Fu­tu­rarc mag­a­zine) that architects and en­gi­neers were lead­ers of teams that con­sumed half the world’s re­sources, so that “green build­ing” seems ironic, or words to that ef­fect?

Goh’s story (on mod­ernist post-Merdeka ar­chi­tec­ture fea­tured in the Man­i­fest: Modernism Of Merdeka ex­hi­bi­tion) brought back mem­o­ries of Kuala Lumpur.

Masjid Ne­gara was a Pub­lic Works De­part­ment (now Ja­batan Kerja Raya) project in that post-Merdeka era. With its um­brel­lashaped pleated con­crete roof, wide cov­ered ter­races, and re­flect­ing pools, it seemed to epit­o­mise a lo­cal re­sponse to trop­i­cal con­di­tions, cre­at­ing talk of what Malayan/ Malaysian ar­chi­tec­ture might be.

But from what I can see, this en­ter­pris­ing spirit did not flour­ish, and clients now seem to favour glass cur­tain walls with their high heat gain and, thus, high power re­quire­ments to cool in­te­ri­ors.

Not to men­tion the ubiq­ui­tous onion-shaped domes that ape the Mid­dle East­ern model, it­self a de­vel­op­ment based on Ro­man struc­tures.

And then there was Univer­siti Malaya’s Great Hall (now De­wan Tunku Canselor) that was a project by BEP Architects, suc­ces­sor to English firm Booty, Edwards & Part­ners. With un­plas­tered fin­ishes in vogue glob­ally in the 1960s, the hall’s builders went to great lengths to in­stall con­duits for con­cealed wiring be­fore con­crete was poured.

This ex­pen­sive way of build­ing did not flour­ish ei­ther but if you’re in Ipoh, you can visit an­other ex­am­ple of the style, the Perak Turf Club grand­stand, which was the in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion win­ner by an Aus­tralian firm back in 1964.

Not men­tioned in Goh’s story: Sta­dium Ne­gara, with its un­usual ten­sile roof struc­ture look­ing some­what like a giant bi­cy­cle wheel with spokes.

The Peke­lil­ing Flats by Dan­ish en­gi­neers was such a clever in­ter­lock­ing sys­tem that it seems a shame no more mass hous­ing was built in that style (per­haps be­cause of the cost of erec­tion).

Thanks again to you both for a great read!



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