“Kuala Lumpur’s lost identity”

3 12 2010


By Harvé Dhillon

The rapid urbanisation and construction of skyscrapers and shopping malls have been a speculation of the world as Malaysia aim’s to become a fully industrialised nation by 2020. Despite the successful perception that has blinded the West, and even Malaysian’s to an extent there has been a fundamental flaw, that has created a significant loss of historical architectural assets in the countries capital. Kuala Lumpur has established a unique identity whereby colonial shop fronts juxtapose glass towers in the background. However, hidden behind the picturesque panoramas and streetscapes we see a legacy diminish in the name of a new identity.

Bok House

Designed by Swan and Maclaren, the Bok house was completed in 1929 for local millionaire Chua Cheng Bok. It was demolished in 2006 causing an outcry amongst the public and local conservation groups. However the government had claimed that it was a privately owned and not registered as a heritage building.

Bukit Bintang Girls School

Despite the numerous vigils and petitions by the old girls of the school, the historic school was demolished just a few years after it celebrated its centenary to make way for KL’s latest shopping mall, The Pavilion.

Pudu Jail

Pudu Jail Wall

Pudu Jail was built to house criminals and drug offenders in stages from 1891-1895, by then British state engineer Charles Edwin Spooner. The eastern part of Pudu Jail was demolished in June this year for a mixed development project which would include a transit centre, serviced apartments, office spaces, recreational areas, hotel and commercial spaces.

The Malaysian public needs to be conscious of how fragile heritage is and to speak up for its protection, conservation and preservation. Despite the economic success a loss of such history is creating a nation which loses a distinct and diverse history and resulting in homogenous architectural development.




4 responses

4 12 2010

I agree. This is definately something that struck me when I visited KL earlier this year. I enjoyed the areas of the city which had retained their historic assets, and took various photos of buildings and streets which I enjoyed. Please contact me if you would like to see them and discuss further. Aaron

9 12 2010
Harveen Dhillon

I am glad you have made the same observation when being in KL, and I appreciate that even you noticed the lack of conservation of heritage buildings and how they have generally been left to dilapidate. Please do upload photos from your trip, especially those which show the juxtaposition of colonial buildings with modern developments.

29 12 2010
Carlie Douglas

It is very sad to me to see so much heritage being lost. Growing up, I was always fascinated with photos and videos of old-world structures in Europe and Asia. As you might imagine, Alaska has none of these and American cities in general lack far-reaching history. Chicago is a special case of this because of the Great Chicago Fire. As a city, it only has a couple of structures dating to before 1871. Although I think it is important for cities to move forward in their built environment, it is sad to see this happening at the expense of their heritage. Perhaps this public outcry can develop into something like a Heritage conservation committee, or perhaps a worldwide organization such as UNESCO could step in.

30 12 2010

The pressures of globalization and urbanization are being experienced by towns and cities throughout the world. Unfortunately, it’s not only singular heritage buildings that are being lost, but whole heritage landscapes are being threatened by such development. The Vienna Memorandum focuses on the impact of contemporary development on the overall urban landscape of heritage significance, including ensembles of any group of buildings, structures and open spaces, in their natural and ecological context, constituting human settlements in an urban environment over a relevant period of time, the cohesion and value of which are recognized from the archaeological, architectural, prehistoric, historic, scientific, aesthetic, socio-cultural or ecological point of view. Heritage landscapes compose the character-defining elements that include land uses and patterns, spatial organization, visual relationships, topography, etc (http://www.e-architect.co.uk/vienna_memorandum.htm).

Given the small size of Malta and the fact that the urban development is limited to 25% of the total area, conflicting views between the retention of heritage sites and development of new modern constructions to better compete in the global economy arise with virtually every major project. With a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites including Valletta, development in nearby locations is sometimes seen as a visual threat to the overall historic landscape, hence state of conservation reports are requested by the Director of the World Heritage Centre, whenever such situations occur.

On the other hand, cities should not act as museums but allowed to develop according to the aspirations of their societies as described in the Burra Charters. Hence the notion of contextual development as discussed during the ‘Principles and Practice of Urban Design’ becomes crucial since it would allow for the right balance between development and conservation.

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