One of the most amazing things in Malaysia is the diversity of Malaysian architecture. From the pre-war places of worship, shophouses, colonial mansions, townhalls to civic buildings and majestic skyscrapers, these architectural marvels are expressions of Malaysia’s multicultural make-up and influences from the colonial era.
Take a stroll along George Town, Melaka City and Kuala Lumpur. You will bound to discover many pre-war Chinese shophouses which were built with a perfect balance of function and symbolism. They carry the same basic use of space and feature, including a Chinese screen behind the doorway to prevent bad energy, a courtyard for ventilation and natural sunlight, a Chinese altar and doors with elaborate design. Traditionally, the walls were plastered with off-white colour and built with pitched roofs covered with clay roof tiles.
Their facade ornamentation was often inspired by Malay, Chinese and European designs. The Malay design included elaborate woodwork, carved panels, fascia board and louvres. The Straits Chinese designs were often driven by mythological motifs like phoenix, dragon, floral and geometric motifs.
From shophouses, we move to buildings that became the landmark of a city. These buildings have Mughal or Moorish, Tudor, Neo-Gothic and Grecian-Spanish architecture. Many of the designs were modified to suit the locals and the hot climate.
The Moorish design with elegant dome-capped pavilion and arch can be seen on the Sultan Ahmad Samad building which was the key landmark of Kuala Lumpur city before Petronas Twin Towers. Apart from it, the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station completed in 1910 also has such Moorish design.
At the turn of the 20th century, buildings start to exhibit Victorian and Tudor influences. The Royal Selangor Club featuring large exposed wooden beams in half-timbered walls were the typical model for social club buildings in the early days.
Carcosa Seri Negara is a fine example of Victorian styled heritage hotel in a historic mansion. In fact, it was recently featured in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ movie.
Post-war era has seen modernist architecture making great strides especially after independence. The Parliament House and National Mosque are some of modernist architectural wonders.
As a Muslim nation, Malaysia has adopted many Islamic architecture in residential and commercial buildings. Putrajaya has many Islamic architectural designs as evident in Putra Mosque and Seri Perdana. So what makes a Malaysian architecture?
According to architect, KC Tan, “Malaysian architecture is more than just being Malay, Chinese, Indian or vernacular designs. It is still in a process of finding its own identity unlike Malaysian food which already has one.”
But one thing is certain, Malaysia is standing tall by having Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s highest twin towers right here in Kuala Lumpur.
Special thanks to KC Tan of KC Tan Architect.
Text and photos by Francis Yip