Malaysia has a unique and interesting blend of architectural styles which includes traditional Asian styles, Islamic Malay design and British colonial influence. Most of the colonial buildings were built between the 1880’s and the 1930’s and include Moorish, Tudor, Neo-Gothic or Grecian-Spanish styles of architecture.
With the rapid urban development that has taken place over the last 20 years or more, it is sad that many of these historic buildings have been lost and many more are crumbling away in the hot tropical climate awaiting land redevelopment and will probably disappear for good shortly.
This article is an attempt to capture some of this lost legacy and record some of these unique and beautiful examples of architecture.
The Bok House was an old mansion on Jalan Ampang owned by a private trustee managed by the Bok family. The mansion was designed by Swan & Maclaren in 1926 and it was completed in 1929 for a local millionaire, Chua Cheng Bok. In the 1960s and up until its closure in 2001, the mansion housed an upscale restaurant called the Le Coq d’Or. The building was sadly demolished in December of 2006.
Under the shadow of KL Tower on Bukit Nanas in the centre of the city are a variety of wonderful old heritage buildings which have been left to rot and decay. These old mansions are now engulfed in tropical creepers, ferns and trees which are slowly taking back over the hill to it’s natural origins. On the main road of Jalan Rajan Chulan there is also a row of houses built in around 1931 and which at that time probably offered the very best and most elite living accommodation in the city.
The Coliseum Theatre is a movie theater in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. One of the oldest movie theaters in the country, it was built in 1920 by the Chua family led by Chua Cheng Bok. The Art Deco-style building is capable of seating 900 people and also features a balcony. In 2006 the Government proposed to close the theatre and turn it into a cultural heritage centre but relented after public outcry.
Wisma Ekran in Jalan Tangsi, is a wonderful old Art Deco style building built in 1936 and which originally housed the offices of Anglo-Oriental mining company. The building was designed by A. O. Coltman who designed a number of other key buildings in Kuala Lumpur such as the OCBC Building and the Oriental Building.
Loke Yew Building
The Loke Yew Building on Leboh Pasar Besar is a beautiful art-deco style design built by Loke Yew (1845–1917) who was a famous businessman and philanthropist during the British Malaya era. He was regarded as the richest man in Malaysia during his time and played a significant role in the growth of Kuala lumpur and was also one of the founding fathers of Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur
The National Textile Museum is located in a historic Mogul style building which was originally built in 1896 (architect A.B. Hubback) to house the headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railways. It was later used by a number of Government departments before being remodelled in 2007 as a museum.
Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
Kuala Lumpur Railway Station Malaysia was completed in 1910 to replace an older station on the same site. The station was Kuala Lumpur’s railway hub in the city for the Federated Malay States Railways and Malayan Railway (Malay: Keretapi Tanah Melayu), before Kuala Lumpur Sentral assumed much of its role in 2001. The station is notable for its architecture, adopting a mixture of Eastern and Western designs.
The station is located along a road named Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, previously known as Victory Avenue, which in turn was part of Damansara Road. The station is located closely to the similarly designed Railway Administration Building, as well as the National Mosque and Dayabumi Complex.
The majestic heritage building, which is currently the headquarters of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTM), is said to be the last of many Mughal-style buildings erected in Kuala Lumpur. Located along Jalan Hishamuddin, it matches well with the similarly styled Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station across the road. The building was designed by the British architect A. B. Hubback in 1913 and construction was completed in 1917. In 1983, the building was gazetted as a heritage site.
The Sulaiman Building, built in 1930, is located close to the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station but in comparison is without the Moorish elements and rather more simple for an official government building. Semi-circular arches for the verandas and window frames and solid blocks of tower at both ends and center of the buildings are the dominant elements. The building derived its name from the ruler of Selangor, Sultan Alaudin Sulaiman Shah. It first housed the Income Tax Department and later the Registration Department
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
The Sultan Abdul Samad Building was the best known symbol of Malaysia until the Petronas Towers were built and is still today one of the most photographed buildings in Malaysia. Built between 1894 and 1897 it was designed by A.C. Norman and R.A.J. Bidwel. Its Mogul architectural style features copper domes and a 40m high clock tower. The building was named after the then Sultan of Selangor and over its lifetime it has served as Government offices and as a High Court and Supreme Court.
Pudu Prison was built by the British in 1895 as a prison to house criminals. The prison cells were small and dark, each having a window the size of a shoebox. The prison is well known for the murals painted on the prison walls circling the compound, many depicting scenes of nature. These murals were painted by the prisoners who used over 2,000 litres of paint to accomplish the task. The prison is infamous for many executions of drug trafficking offenders and for administering corporal punishment by rotan caning. The canings were administered in a special “caning area”, so marked, not inside the building but in the grounds. After the fall of Singapore, during World war II, the Japanese occupation forces incarcerated many English, Australian and New Zealand prisoners there. Pudu Prison was finally closed in 1st November, 1996 and was reopened in 1997/1998 as a museum and again for a short time in early 2004. In June 2010 the prison walls were finally demolished to make way for a shopping complex development.
This old crumbling house in Jalan Panggong (Theatre Street) in the Chinatown area of Kuala Lumpur is a wonderful example of Asian-colonial architecture style. This area has been gazetted as a conservation area so hopefully this building may have a chance to survive and be renovated back to its former glory.
The Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) building in Jalan Tangsi is one of the finest old buildings in Kuala Lumpur. It was built in 1907 as a town house for Loke Chow Kit and named Loke Hall. It was thought to be designed by an Anglo-Indian architect, A.K. Musdeen. In 1909, the building became the Empire Hotel and in 1919 it changed to the Peninsula Hotel which it remained until PAM acquired the premises in 1973. It was susbequently utilised as the Rumah Makan Warisan restaurant for a number of years but is is now scheduled for redevelopment.
Ipoh is also a town with some interesting old architecture and heritage buildings. There are some wonderful old backstreets you can explore and see the colourful old shophouses.
Ipoh town, especially the area near the banks of the Kinta River, in what is known as the Ipoh Old Town, is just filled with nostalgia. As you cross the bridge from Ipoh New Town (where they have built a Jusco store and many hip and happening watering holes) to the old quarters, you can’t help but feel like you have been transported back in time.
Certainly, on this side of Ipoh, many of the buildings are near decay, but thanks to timeless architectural design, they still maintain a sense of beauty and dignity, exuding charm and class that no other modern building can compete.
On the padang’s northern flank is this neo-Gothic, three-storey colonial school with arched verandahs, founded by the Catholic La Sallean brothers in 1927.
Known locally as the ‘Taj Mahal’, and dating from 1914, Ipoh’s train station is a blend of Moorish and Victorian architecture designed in the ‘Raj’ style you see everywhere in India.
Next to the Padang on Jalan Sultan Yusoff is the beautiful F.M.S. Bar & Restaurant which was built in 1906. The acronym stands for the Federated Malay States, which in those days, comprised the states of Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. The Chinese-styled shop-house was a popular watering hole among European miners and planters, and the sportsmen who played at the Ipoh Padang across the street. Here, sweaty men, fresh from a cricket game at the Padang, would sit at the bar and order a cool drink, while those in business would lament about their losses and cry into their drinks!
The F.M.S. was planned to be refurbished with the addition of a boutique hotel on the second floor yet retaining the original architecture. It was meant to have been completed in 2010 but I believe work is still ongoing.
Penang is an architectural gem of Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Unlike Singapore, also a Straits Settlement, where many heritage buildings had to make way for modern skyscrapers and high-rise apartments due to rapid development and acute land scarcity, Penang’s architectural heritage has enjoyed a better fate. Penang has one of the largest collections of pre-war buildings in Southeast Asia. The architecture of Penang reflects the 171 years of British presence on the island, coalescing with local, Chinese, Indian, Islamic and other elements to create a unique and distinctive brand of architecture.
Shih Chung School
This imposing old tumbledown, heritage building in Georgetown, Penang used to be the Shih Chung School but actually has a much longer and interesting history. The once glorious mansion was called Goh Chan Lau (literally meant five-storey bungalow) by the local Chinese and was built by millionaire Cheah Tek Soon. Later it became a hotel, the Raffles-by-the-Sea, which was a failure and had to be shut down.
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3 thoughts on “Lost Legacy – Disappearing Malaysian Architecture”
Oh how my heart beats for these old colonial buildings. It must’ve been the Coliseum theatre where I first saw Pinocchio. I had to lift up my legs onto the seat because there was something moving around the floor (a rat?).
And the Bok House. I’m so sad it’s gone. We went to the famous restaurant there for Sunday lunches. I will always remember how my dad had turtle egg soup. You can imagine how fascinating it was to go upstairs to the restroom as a little girl, as you had to go through the house with Chinese furniture and all. The demolition of this house was wrong and I’m sure many agree.
Yes I noted you had some Malaysian history yourself ….. you lived here some time back? You must tell me about your time here. The Coliseum Theater is a cinema now and the Coliseum bar and restaurant is still there ….. visiting there takes you right back to those colonial days. I also remember going upstairs at the Bok house to go to the toilet and seeing all the bays in the roof!
Hehe, yes I did live in KL a very long time ago – in the 80’s and beginning of 90’s. My dad was working there at the time. Bc of this I of course enjoy your Malaysia photography a lot 🙂