Brutalist in Kuala Lumpur

Originally, this article was written for Malaysia.my (now defunct website) in November 2018 . Rather than let the article sit around in the digital archive, might as well to have it shared on this platform.

Brutalism has been described and called by many names from non-humane to ugly, when this particular style of architecture came to light. This movement started after World War 2 in the mid 20th century, as a quick and economical solution to rebuild a nation. Brutalism, stems from the term béton brut, French for raw concrete, was used by the Brutalist architects like Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret.

Concrete is functional, flexible material to work with and most importantly, inexpensive, which made it ideal for government buildings, universities and social housing. Slowly marking its way, Brutalism graces the public or civic buildings in the United Kingdom, before being adapted by other nations around the world.

Similarly in Malaysia, Brutalist architecture can be found throughout the government and social developments, from the concrete clusters of Bank Negara Malaysia, Hospital Kuala Lumpur to Chancellery Hall of University Malaya.

Brutalist buildings are characterised by having the block-like building surfaces left unfinished after the casting and and grain of the formwork are exposed visually. The form of the buildings can be massive, bold and made up of very angular geometric shapes.

Bank Negara Malaysia

The Bank Negara Malaysia complex were built in 1967 and designed by a local architect, Dato’ Seri Nik Mohamed Mahmood, one of the earliest example of Brutalist architecture in Malaysia. Completed in 1970, the monumental concrete blocks remain unchanged, even after nearly 50 years.

The podium block with two semi circular elements extruding from the block underneath  
Streamlined lines and expression on horizontality
Three concrete blocks towering up
One of the common characteristics that can be found in brutalism architecture is repetition. As mentioned earlier, the semi circular element can be found at some other part of the building complex as well

Dewan Tunku Canselor, University of Malaya

Very often people would say that the Chancellery Hall of University Malaya resembles the works of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, India.

The elements of the building are emphasized on its functionality and ease in production.  The façade of the building is decorated with a series of planes that allow catchment of wind and penetration of light into the building. Repetitions through modular components of the building creates a holistic geometrical design. This method of using modular blocks is cost and time saving.

The main entrance to Dewan Tunku Canselor
Apart of becoming a wind-channeling device, the concrete frames that cover up the first layer of the building are quite deep, to act as brise-soleil or sun-breaker, reducing the heat gain and direct sunlight into the building
Light and shadow cast inside of the main foyer
Similar element that can be found at Bank Negara Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur General Hospital

The buildings have underwent a few uplifting works where the buildings are painted in bright colours to enhance their look. Nevertheless, the function of the designs remain intact. A few blocks in General Hospital compound are covered in the square concrete louvers, allowing good ventilation and act as sun shading device. Besides, the design itself is vital in providing a greater level of fire safety.

Deep concrete screens seal the buildings
The square concrete louvers are not only protecting the building from the scorching hot sun and rain, but also conceal the building from exposing their mechanical and electrical services

Wisma Equity

Designed by one of the most celebrated architect in our country, Hijjaz Kasturi, the building sits on the prominent site in Kuala Lumpur right in front of KLCC Twin Towers. The exposed concrete building was designed in a way that the ground footprint is smaller than the above and gradually expanding to the top level.

Staggering effects of the building reduce the monstrosity and break the monotony of the design

Sri Wangsaria Condominium, Bukit Bandaraya

When driving along Jalan Telawi in Bangsar, one couldn’t help but to notice one bulky building on top of the hill, taller than other neighbouring housing towers. What makes the building so obvious is not merely its height factor, but its odd shape that breaks the normal typology of the skyline and seems alien compared to the surrounding.  

Sri Wangsaria is one of the oldest condominiums in Bangsar and even, the most strategic with unblocked view of KL skyline. Three dramatic spines become the central pieces that seem to hold all housing blocks together. On the lower ground, there are much low-rise residentials with stepped terraces, continuing its brutalist language in design.

Brutalist architecture may seem cheap and bulky but it is also bold and courageous. It truly stands against the harsh climate and time where it is left to be admired beyond aesthetic appreciation.

1- Bank Negara Malaysia
   Jalan Sultan Salahuddin, Kuala Lumpur, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

2- Dewan Tunku Canselor, University of Malaya
   50603 Kuala Lumpur, Selangor

3- Kuala Lumpur General Hospital
   23, Jalan Pahang, 53000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

4- Wisma Equity
   150, Jalan Ampang, Kampung Baru, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur

5- Sri Wangsaria Condominiums 
   Jalan Ara, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Published by Esha Hashim

Esha Hashim is a designer and graduate architect, currently based in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Bharu. She graduated her Master of Architecture from University of Westminster, United Kingdom, where she was exposed with geometric digital exploration and architecture within conflicts. Over the years, she started to explore the notions of other creative arts that have helped her in observing the surroundings and appreciating the details - that eventually assist in her thinking process.

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