Site logo

8 Landmarks In Malaysia And The Architects & Builders Behind Them

Malaysia boasts a rich tapestry of landmarks, showcasing a blend of historical heritage and contemporary architectural wonders. While these structures stand as testaments to the country’s legacy, the narratives of the individuals behind their creation often remain untold.

This listicle embarks on a journey through eight iconic landmarks in Malaysia, uncovering the captivating stories of the builders and architects whose ingenuity and vision shaped these remarkable edifices.

#1: Telekom Tower by Hijjas Katsuri

Source: KL Office Space, Wikipedia and Marvel

Hijjas Katsuri may have been born in Singapore but he continues to rate as one of the most influential architects in Malaysia. His influence on modern Malaysia cannot be denied as he is often referred to as the father of Malaysian architecture in independent Malaysia[1].

Born into a poor family, Hijjas succeeded through hard work and what he defines as luck. He was training as a draughtsman before winning a scholarship to study in Australia, where he graduated as an architect and urban planner[2].

After briefly working as an architect and planner with Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, Hijjas returned to Malaysia to teach at the MARA University of Technology, where he established The School of Art and Architecture and the first professional architectural degree programme. He later founded the award-winning practice Hijjas Kasturi Associates Sdn Bhd — now known as Hijjas Architects & Planners, before retiring giving ownership of the company to his daughter Serina Hijjas.

One of Hijjas’s architectural achievements in our country is the Telekom Tower, which was designed by Hijjas Kasturi Associates and constructed between 1998 and 2001. Listed as the 4th tallest building in the world and the 5th tallest in Malaysia, the Telekom Tower is also considered to be the first tower to utilise a twisted design, with its distinctive shape meant to represent a sprouting bamboo shoot.

If the tower looked familiar to you Marvel fans out there, it should as it bears a striking resemblance to the Stark Tower!

To help promote the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the Avengers logo was projected onto the Telekom Tower![3]

#2: MBF Tower by Ken Yeang

Source: Smart Local and The Edge

Hijjas is not the only household name amongst Malaysian architects; since 1971, Ken Yeang has built a reputation for his eco-conscious architecture, masterminding the concept of bioclimatic skyscrapers, where structures use less energy and respond to the climate[1].

Describing himself as “an ecologist first, an architect second”, Ken Yeang pioneered several eco-friendly designs including taking advantage of the wind to cool interiors and reduce reliance on air conditioning. Because of his successes, The Guardian named Ken Yeang “one of the 50 people who could save the planet[1].

One of Ken’s more famous projects is the MBF Tower in Penang’s Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, popularly known as “the millionaire’s row”. Completed in 1994, the MBF Tower, with its distinctive stairway appearance, is one of the tallest buildings in Penang, as well as one of the first and oldest skyscrapers in Northam Road.

#3: Pudu Jail by Charles Edwin Spooner

The infamous Pudu Jail may be no more, but you can’t deny that a jail with a mural painted on its exterior walls is a sight that no one will forget.

It is said that the mural was once the longest in the world, having held a prestigious spot on the Guinness World Records. And we owe it to the mural’s painter, Khong Yen Chong, a former inmate at Pudu who started work on the painting in 1984 together with a crew of his fellow inmates. The mural stretched across 394 metres of the long wall, with some 2,000 litres of paint used to complete the entire mural. Khong was so dedicated to his work that even after he was released from prison as a free man, he returned simply to ensure the mural would be completed[4].

Pudu’s mural may be famous, but what about the guy who built the jail in the first place?

Surprisingly, the jail’s construction (which began in 1891) was entrusted to Charles Edwin Spooner, the British engineer responsible for working on some of Malaysia’s most famous buildings including the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the KL Railway Station[4]. Edwin Spooner would bring an eclectic mixture of Moorish domes, Greek columns and Gothic arches in what he referred to as “Mahometan” (Islamic) architecture[5]. Safe to say that KL would be unrecognisable without his contributions.

#4: Petronas Twin Towers & César Pelli

Source: Suria KLCC and Arch Daily

Everyone knows about the Twin Towers. Most of us would likely not recognise KL’s skyline without it!

But did you also know that the man who helped design the towers was also one of the United State’s most influential architectural geniuses?

The late César Pelli (12 October 1926 – 19 July 2019) was widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s preeminent architects. The Argentine-born American became widely known for the lightweight, almost tent-like, appearance of his buildings, which were often surfaced in glass or a thin stone veneer. His projects displayed a fascination with abstract, crystalline glass shapes shot through with lines of coloured stone or metal[6].

This distinctive style can be seen in the Twin Towers themselves. Completed in 1998, the Petronas Towers are a reflection and homage to the dominant Islamic culture of Malaysia. Indeed, it was Pelli’s idea to incorporate Islamic motifs and symbols into the design process that would influence the design and the detailing of the building[7].

Pelli used the Rub el Hizb, an important symbol found in many Islamic cultures, as a way to generate the plan of the building. This symbol is characterised by two overlapping squares, one rotated 45 degrees, with a circle inscribed in the centre. Pelli used the Rub el Hizb as the footprints to both towers resulting in two extruded 8-point towers that reflected Islamic art. But rather than just leaving the building as an extrusion of a preexisting symbol found in Islamic art and culture, Pelli “scalloped” the points of the start to create a more elegant and delicate aesthetic that is found in most Islamic motifs[7].

The Twin Towers would be completed in 1998, and unlike other similar structures which stood independently from each other, the Petronas Towers are each connected by a skybridge that connects the two towers on the 41st and 42nd floors of each tower.

Fun Fact: The skybridge is not even connected to the towers, instead, it is being slid into the twin buildings instead of being solidly connected to them on both sides. This was done to avoid damage when the towers are swayed by strong winds. During a heavy storm, the bridge slides in and out between the two towers, which in turn provides additional structural support to the buildings[8].

#5: Chow Kit & Co. Department Store by A.K. Moosdeen

Source: Flickr | Zain Abdullah

This architectural gem was once the first department store to ever open in Malaysia. The original building it was located in was built in 1905 by Loke Yew, one of Kuala Lumpur’s first multimillionaires and philanthropists. It was then leased to Loke Chow Kit, another prominent Chinese tycoon in Kuala Lumpur, who opened Chow Kit & Co., considered to be Malaysia’s first department store, in September 1905[9]. In its heyday, the Chow Kit & Co. Department Store was the place to go if you want dressmaking materials like fine fabrics, ribbons and buttons.

In contrast to the Islamic-influenced designs of contemporaneous buildings, such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the department store’s structure embraced a Neo-Renaissance architectural style. This distinctive design was conceived by the Anglo-Indian architect Abdul Kadir Moosdeen, better known as AK Moosdeen. Notably, Moosdeen’s architectural repertoire prominently featured the Dutch gable, also known as the Flemish gable, alongside captivating oriel windows adorning the building’s corners.[9].

This wasn’t the only building that Loke Yew would commission from AK Moosdeen; AK was also the architect of a row of shophouses in the Old Market Square (now Medan Pasar) and the Loke Hall (Rumah Tangsi) on Jalan Tangsi (formerly Barracks Road) which were all Loke Yew’s projects[9].

#6: Sultan Abdul Samad Building by A.C. Norman

Besides the Twin Towers and KL Tower, one of Kuala Lumpur’s most famous and recognizable landmarks is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Those passing through Merdeka Square can instantly recognise its stately copper-domed towers.

Its original name was simply Government Offices, Kuala Lumpur, but was renamed in 1974 after Sultan Abdul Samad, who was the Sultan of Selangor at the time of construction. Built between 1894 and 1897, its foundation stone was laid on 6 October 1894 on top of a time capsule containing some Straits coins, a piece of Selangor tin, and the day’s newspaper – the Selangor Journal[10].

The designing and construction of the building was a team effort, involving Charles Edward Spooner as mentioned in a few entries above and Arthur Charles Alfred Norman who served as the chief architect, with overall design by R.A.J. Bidwell, Selangor chief draughtsman and acting architect. The building’s Indo-Saracenic design was one of the first in Peninsular Malaysia and would go on to influence other structures in the country[2].

During his tenure in the Selangor Public Works Department, A.C.A. Norman also helped design some of Kuala Lumpur’s other historical landmarks including the Royal Selangor Club, National Textile Museum and St. Mary’s Church.

#7: National Textile Museum by Arthur Benison Hubback

Source: National Textile Museum and National Portrait Gallery

Situated within Merdeka Square along Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, the National Textile Museum is housed in the century-old Federated Malay States Central Railways Offices[11]. Dating back to 1905, the building is easily recognised by its alternating red bricks and white plaster bands and like the adjacent Sultan Abdul Samad Building was also done with a Mughal-Islamic Architectural style[12].

It didn’t always house a museum, however. Before then, the building once housed the Federated Malay States Railway Station and Selangor Works Department[12].

The building owes its design to Arthur Benison Hubback, who originally came to KL as a young architect and surveyor in 1895 and remained for 19 years during which time he designed many of the city’s most iconic buildings[13]. He was another one of the minds behind the design and construction of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and would go on to participate in other projects such as the Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur, the Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh railway stations and the Royal Selangor Club[14].

#8: Oriental Building by Arthur Oakley Coltman

Standing in stark contrast to the gleaming skyscrapers that dwarf it, the grey Art-Deco styling of the Oriental Building helps make it stand out amongst its peers and dates back to the 1930s. Indeed, during that time, the Art Deco style had become a must-have for building owners in major towns like KL, Ipoh and Penang[15].

Although it seems small now, the Oriental Building was once the tallest structure in Kuala Lumpur (standing at 82 ft tall, or five storeys high) when it completed construction on November 26th 1931 and it still is the tallest Art Deco building in KL next to the Central Market[15].

The man behind the Oriental Building’s design is Arthur Oakley Coltman, who worked as a manager for Messrs. Booty & Edwards based in Kuala Lumpur from 1925 to 1957. Coltman was responsible for many of the other Art Deco buildings in KL including the Anglo-Oriental Building, the OCBC Building and the Lee Rubber Building (now Else Kuala Lumpur)[16].

Explore our sources:

  1. S. Bedford. (2021). 9 Malaysian Architects You Should Know. Culture Trip. Link.
  2. Tatler Asia. Link.
  3. S. Khor. (2018). TM Basically Just “Confirmed” That Menara Telekom In Bangsar Is Secretly Avengers Tower. Says. Link.
  4. N. Wong. (2022). 5 strange facts about Malaysia’s infamous Pudu Jail. FMT. Link.
  5. N. Richardson. (2012). Kuala Lumpur: a colonial heart beneath the skyscrapers. The Telegraph. Link.
  6. César Pelli. Britannica. Link.
  7. Arch Daily (n.d.). AD Classics: Petronas Towers / Cesar Pelli. Link.
  8. S. Selan. (2022). Petronas Twin Towers: 6 Lesser-known Facts About The World’s Tallest Twin Towers Every Proud M’sian Should Know. The Smart Local. Link.
  10. FMT. (2021). The story behind the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. (2021). Link.
  11. Historical Buildings & Landmarks In Kuala Lumpur That Will Interest You. (n.d.). Kuala Lumpur City. Link.
  12. C. Chin. (2019). What to do at National Textiles Museum, Kuala Lumpur. The Star. Link.
  13. Arthur Benison Hubback. Link.
  14. ExpatGo. (2014). The Man Behind Malaysia’s Iconic Buildings: Arthur Benison Hubback. (2014). Link.
  15. Z. Abdullah. (2016). ORIENTAL BUILDING: THE TALLEST ART DECO MASTERPIECE OF KUALA LUMPUR. Heritage Buildings of Malaysia. Link.
  16. FMT. (2018). The making magnificent buildings of Arthur Oakley Coltman in KL. (2018). Link.

Stories You May Also Like:

BURSA TOP 20: Who’s The most charitable?