Kuala Lumpur, now a bustling metropolis, had a very modest start around the middle of the 19th century. It began as a small hamlet at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers. In nearby Ampang rich tin mines were opened and Kuala Lumpur was the place from where the tin could be transported by boat to Klang.
Here is how Kuala Lumpur looked in 1884. The open field at the left (the padang) is what today is Dataran Merdeka !
The wooden houses with atap roofs were prone to fire, and several times the whole village was razed. Kuala Lumpur also got heavily involved in the Selangor Civil War (1867-1874). After this war Selangor became a British protectorate and in 1880 Kuala Lumpur replaced Klang as the capital of Selangor.
In 1884 Frank Swettenham, at that time the British Resident of Selangor, decided that future buildings should be constructed of brick and tile, to reduce the risk of fire. Yap Ah Loy, Capitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur, started a brick industry in what now is called Brickfields. He can be considered the founder of modern Kuala Lumpur.
When in 1895 the British government decided to establish the Federated Malay States (FMS), a federation of Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang, Kuala Lumpur became the capital in 1896.
Here is a map of Kuala Lumpur, as it was in 1895. Worthwhile to study it in detail!
Regular visitors of my blog know my interest in history and heritage (Taiping, Klang) and may have been wondering why I never posted about Kuala Lumpur. Well, here is the result of two heritage walks in Kuala Lumpur.
We will start at the padang (Dataran Merdeka) where many of the heritage buildings are located. Here is a fascinating aerial view of colonial KL, taken circa 1930. What a beautiful town KL was in those days, without all the modern high-rise buildings! I have numbered the heritage buildings.
Selangor Club (1)
The Selangor Club was founded in 1884 as a meeting point for educated and high-ranking members of British colonial society. It started as a small wooden building with an atap roof, near the north eastern corner of the padang. In 1890 it was replaced by a two-storey structure, designed by A.C.A. Norman in Mock Tudor style . Later, in 1910, it was enlarged by Arthur Benison Hubback
Government Printing Office (2)
Built in 1899, designed by Norman in Moorish Revival (Neo-Mughal) style. In the 1895 city map an earlier building was still located west of the padang, where nowadays the Police HQ can be found. The building has been used for various purposes, at present the KL City Gallery has its premises there. There is a gallery about the history of Kuala Lumpur, a souvenir shop, a cafe and on the first floor a scale model of KL. Quite touristic, but worth a visit.
Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (3)
Designed by Norman, built in 1909, replacing an older structure at the same location (see city map). Again in the Neo-Mughal style that was popular in those days. Originally there were two single-floor side wings, the left one was was removed when the road had to be widened. After being used as a bank, it became the Museum for National History and later a restaurant. At the moment it is closed for renovation and will house the Museum of Music.
Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR) Headquarters (4)
After the Federated Malay States were formed in 1896, Frank Swettenham, the newly appointed Resident-General of the FMS, proposed a master plan to extend and connect railway networks within the FMS and Province Wellesley. In 1905 architect Arthur Benison Hubback designed the FMSR headquarters in Neo-Mughal style. A spectacular building, but it served as headquarters for a limited time only, because in 1917 they moved to the Railway Administration building, opposite the main Railway Station (we will visit it later in this blog). At the moment the Textile Museum is housed in this building.
General Post Office (5)
The (Old) General Post Office is another Hubback creation, dating from 1896. It served as post office until 1984.
Government Offices (6)
This impressive building dominates the east side of the padang. The first stone was laid in 1894 and it was officially opened in 1897. The building was originally designed by Norman in Neo-Classical style, but C. E. Spooner, since 1891 State Engineer of the Selangor Public Works Department (PWD), was unhappy with the design. It was then reworked by Bidwell and Hubback, young assistants of Norman in Neo-Mughal style.
It has housed the Federal Secretariat of the FMS and many other departments. After 1974 (when Kuala Lumpur became Federal Territory) it has been the seat of various Courts and got its present name: Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
Here a beautiful picture from 1902.
(Old) Supreme Court (7)
A beautiful building, designed by Hubback in Neo-Mughal style and completed in 1915. More details can be found in an interesting blog by Zain Abdullah, Heritage Buildings of Malaysia
There are plans to open a tourism gallery in the building. At the moment a lot of construction and renovation is taking place around the building.
Former Town Hall (8)
The Municipal Offices and Town Hall of Kuala Lumpur were designed by A.B. Hubback in 1901 and built in 1904. It contained an auditorium and nowadays has become the KL City Theatre Hall.
Here is the monumental entrance and an old postcard of the Town Hall
St. Mary’s Cathedral (9)
Built in 1894 and designed by A.C.A Norman in Neo-Gothic style. An unimpressive building, when compared with the exuberant creations of A.B. Hubback. You would at least expect a tower.
FMS Survey Office (10)
Designed by A.B. Hubback, constructed in 1910. (1904? 1914? See final note). A magnificent building with its long (120m!) colonnade. Later it housed the Sessions and Magistrate Court. At the moment it is abandoned. Not easy to take pictures of the building because the elevated LRT is obstructing a good view.
Masjid Jamek (11)
This mosque is one of the oldest in Kuala Lumpur, designed again by Hubback. The foundation stone of the mosque was laid by the Sultan of Selangor in 1908 and the mosque was officially opened one year later. Compare it with St Mary’s Cathedral!
In the 1895 map there was still a Malay cemetery at the confluence of Klang and Gombak river. It was the main mosque of Kuala Lumpur until the Masjid Negara was built in 1965.
Dwarfed now by the surrounding skyscrapers, it is not easy to imagine its former splendour. You can enter the mosque, but it was Hari Raya during my visit and the mosque was closed. Here a collection of old pictures and postcards
We have completed a (wide) round of the old padang (now Dataran Merdeka) and I hope you will agree with me that there is a lot to see. . But there is more…:-). Let us first continue with A.B. Hubback. There are two more buildings in Kuala Lumpur, designed by him. The Old Railway station and the FMS Railway Head Administration Office. About 1 km south of Dataran Merdeka and opposite each other. In the background the modern Dayabumi Tower (1984)
FMS Railway Head Administration Office (12)
As mentioned before, the FMSR Headquarters were originally in what is now the Textile Museum. But already in 1913 work started on new headquarters. Delayed by WWI it was finally completed in 1917. It is a monumental building, in characteristic “Hubback” style.
The Railway Station (13)
Finally, the Railway Station, in my opinion Hubback’s most impressive design. Completed in 1910, it served as Kuala Lumpur’s main railway station until 2001. Considered by many one of the world’s greatest railway stations.
Without exaggeration we can say that Hubback’s contributions dominate the heritage architecture of Kuala Lumpur. Of course that doesn’t mean that there were no other architects in the same period. We have mentioned already Norman and Bidwell.
Another architect in those days , less well known, was Abdul Kader Moosdeen. Here are two views of one of his works, a row of shop houses at Medan Pasar. Recently beautifully restored. Built c.1906.
Shophouses Medan Pasar (14)
The Gian Singh Building, built in 1909, was probably also designed by Moosdeen. Two views of this building, hardly recognisable as heritage due to all the billboards.
Gian Singh Building (15)
To view Moosdeen at his best, we must go back to the North side of Dataran Merdeka and from there cross under the Jalan Kuching to Jalan Tangsi. Here in 1903 a sprawling mansion was built for the Chinese business tycoon Loke Chow Kit, designed by Moosdeen. Already after a few years Loke sold the property, which then was transformed into a hotel which later became another hotel until 1973, when the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) took over. Below is the headquarters of PAM, a real gem.
Loke Hall (16)
Next to it a large renovation/restoration is still going on. This building will become the Kuala Lumpur Tourism bureau. It will be a real beauty, when finished!
Loke Hall (17)
On the corner of Jalan Tangsi another interesting heritage building can be found. In a very different architectural style, Art Deco. This “modern” style started in Europe in the 1920s and spread all over the world in the following decade.
Kuala Lumpur has quite a large number of Art Deco buildings and almost all of them were designed by the same architect, Arthur Oakley Coltman, a British architect who worked in Malaysia between 1925 and 1957.
Here are a few examples of Coltman’s Art Deco designs. The building in Jalan Tangsi was built in 1937 as the headquarters of the Anglo-Oriental Mining Corporation, the general managers for a large number of tin mines in Malaya. In 1995 it was acquired by a property developer, Ekran Berhad, and renamed Wisma Ekran. More information can be found in Zain Abdullah’s blog
Anglo-Oriental Building (18)
Anther creation of Coltman is the Oriental Building, completed in 1932. Headquarters of the Oriental Life Assurance Company Ltd and in those days the tallest building in Kuala Lumpur. Later it housed Radio Malaya until 1968. Not easy to take pictures of the imposing building, because the view is blocked by the LRT.
Oriental Building (19)
The OCBC building was designed by Coltman and built in 1937 to house the headquarters of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited in Malaysia. It is a masterpiece of the Art Deco style.
OCBC Building (20)
The clock tower in Market Square, also designed by Coltman, was built in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI
Clock tower (21)
Coltman has been designing more buildings in Kuala Lumpur. And he was not the only Art Deco architect in those days. The most beautiful Art Deco gem of Kuala Lumpur, Central Market, was designed by another architect, T.Y. Lee
The Central Market of Kuala Lumpur started in 1888 as a wet market . The present building was built in 1937
Central Market (22)
Near Merdeka Square a brightly coloured building with many Art Deco elements, houses the Children’s Library. I could not find information about architect and when it was built.
Children’s Library (23)
Two more buildings near the Railway Station to end this long blog about KL Heritage.
The Majestic hotel was completed in 1932 and designed by the architectural firm Keyes and Dowdeswell in a mixture of classical and art deco style. In its heyday it was the largest and grandest hotel in Kuala Lumpur, but by the 1970s it got overshadowed by more modern and luxurious hotels. In 1983 it closed its doors and became home to the National Art Gallery from 1984 until 1998. Now it has been restored to its former grandeur.
Majestic Hotel (24)
Finally the Sulaiman Building, built in 1933 and originally known as the New Railway Offices, as it belonged to the FMS Railways. It now houses the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA). Neo-Classsical style with Art Deco elements
Sulaiman Building (25)
Here is a Google Earth map, where the location of the various heritage buildings is indicated. Click to enlarge.
Final remarks. I have spent more time on this post than on any other in my blog…:-). A lot of relevant material can be found on the Internet. Of course Wikipedia and the online editions of the STAR and NST newspapers. Also quite a number of blogs, for example:
- Kuala Lumpur Heritage Trail
- Standing the test of time
- Lost Legacy-Disappearing Malaysian Architecture
- Heritage Buildings of Malaysia
However, comparing these various sources was sometimes confusing, especially about dates, sometimes also regarding architectural style. I had to make a choice and may have made mistakes…:-)
One of the choices I had to make was how to call the architectural style of the various Hubback buildings. Indo-Saracenic Revival, Mughal, Moorish, Mughal-Gothic? Spooner himself used “Mahometan” :-). I decided for Neo-Mughal.
Of course there are more heritage sites in Kuala Lumpur. That may become another post.