Brutalist Buildings in Kuala Lumpur

08 August 2018

Brutalist architecture is a confrontational architectural style in which raw concrete is the star. Here, we take a look at some of the brutalist buildings in Kuala Lumpur.

When brutalist architecture first came about in the mid-20th century, it’s been described and called many names from inhumane to ugly. What began as a quick and economical solution to rebuild communities, ‘Brutalism’ became a movement in the 1950s to refer to the architectural honesty of these grey, hulking structures made of raw concrete. The term “brutalist” itself stems from béton brut – French for raw concrete – and was used by brutalist architects like Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret.

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

Concrete is a functional, flexible material to work with and most importantly, inexpensive, which made it ideal for government buildings, universities and social housing. After World War II, Brutalism gained popularity in the United Kingdom for low-cost housing, shopping centres and government buildings, which other countries soon followed.

Similarly in Malaysia, prime examples of brutalist architecture can be found in the concrete clusters of Bank Negara Malaysia, Hospital Kuala Lumpur and the Chancellery Hall of University of Malaya, among others.

Bank Negara Malaysia
The Bank Negara Malaysia complex was built in 1967 and designed by local architect, Dato’ Seri Nik Mohamed Mahmood. It’s also one of the earliest examples of brutalist architecture in Malaysia.  Completed in 1970, the monumental concrete blocks remain unchanged even after nearly 50 years.

The podium block of Bank Negara Malaysia with two semi-circular elements extruding from the block underneath. 

Streamlined lines and expression on horizontality.

Three concrete block towers. 

One of the common characteristics of Brutalism is repetition. The semi-circular element seen at the podium block is also repeated at other parts of the building complex. 

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

The elements of the building are emphasised by their 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, while repetitions through modular components of the building create a holistic geometrical design. This method of using modular blocks also saves time and cost.

Apart from channelling wind, the concrete frames that cover up the first layer of the building are quite deep, to act as a brise-soleil or sun breaker, reducing the amount of heat and direct sunlight into the building.

Light and shadow cast inside of the main foyer.

A similar element that can be found at Bank Negara Malaysia.

Hospital Kuala Lumpur
The buildings of Kuala Lumpur’s general hospital have undergone a few facelifts to enhance their look, but nevertheless, the function of the original designs remain intact. A few blocks in the hospital compound are covered in square concrete louvers, allowing good ventilation on top of filtering out sunlight. The design itself happens to provide a greater level of fire safety.

Deep concrete screens seal the buildings.

The square concrete louvers not only protect the building from the sun and rain, but also conceal the building’s electrical and mechanical devices from view.

Wisma Equity
Designed by one of the most celebrated Malaysian architects, Hijjas Kasturi, Wisma Equity sits on prime land on Jalan Ampang, right across from the Petronas Twin Towers. The plain concrete building’s design is almost like an inverted pyramid – the ground footprint is smaller than the above, and each level gradually expands to the top.

The building’s staggering effects reduce the monstrosity and break the monotony of the design.

Sri Wangsaria Condominium, Bukit Bandaraya
When driving along Jalan Telawi in Bangsar, one can’t help but notice a plain, bulky building on top of a hill, towering over the houses and other apartment blocks nearby. What draws your attention to this building isn’t just its height but its odd shape that breaks the normal typology of the skyline; it seems alien compared to its surroundings. 

Sri Wangsaria is one of the oldest condominiums in Bangsar, and also happens to have an unblocked view of the KL skyline. Three dramatic spines become the central pieces that seemingly hold all the housing blocks together.

Brutalist architecture may seem cheap and bulky but it’s also regarded as bold and courageous. Most importantly, these concrete structures were built to last even in harsh climates – all the more reason to admire them beyond aesthetics.

Bank Negara Malaysia
, Jalan Sultan Salahuddin, 50480 Kuala Lumpur
Dewan Tunku Canselor, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur
Hospital Kuala Lumpur, 23 Jalan Pahang, 53000 Kuala Lumpur
Wisma Equity, 150 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
Sri Wangsaria Condominiums, Jalan Ara, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur

Text and photos by Esha Hashim

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