Architecture in Context: Urban Design of Kuala Lumpur City

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Figure 1a: Urban design of Kuala Lumpur city

Urban design shows both the functional and aesthetic aspects of the City’s built environment. Urban design (Figure 1a), developed according to policy framework and guidelines, creates a desirable living environment as well as giving a city an appropriate image and identity. Like most cities in the developing world, Kuala Lumpur has grown rapidly and changed a lot from 1960s until now. Kuala Lumpur becomes one of the strongest Asian cities in world economy during 21th century. The changes are not only in terms of building construction and also the ‘growing’ of the city’s skyline.


Figure 1b: Location of Kampung Baru

Some of high-rise buildings appear gradually in the city and grow vertically from the skyline of city. However, in Kampung Baru area (Figure 1b), it creates a most contrast phenomenon which is high rise buildings and old houses appear together in the golden triangle of the city. High-rise building epitome of modern, high technology and prosperous building while old houses conjure images of old, conservative and decaying houses. High rise building has its commercial value and makes a contribution to the economy of our country nevertheless old houses contain its historical value and represent the beginning features of city development.

There are some contradiction and conflict against to make think of demolishing the old houses in the city to make way for more future development.

The objective of writing this essay is to evaluate and analyse the skyline of KL area and the urban developed strategies from the past until nowadays. Besides that, to investigate and understand the cultural contexts, social and religion which influence a lot to the people who lives in that area are also parts of the objectives. Identify the needs, perceptions and values of specific cultural communities make a clear understanding of the architecture issue.


Chapter 2.1: History background of the changes of KL city’s development

Figure 2.1: Natural feature of KL in 1960Figure 2.2: The development of KL in 80s

Kuala Lumpur was established in 1857 and the KL’s skyline has changed over the years. In around 1960, Kuala Lumpur was a merely greenish piece of land (Figure 2.1) with a few of buildings. Towards 80’s (Figure 2.2), it was the period when the Malaysian economy really raised up upon. The city’s skyline started to change rapidly until the end of 90’s. According to the data, this period was Malaysian economy grew more than 8% per year for more than a decade.

Figure 2.3: Significant development of KL in 1991Figure 2.4: Skyline of KL in nowadays

The 1990 was a significant decade to the country due to the economy down turn in the year 1997. Not only did Malaysia manage to sustain incredible growth, the other country did also go into the Great Financial Crisis. This financial crisis caused most of Malaysia’s significant developments (Figure 2.3) were made. There are many construction projects that are being built include the construction of the KL Tower and the Petronas Towers. The development of Kuala Lumpur was slowly being expanded from the beginning year of 2000. In a short period, the skyline of Kuala Lumpur (Figure 2.4) has grown a lot in order to cater the demand of population nowadays.

This resulted in the emergence of large capacity of high rise buildings in the city. Not only it brings an economy effect to our country, and also received a lot of investment from foreign country. It boosts up a lot of business and employment opportunity around the city.

Chapter 2.2: History background of Kampung Baru area


Figure 2.5: Kampung Baru area at the heart of city

Even so, there is a part of traditional houses area turns up meanwhile at the heart of city (Figure2.5). The existence of traditional houses which called Kampung Baru creates a strong contrast between modern architecture buildings and traditional houses. Kampung Baru has been established since 1899 by the British government under the name of “Malay Agricultural Settlement” (M.A.S) as a special area reserved specifically for the Malays in Kuala Lumpur. It has 35,000 populations and an area measuring 153.35 km2.


Figure 2.6: Traditional Malay houses of Kampung Baru

The Kampung Baru is characterized by relative tranquillity and neat layout of traditional Malay houses (Figure 2.6), has relatively been retarded in its development with poor roads and sanitation even though the rest of metropolitan of Kuala Lumpur is enjoying a boom in economic growth and prosperity. Up to the 1930s, Kampung Baru was purely a residential village settlement with houses built of wood and supported by stilt, with a small veranda, big living room (usually with no more than three bedrooms) surrounded by garden crops (such as chilli, banana, tapioca) and widespread rearing of poultry. In this urban village just north of the city centre the houses are mostly one or two storey.

Kampung Baru was initially a residential settlement in Kuala Lumpur for Malay lower income group. [1] In the 1970s, there was a small group of Kampung Baru people who earned RM1000 per month and occupied higher position in the public and private sectors. The situation has very much changed in the 1990s in which the socio-economic status of the inhabitants of Kampung Baru had increased. There was quite a significant number of Malay middle class, such as entrepreneurs, professionals and executives, who lived in the settlement. This can be proven through the construction of new luxury residential houses such as bungalows and modern apartment beside the old traditional Malay hoses. Thus it can be said that Kampung Baru is a place where tradition and modernity meet.

Kampung Baru located in the centre of city and the property valued at around Rm2000 per square feet. This favourable geographical location attracts a lot of investors and developers intend to develop it and make a better planning. Nevertheless, the destruction of the traditional Malay houses has created controversy.

Chapter 2.3: Research method of study

The nature of this study makes it suitable for me to utilize site visit, observation, surveying and secondary analysis as my research methodologies. Site visit in study involves observing, investigating, comparing and analysing. Besides that, researcher makes a questionnaire survey form for public to get know about their opinion of Kampung Baru. It is essential for researcher to understand deeply of about the prospect development of Kampung Baru. In order to do so, historical data have been assembled by library and internet research. This research to be done is to prove my report writing in line with strong evidence.

Chapter 3: Analysis

Chapter 3.1: Perceptions of resident to the redevelopment of Kampung Baru


Figure 3.1: Malay-Muslim culture

Despite being disputed, Kampung Baru is the last stronghold against high-rise development in the Kuala Lumpur city. The residents, born and bred in Kampung Baru from generation to generation, are mainly consisted of Malay. Most of them have no intention of leaving Kampung Baru. The core reason is for the inveterate love for the community specifically concerning on the distinct Malay-Muslim culture (Figure 3.1) and its colourful history. For example, some of the elder still recalled their roles in WWII and precious childhood memories that wanted to treasure. They will convey these histories to their children and grandchildren.

Other than that, there is another situation caused Kampung Baru can’t be developed. If the original Kampung Baru landowners have died, his land titles will be shared by dozens of relatives. Therefore, it can be more than 100 people share the rights to some plots of land sometimes. This condition becomes a strong opposition to the kind of redevelopment the government has in mind. The government and the developers have been numerous meetings and discussion with local landowners about the development plans of Kampung Baru for more than twenty years, however, none of which has proved viable.

With no implementation and development, the physical structures of Kampung Baru are hit-or-miss and degraded. The unplanned improvement caused resident gradually eliminated from their original village and were replaced by transient and squatters. In spite of the recession of Kampung Baru, there are still have many people understood thoroughly its potential commercial value and business market. In this golden area with surrounding high rise building, it entirely shows an iconic identity and image of capital city of Malaysia. Suppose that Kampung Baru transformed into a modern and advanced area, it will enhance the consistent of improvement of Kuala Lumpur towards as a developed city. The modern design, structure and material of high rise buildings give an impact of the visual to represent an image of the city.

Chapter 3.2: Advantages and disadvantages once Kampung Baru to be redeveloped

Residents of Kampung Baru have to deliberate of the advantages and disadvantages once Kampung Baru to be redeveloped. One of the significant effects of the changes to Kampung Baru is maximise the value of land. In term of just being double storey houses, it can be developed vertically. For instance, high rise commercial buildings, office, five star hotel or apartment. Not only reduce the land use, and also fulfil the needs of large population in the city. Besides that, business market also have a lot of potential among this commercial area. The people who live in this area have a high level of consumption and quality of life. They would spend a lot for luxurious expenses.

In addition, while exploiting the bigger commercial market, it also increases the employment opportunity as well. It helps to solve the problem of excess unemployment which happened in our country. Ample employee can enhance the productivity efficiently. Moreover, owing to this area is tourist attraction, so that it brings economy effect to the city.


Figure 3.2: Unique character of traditional houses

On the contrary, preserving Kampung Baru has its immeasurable existing value. It is hard to imagine that an area with such a rich heritage and unique character (Figure 3.2) if razed to the ground. Many of the traditional houses of Kampung Baru are dated back to the early 1900s. The particular and original characteristics can’t be replaced by any artificial technology nowadays. If Kampung Baru is turned into a concrete jungle, it will lose all its attraction as a centre for Malay heritage.

Furthermore, the ethnic element in Kampung Baru has influenced, directly or indirectly, among the community. They hold profound feelings toward their culture and relationship with neighbourhood. Woman love to share their delicious dishes with their neighbour while children palling around the kampung. This kind of sentiment plays as an important role in the development of Kampung Baru. There is no doubt that the people of Kampung Baru want development, but at the same time the identity of Kampung Baru as a Malay community must be maintained.

Chapter 3.3: Comparison with the Singapore urban planning


Figure 3.3: Singapore urban planning

By observing and investigating Singapore urban planning (Figure 3.3), they completely did a good job in this small country. Singapore originally is just a small and lag behind country. After the World War II, centre of Singapore faced very severe urban difficulties which are overcrowding, housing shortage and unsanitary living conditions. It caused a lot of unemployment problem, infectious disease and social crime. In 1958s, the government comes out with a concept plan[2] that makes full use of land by reallocating the areas respectively. In the beginning of urban development, it appears two distinct areas which are greenbelt and new town area. First step is to build more public housing in new town area. The decentralized policy leads the population and industry in the city centre shift to other place. It creates a balance and average distribution of population and solved the lacking of housing problems.

In the central area, a large amount of shops, office, shopping centre and luxurious apartment occurred. Thoroughly downtown city revived gradually, Singapore becomes an international finance, commercial center and tourism attraction. It speeds up the economy growth of Singapore. The government of Singapore plans their strategy, from concept, guidance, urban planning to controlling, step by step implements it. The attitude of listening to the needs of resident is the fundamental principle to be succeeded.

Chapter 4: Conclusion

In conclusion, Kuala Lumpur as a developing city was improved a lot along the times. Even though Kuala Lumpur is still lacking behind in terms of skyline quality compared to bigger cities like Hong Kong, New York, Shanghai or Chicago, but it provides an iconic for its multi-cultural architecture found in traditional and modern buildings in the city. Located within the heart of fast-growing city of Kuala Lumpur, Kampung Baru has struggled to keep up with massive urban development while preserving its traditional heritage. The uniqueness of this area could not be replaced by any types of trading. The idea of demolition the traditional Malay houses should be taken off. Old structures reveal its historical edge and make a contrast with high rise building to present the improvement as well as development of technology nowadays. Attempt to have a better urban planning and management in Malaysia, government should make an in-depth study on the strategy of urban planning in Singapore.





Dale, O. J. (1999).Urban planning in Singapore: The transformation of a city. Shah Alam, Malaysia: Oxford University Press.

Suleiman Mohamed and Lokman Mohd. Zen (2000), Sejarah Kampung Baru: Di Sini Awal Segalanya Bermula

Hands, J. (1941). The History Of The Malay Agricultural Settlement Kuala Lumpur, From January 1899 to October 1941, Kuala Lumpur.




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[1] According to Suleiman Mohamed and Lokman Mohd. Zen (2000), Sejarah Kampung Baru: Di Sini Awal Segalanya Bermula, access in 27 Februari 2014

[2] The concept plan showed only the broad direction of the government's land allocation and transportation policy.The concept plan envisaged the development of high- and low-density residential estates, industrial areas and commercial centres in a ring formation around the central water catchment area, as well as a network of expressways and a mass rapid transit (MRT) system to provide islandwide interconnectivity.Another key difference was that the concept plan was not a statutory document, though most of its proposals were implemented.