In this research essay, I am going to explain about the Malaysia's post colonialism early Identity approaches. After Independence, 8 National monumental building were built to mark the new Identity of Malaysia. I am going to explain on the 8 monumental buildings in relationship to the Malaysia Identity. Using several case studies on selected 8 monumental buildings, I am going to further explain the conceptual reason behind these selected building as well as the affect onto the Malaysian architecture Identity; whether it work or not. Before I start, it is crucial to understand the basic history on Malaysia's architecture style before post independence period as it has relations which lead to affecting the Architecture identity of Malaysia during post-colonialism period.
Introduction: Adaptation of foreign Identity
During the colonial era, when the British used to rule Malaysia, formerly known as the Malayan (before independence) was strongly influenced by the British's culture, tradition as well as their lifestyle. There was a sort of blending between the Malaysia culture and the British culture during those eras. The British actually came from India before colonizing Malaysia which resulted into an architectural movement of British Indian style into the Malaysia country which was namely the British Raj style and Mogul architecture. This style is a combination of the Indian architecture style and the British style. The British sort of injected this style into the Malaysia scene to blend in with the Malaysian Islamic symbolism. Following the trend, many government and public buildings in Malaysia were constructed using the British Raj style and the Mogul style. Buildings such as The Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station are examples of the British Raj and Mogul style which was brought by the British during Malaysia's colonization. Surprisingly, these styles managed to be accepted as well as adapted by the Malaysians. This shows that Malaysians during that time did not really bother about the importance of their country's identity as well as culture; or perhaps maybe they did not realize it?
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Figure 1: The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station that was constructed in 1910 still stands in Malaysia todayC:\Users\EmrysGau\Pictures\Culture 301 14th april 2011 site visit\DSC04130.JPG
The Rise of Nationalism
Figure 2: The Kuala Lumpur Oriental Building are one of the examples of Art Deco style in Kuala Lumpur
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3272/2583770689_7399226a78.jpgThe Mughal style continued to last until around the late 1910s until the arrival of Art Deco style. Inspired from Europe and America, Art Deco was the birth of early modernism in Malaysia which marks the early break from the classical style. This style was commonly applied to the facades of the 1930s shophouses as well as entertainment buildings. However, the arrival of true modernism and International took place in the 1950s. This is a period when the first generation of local architectural graduates began to involve in the country's architecture development (Chen 1998). By this, it marks the start of pursuing towards finding a self identity.C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\2583770689_7399226a78.jpg
The Realism of Self-Identity
The 1950s and the 1960s was a crucial period which evolves in the rethinking and revaluating of the fundamental principles of International style. This resulted in 3 approaches towards a more communicative building relating more closely to the local sosiocultural and history context. The climatic solution was one of the approaches which involve the sensitive responds towards the climate in Malaysia. Energy conservation devices and strategies of orienting a building play an important role in the climatic solution approach. Another approach of the Nationalist responds is the vernacular materials in construction which involves in adapting local available materials to construct a building. Traditional Identity is also one of the Nationalist approaches which the architecture involves the identity, culture, history of the Malaya origins (Chen 1998). These approaches further inspire Malaysia in searching their own Identity.
Figure 3: The Kuala Lumpur General Hospital is the example of International style in Kuala Lumpur city
Ideology of Malaysia Identity
The "Nationalist responds" had a strong influence towards the architecture in Malaysia as it was favoured as the prime identity of Malaysia architecture. Malaysia declared independence in 31st August 1957. But before the Independence date, as they knew they are going to be a free country soon, they had already planned on building a few large scale monumental buildings to commemorate Independence Day itself as well as a representative of the newly independent status of the country. Stadium Merdeka was the 1st among the few large scale monuments built. In September 1963, Yang Di Pertuan Agong named the 8 symbols upon which marks the newly formed nation of Malaysia.
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
The 8 symbols are represented by several monumental structures which serve 8 meaning as well as purpose towards the nation. The Merdeka stadium and Stadium Negara was built as a symbol of a healthy nation as well as a unity gathering point for the nation.
The Parliament Building was built as a symbol of democracy as well as a new nation in Malaysia. The National Mosque was built to symbolize Malaysia as an Islamic country and also to represent freedom of worship. Universities were built to symbolize institutions for learning as faith in education and enlightenment of the people.
The "Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka" Building which is also known as the Language and Literature agency was built to symbolizes the reinstatement of Malay language (Chen 1998). During the British colonization era, The Malay Language was overwhelmed by the English Language (Bruce 2007). This building was built to restore the Malay Language as the National Language of the country as well as to encourage the younger generation to maintain the Malay Language. Murals of Malaysia's culture were exposed at the front facade of the building as an encouragement to the nation to maintain their National language.
Figure 4: Front facade of the "Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka" Building
Figure 5: Murals of National Museum
The Museum Negara which is also known as the National Museum was built to symbolize the identity culture of the country. It was also built to express the Malaysia's original culture as well as to revive and maintain the country's culture amongst nation. Similarly to the "Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka" Building, the use murals can be seen on both wings of the exterior wall of the National Museum. Two murals was drawn by Cheong Lai Tong, a Chinese local, one illustrates Malaysia, culture and history while another one illustrates the country's economic growth and political development (Chen 1998). On the other hand, one of the earliest finest infrastructures Malaysia invested on is the The Subang Airport. It was built to symbolize a gateway for the nation to the world as well as a welcoming gateway for other country into Malaysia (Chen 1998). C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\Muzium-Negara-.jpg
Figure 6: Tugu Negara National Monument
The only non-building amongst the 8 national structures is a bronze monument named the "Tugu Negara" also known as the National Monument was built to represent victorious the spirit of those whom sacrifice themselves against the resistant of the communist for the sake of the country's peace. 7 bronze figures of soldiers, each of which symbolizes leadership, suffering, unity, vigilance, strength, courage and sacrifice. 5 of the figures represent the victorious allied forces while the other 2 figures that lie on the ground represent that of the defeated communist forces (CA 2008).C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\Tugu Negara.jpg
The Birth of a New Malaysian Identity
Before independence, the government already realize the need of monuments and landmarks that can one day mark Malaysia's Independence Day. The first landmark that was built was the Merdeka Stadium. Completed 10 days before independence, this Stadium was built to host the official venue for the declaration of Independence Day as well as to mark Malaysia as an independent country free from colonization. This was the 1st largest open air stadium during that era. This is a large monumental stadium that can accommodate up to 45,000 people. It was built on a high plateau in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, giving a commanding view towards the city below. It is an open space stadium constructed of reinforced concrete with thin shell roof, arches over the grandstand (Chen 1998). The Merdeka Stadium is still among one of the most memorable structures in the history of Malaysia.
Figure 8: The Merdeka Stadium today
Figure 7: The Merdeka Stadium during Independence Day
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What are the reasons behind that makes this Stadium very memorable to the country even until today? It is not merely just because it was built during Independence Day. It is more than that. The Merdeka Stadium was the largest stadium of the country during that time, having simple designs, no ornaments or decoration unlike the Mughal style during the British Colonization era. The Merdeka stadium was the opposite to the Mughal style, it is clear that Malaysia do not want any similarities with the colonial Mughal style building that were left by the British; they want a new identity which can represent Malaysia's newly form country. The building was emphasised in terms of the civic approach more than the aesthetic looks. Function which is not only to celebrate Independence Day, there are far more intentions rather than that. The concept behind the Merdeka Stadium was actually based on the system used by the British to rule Malaysia, which is the Divide and rule system. The divide and rule system is a tactic used by the British which is dividing the nation racially so that it would be easier for the British to take control. This system destroys the relationship between the Malay, Chinese, as well as the Indian race to make sure that these three races have no chance to unite to oppose the British Power in Malaysia (Bruce 2007). In contrary to the Divide and Rule system, the Merdeka stadium was built to reunite all races together. Apart from that, from the location of the Merdeka Stadium itself, it already tells the nation that it was meant for a gathering point as it located in the centre of the heart of Kuala Lumpur city, which conveniently welcomes everyone from every corner of the city into the centre of the city; which is the Merdeka Stadium. C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\klang river.jpg
Figure 9: Merdeka Stadium in the center of Kuala Lumpur
Google earth edited with Photoshop cs3
Figure 10: Location of Merdeka Stadium within Divide & Rule area
Extracted from lecture slide: post colonialism. edited with photoshop cs3
The figure on the left shows the Merdeka Stadium located in the center of Kuala Lumpur city. The figure above shows the location of the Merdeka Stadium was built within in the context where the divide and rule system used to takes place.C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\heart of kl copy.jpg
On the other hand, in terms of spatial planning, the Merdeka Stadium uses Centric spatial planning which the field is surrounded by 45,000 seats ( Chen 1998) that actually lets occupants share the same focal point from their seat to the center of the field. The question is, why using a stadium which has centric space to celebrate Independence Day, why they do not choose other alternative such as an open space which the crowd faces one direction towards a huge stage such as when how President Obama of the United States gives his speech to the nation? The reason behind choosing a centric stadium especially to host Malaysia Independence Day was also intended experience the unity feeling as everyone can witness all races gathers in one venue. People in the stadium do not only see the person in the left or in the right but also gets to see every single angle of the stadium due to centric spatial space proposition. Imagine you sitting in the stadium accompanied by other races as well as witnessing the Malaysia Flag hoisted for the first time in the history of Malaysia. It is undeniable that the atmosphere of the Stadium Merdeka during the Independence Day lifted the spirit of the nation. Although it managed to achieve pride within the nation but it did not really break into international level. Perhaps, this Stadium was intentionally built humbly to celebrate Malaysia's Independence Day together with the nation.C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\MErdeka old.jpgC:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\obama-oregon.jpg
Figure 11 & 12: The two image above shows contrast between the "open space" spatial planning used by the United States and the "centric space" used by the Malaysians during their Independence day.
Figure 13: Centric space of the Merdeka Stadium
Google earth edited with photoshop cs3
With the centric spatial planning, as shown in the diagram on the left, it gives visitors to share the same focal point as the others equally. It also lets visitors experience a "unity" feeling especially when the stadium is full with audiences.
C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\top plan of merdeka stadium copyedted.jpg
Failure in achieving Cultural Essence Identity
The Merdeka Day was a memorable event in the mind of the nations. It was indeed a successful one. Furthermore, things were quite positive after independence, in fact, during that time, Malaysia had great economic advantages as they were the world's leading producers of rubber, tin mining, as well as palm oil (Footprint travel guides 2011). This drives the mentality of pushing Malaysia's standard even more. The government wanted to build more National monumental Buildings that can not only make the nation proud as how the (Merdeka Stadium make them proud) but also bringing the country's standard into international level. However, the desperate urge of Malaysia in competing into international level resulted in a declination of the Malaysia cultural identity. The National Stadium is one of the examples of one of the earliest monumental building built which fails to capture the Malaysia Identity essence and only brought temporary pride to the country.
Figure 14: National Stadium next to Merdeka Stadium
Figure 15: National Stadium exterior view
C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\last time stadium.JPG
The urge in bringing pride to the country leads into the commissioning of an improved version of the Merdeka Stadium. In 1962, Stadium Negara (the National Stadium) was completed five years after Independence Day. It was located nearby the Merdeka Stadium. Apart from being an enclosed stadium which provides proper shelter for visitors (dissimilar to the open stadium of Merdeka Stadium), the National Stadium shares similar function as the Merdeka Stadium which is a unity space for the nation. However, the sophistication of the design details was way more enhanced compared to the Merdeka Stadium. This can be seen in the early design of the stadium's roof which was a reinforced concrete ring supporting a steel 'bicycle wheel roof'. During that time, it was one of the largest examples of a 'bicycle steel' wheel roof in Southeast Asia (Chen 1998). This shows the serious determination of Malaysia in putting the country into international stage.
Figure 16: Centric spatial configuration lets audiences share the same viewing distance towards the center of the Stadium.C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\Site Visit from stephane\DSC01524.JPG
Figure 17: Due to persistent leakage, the 'bicycle steel roof' was replaced by this also sophisticated dome steel structure to maintain its imposing aesthetic value.C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\Site Visit from stephane\DSC01521.JPG
In comparison to the Merdeka Stadium, the National stadium had better aesthetics value in addition with the 'bicycle steel roof' as the main shelter of the stadium. The sophisticated in the building's detail especially the roof part is already enough to overwhelm the Stadium Merdeka which just sits next to it. In contrary to the Merdeka Stadium, the National Stadium emphasises more on aesthetics value rather than civic approach. It is obvious that the main intention of constructing the National Stadium is more to achieving pride by challenging into international level. In the 1980s, the roof was replaced by a new imposing dome roof which replaces the previous 'bicycle wheel roof' due to persistent leakage problem (Chen 1998).C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\genimage.jpg
Figure 18: Bird eye view of the Nation Stadium with its new dome roof
Even though this National Stadium was considered a successful structure in terms of putting the country's standard into international standard, but that pride only last for a few years until the completion of new stadiums such as the Bukit Jalil stadium that overwhelms the National Stadium. The National Stadium actually has no identity essence, which leads it into failure to achieve 'permanent pride' compared to the Merdeka Stadium. The failures in terms of maintaining its pride was due to the lack of design application in terms of Malaysia cultural identity responses.
The International Landmark of Malaysia Identity
One of the great monuments of Malaysia that shows a good example in representing Malaysian culture Identity is the "Masjid Negara". Also known as the National Mosque, It was built in 1965 to represent Islam as the main religion of the country, the National Mosque is also unique in a way as the design concept symbolizes contemporary expression of traditional Islamic art, calligraphy as well as ornamentation. Although the Mosque was built to represent the Islamic religion of the country, but locals of non-muslin religion also took part in the funding of the National Mosque (CA 2008).
Figure 19: Bird's eye view of the National Mosque
Although three architects was appointed in designing the National Mosque, but it was largely designed by a local architect, Baharuddin bin Abu Kassim whom was chosen by Tun Razak, the chairman of the mosque design community. Before construction, Tun Razak, wanted a mosque design that can embrace the Malaysian National Identity to the fullest. In exception to the typical domed shape roof that is widely seen throughout the whole world, Tun Razak wanted a more "self identified" design which can only be seen in Malaysia. It was quite a hard time to decide the design concept of the Mosque as during that time; Malaysian Identity was still a big question to them.
Figure 20: Intricate geometrical Islamic patterns coverings provide sufficient privacy from the outside as well as an external view from the inside.Time could not wait as the initial step of developing the National Mosque was inspired from the concept of the Malay House. Instead of being inspired physically, the local Malay house was extracted in terms of its ability of cooling effect which is in response to the climatic condition in Malaysia (Chen 1998). This "cooling effect" concept was applied in most of the interior spaces. Most of the interior spaces are covered by the intricate geometrical Islamic patterns as the covering of the exterior which offers air ventilation to the interior (Malaysia by A Malaysian 2011). The Intricate geometrical Islamic patterns coverings also provide sufficient privacy from the outside as well as an external view from the inside. This shows the bonding between functionalisms as well as culture which resulted in a new architecture Identity.
Figure 21: Intricate geometrical Islamic patterns as the covering of the exterior providing natural air ventilation to the interior. C:\Users\EmrysGau\Desktop\kl_national_003.jpg
Another concept that was applied to the design of the mosque is the unique multi folded umbrella-like shaped roof which shelters the main praying hall. The minaret design was also shaped in an enclosed umbrella shape which blends in the folded umbrella shape roof. This unique feature was inspired from the cultural lifestyle of the Malaysia Sultan, which is the figurehead of Malaysia. From over plenty of years, whenever a Sultan appeared in public, an umbrella will be always opened for him, to make him feel as protected and comfortable as possible. Symbolically, the umbrella connotes the presence of the Sultan (Malaysia by A Malaysian 2011). The praying hall which is sheltered by the Umbrella design, intends to give the worshippers a protected as well as comfortable feeling as how the Sultan feels. This shows how the design which was influenced culturally successfully applied realistically that can fully provide practicality as well as a strong symbolic to the nation. Until today, The National Mosque still stands as one of the prideful National Buildings of the Malaysia post-colonial architecture and is renowned throughout the whole world.
Figure 22: The multi folded umbrella-like roof
Figure 23: The Enclosed Umbrella shaped Minaret
The post-independence period marks the breakthrough of Malaysia from the British Colonization. This period also marks the new born Identity for Malaysia as an independent country. Since Independence, the 8 National monuments represent earliest stage of Malaysia's Identity. Although most of the 8 National Monument succeed to mark a permanent Identity for the country, yet some failed to achieve so. Some buildings were put a lot of effort which were expected to achieve a prideful Identity, but it did not happen. The reason behind this failure is the imbalance between "bringing the country into international standards" and "creating prideful Identity for the country". When focus too much in bringing the country towards international level while neglecting the latter, the lack of Malaysia cultural Identity will be missing. When focus too much on "creating prideful Identity for the country", International standards will not be achieved. Therefore, a balance of the two points should be maintained. Although these failures happened, they can only accept it positively which will be another lesson for future in continuing the search of Malaysia's Identity.