The attempt to go back and reconsider the concept of ‘place’ in today’s architecture, particularly in the case of Malaysia, is a significant element that can contribute to the expansion of one’s point of view towards architecture through its ability to step beyond the confined frame and into bigger issues such as urbanism and the discipline’s relation to the public. The results from such exploration led to the birth of three exhibitions in three different venues with contents that interestingly encompassed the past, present and future of Malaysia’s architectural industry. 

Starting in the ‘past’ with MANIFEST: Modernism of Merdaka, this exhibition proved that size doesn’t matter. Held at Galeri Petronas in Suria KLCC and within a fairly small exhibition space, the issues that were featured and presented were, however, not small like the venue. The exhibition took us back to revisit architectural creations in the transitional period between the 1950s and 1960s or during the country’s changing history from the Federation of Malaya to the declaration of independence (known as Merdaka) and the modern Malaysia we know today. It interestingly depicted the way architecture was used as the state’s apparatus in the forming of a national identity. While the models, photographs or even old documents borrowed from PETA: Journal of the Federation of Malaya Society of Architects exhibited with descriptions or the typological categorization of the exhibition’s contents may have seemed a bit too straightforward, such simplicity did go well with the exhibition space of such a limited size. Ten years ago, Galeri Petronas hosted an exhibition of a similar subject matter but in a larger scale and with more all-encompassing contents called ‘Building Merdaka.’ The 2017 exhibition was, therefore, a summarization of Galeri Petronas’ showcasing with additional and more updated information. What was distinctive about MANIFEST was the role of foreign architects such as Booty, Edwards & Partners and the architects working under the Malaysian Public Works Department. These people played significant roles in the building of the country’s foundation through the combination of Modern Architecture and Critical Regionalism, which is essentially a concept that connects the modern world to a physical location, climatic conditions, cultural identity or even the sense of place of an area. It’s interesting to think that once we have the opportunity to see works such as Parliament House (1963), Subang Airport (1965) or Masjid Negara (1965), we will come across the sharing of certain connections with Thailand’s modern architecture created during a relatively close period of time, whether they be the works of Professor Emeritus Captain Krisda Arunvongse na Ayudhya or the exposed concrete architectural creation by Assistant Professor Rangsan Torsuwan.

While the second exhibition venue Publika was located quite far from Kuala Lumpur’s city center, it served as a space where the ‘present’ and certain parts of the ‘future’ of Malaysia were exhibited under the name TAPAK CADANGAN: On Site, a large-scale exhibition that accommodated six smaller exhibitions, two of them being TEN Buildings and 10X: Thirteen Projects for KL whose direct involvement with the presentation of Malaysia’s architectural landscape included ten works (both finished and in developmental stages) selected for the first exhibition. Such connection could also be seen in the second exhibition’s search for new possibilities and potential for Kuala Lumpur through 13 experimental design projects with a diversity that ranged from the capacity of the urban scale to the smallest units like people. The works were the results of the thought, creative and inspection processes of unlimited approaches and methods. Apart from these issues featured in the exhibition, TAPAK CADANGAN was also comprised of other smaller exhibitions organized through collaboration with a network of allies such as Atlas of African Speculation (2005-2017), a research project by the University of Pennsylvania School of Design that explored the proliferation of ideas revolving around the urbanization of African cities through eight types of cities categorized according to their different potentials. VERNADOC: An Exhibition, was, for example, a collaborative project with the region’s VERNADOC network. Exhibited were the works of members such as Assistant Professor Sudjit (Svetachita) Sananwai while CCC: Crits, Coffee & Conversations featured an exhibition of student works and talks held at RUANG by Think City depicted the image of the ‘future’ in other aspects of Malaysia’s architectural industry.

It’s exciting to think about what Kuala Lumpur Architecture Festival might bring for 2018 and whether the theme and contents of the event will be reflective of any particular issue or situation, but we are certain that it will continue to be an active platform that will generate great exchange and facilitate the sharing of knowledge between architects in the region for generations to come.


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