PAM honour for Masjid Negara architect

How often do we pass by certain buildings, wherever they may be, and wonder who designed them? To some extent, architects are a low-profile group, but recognition for their contributions will surely be an inspiration to fellow professionals.

Joining this select group is Datuk Baharuddin Abu Kassim, who has been presented the PAM Gold Medal Award by Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM). He is the fifth recipient since the award was introduced in 1988. According to PAM, the award is in recognition of Baharuddin’s distinguished career and contribution to the profession, particularly in education, and his dedication to the “art and craft” of architecture. More specifically, he has been recognised for his contribution in designing Masjid Negara in Kuala Lumpur, completed in 1965 by the Public Works Department.

Baharuddin: The national mosque was built above ground, and it is cooler that wayBaharuddin tells City & Country that the national mosque was initially to be called Tunku Abdul Rahman Mosque, as a tribute to the Father of Independence. “But Tunku was a very humble man who wanted to share the mosque with everyone and declined to have the mosque in his name. It was also his suggestion that the mosque be built next to the railway station, so it would be accessible to all,” he explains.

On his design for the national mosque, Baharuddin says: “Firstly, it is important to consider our tropical weather. I am from Kuala Selangor, and back then there were a lot of coconut and rubber trees. You see houses on stilts in the kampung. The national mosque was built above ground, and it is cooler that way.” Work started on the 12-acre land in 1960. He has since designed (via a private architecture firm) numerous state mosques, including in Shah Alam, Kota Kinabalu and Labuan, and continues to maintain his 2-storey mosque designs.

Other projects he was involved are the 65-storey Komtar Tower in Penang, the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, the former Malaysia Airlines building in Kuala Lumpur and a few financial buildings (banks) in Singapore.

Baharuddin, who was educated at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, is a partner of architecture firm Jurubena Bertiga International Partnership, located in Jalan Gurney, Kuala Lumpur. Baharuddin  did his final-year thesis on designing a mosque while studying at University of Manchester, England, in 1958. “I had to convince the university to accept my thesis, as back then mosque designs were not widely known,” he recalls.

Interestingly, architecture was not his first choice. “I was preparing for medical studies in Singapore. But then when scholarships were offered for architectural studies in England, I applied. Drawing has always been my hobby,” says Baharuddin. His three children are architects, including one who is a landscape architect.

Here is a man who played a role in our history and surely has a lot of interesting stories to share with everyone.

The last recipient of the PAM Gold Award was Hijjas Kasturi in 2001, whose architectural designs include Menara Maybank and Wisma Tun Sambanthan in Kuala Lumpur, and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi. The first recipient of the award was Datuk Kington Loo in 1988. Among some of Loo’s architectural designs are Dewan Tunku Canselor in Universiti Malaya, Standard Chartered building in Kuala Lumpur and Subang International Airport.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 752, April 27-May 3, 2009


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