Kuala Lumpur, Wisma Central

KUALA LUMPUR (July 13): A host of new ideas to reimagine one of Kuala Lumpur’s most-interesting existing buildings was introduced last Friday by new and aspiring architects.

The Architectural Association of London (AA)’s Streetware Southeast Asia visiting programme for Kuala Lumpur unveiled proposals to breathe new life into 40-year-old Wisma Central, following an intensive 10-day workshop.

Streetware Southeast Asia is described by AA as an itinerant city-by-city research workshop that focuses on specific urban regeneration challenges. Jointly organised by AA and Malaysian organisation Think City, the workshop was led by AA programme director Naiara Vergara.

During the 10 days in Kuala Lumpur, local students and professionals teamed up with international professionals from AA to use design methodology and on-site recording to come up with computer and physical model explorations. There was also a lecture series by local and international experts. 

By stimulating a dialogue between the design process and cultural interpretation, it was hoped to elicit from the participants some contemporary architectural responses to the place of Wisma Central in the existing city fabric.

Wisma Central is described by AA as a "one-off, non-city-like, eight-storey building located at a walking distance from Petronas Twin Towers [that] is still a meeting point for office workers and local merchants.

"The building sandwiches together retail, parking, offices, leisure space, and outdoor courtyard spaces, as if part of the city had unfolded in creating this special, internal mélange, challenging a standard building typology."

The workshop tested the transformation of Wisma Central's surrounding public realm into a contemporary work–leisure hub on an urban and building scale through design narratives that aim to activate the potential new profile of the area.

Architectural Association, Streetware Souitheast Asia, Vergara

“This is the seed to change minds, to try to rethink how transformation should be done, finding the value of the place,” Vergara said after the proposals were presented.

There were 18 participants in the programme – 14 second and third-year architecture students from Taylors University, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Liverpool University and RMIT University; two recent graduates; and two professionals from related fields.

Their proposals include opening up the entrance to pedestrians by moving the bus stop and drop-off point to a side road, installing a bicycle parking and repair space to encourage commuters to cycle in the city, and installing an observation deck on the rooftop of Wisma Central to activate the space.

Wisma Central, Streetware Southeast Asia, Architectural Association

Participants conducted research on the site, including mapping out the types of space and their usage in Wisma Central throughout the day, before drawing up proposal to revive the place.

Think City executive director Hamdan Abdul Majeed said the programme had three goals – capacity building for local students, to facilitate thinking of novel solutions, and make the building’s tenants comfortable with change.

The proposals will be exhibited at Wisma Central over several weeks to gather feedback from the public and building’s tenants, but there is no intention yet to implement them.

The exercise is part of the Streetware Southeast Asia visiting programme by AA, with ‘streetware’ being described by Vergara to describe the intangible and tangible things that give a street its character.

AA has also held a similar course in the coastal areas of Georgetown, Penang, and recently published its findings in a book, Streetware III Penang.

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