I am not an architecture buff. I’ll admit a preference for a pretty or striking building over a dull concrete slab—I do have eyes, after all—but I don’t know any of the lingo and I can’t speak about any of the styles or periods in anything other than an interrogative way (i.e., “Is this an example of the Gothic period? Was there a Gothic period?”) and can namedrop all of two bigwigs (Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi… pretty much the two most obvious choices). I’m ok with this blind spot and have largely accepted my laissez-faire approach where I may not know what I’m looking at, but I know whether or not I like it.
In Kuala Lumpur, there is a lot that I like. The city might be chaotic and ragged at the edges, but much like Singapore to the south, Kuala Lumpur is also a jubilant melting pot of cultures. This is reflected in the faces of the people as you dodge traffic walking down the street, in the aromas emanating from the banana leaf restaurants nestled next to the hokkien mee vendors with woks a blazing, and—perhaps most especially—in the buildings that turn the city into a dense jungle of concrete and glass.
As befits its roots, Kuala Lumpur’s buildings are a mishmash of styles…
A smattering of eastern and western influences…
A folding of the fabric of time. Centuries coalesce as crumbling old mosques and gently decaying churches sit effortlessly in the shadow of sleek modern giants. Kuala Lumpur is, for this part of the world, a relatively young city, with most of its oldest buildings having been constructed during the late 19th century. However, there are enough hints of the past that the city feels like it has an epic history that spans far beyond its actual age.
We were certainly exposed to eclectic architectural styles while in Singapore, but the diversity on display in Kuala Lumpur makes that country look downright homogenous. The buildings here are a cacophony of visual form, each structure boldly demanding that I pay attention to it.
Particularly this one. We have no fewer than 20 photos of this building, the Complex Dayabumi. Ensorceled by its dramatic elegance, I am incapable of walking by it without raising my camera and trying to capture its perfection from another vantage point. I wonder what romantic purpose this building might serve. Later I discover that it merely houses offices and some shops. I still think it’s pretty and I continue to take pictures of it every time I see it.
We visit museums and train stations and mosques and markets and temples. All are masterpieces in their own right and each one is utterly unique.
At the Islamic Arts Museum, I spend half an hour in the atrium, poring over the miniature models of Islamic structures around the world, cooing over the curves of their domes, the intricate carvings and elaborate tile work, the saturated hues. I hop from one to the next, my travel wish-list increasing with each miniature mosque.
Meanwhile, Tony channels his inner Godzilla and terrorizes one model’s denizens.
We go and stand at the base of the city’s iconic Petronas towers, too. We crane our necks back until our heads are strained nearly perpendicular to our bodies and squint into the bright rays of sunlight that reflect of their shiny facade. They are as majestic as I had imagined and I do a giddy little dance before them as they hammer home that I am standing in Malaysia. I also think that they are not quite as tall as I had thought they would be, though they are tall enough that taking photos of them proves difficult. I am glad to have seen them, but I secretly think my Complex Dayabumi (because I do think of it as mine) outshines them.
As we wander about the city, I find myself routinely trailing behind Tony or stopping dead in my tracks at the sight of some unexpected masterpiece. Our walks soon begin to feel like we are sauntering through a large-scale art gallery, one that spans and consumes an entire city rather than a single block. The buildings give a purpose to our otherwise aimless jaunts.
I can’t think of another city I’ve been to where the actual skeleton of the place excited and delighted me so much. These buildings made me stop and take notice, and made me eager to seek out more. The last thing I expected from our visit was that I’d come down with a case of monument mania, but when I think back on our time in Kuala Lumpur the first thing I immediately think of is its buildings.
I’m still not an architect aficionado, but the buildings of Kuala Lumpur showed me that perhaps one day I could be. Isn’t that one of the nicest things about travel, that it teaches us a new way of seeing the world and, by extension, ourselves as well?
Tell us: Are you an architecture buff? What city do you think has the most amazing buildings? Which of these buildings would you most like to see on a visit to Kuala Lumpur?