Damansara Utama MRT Station Visual
(Article extracted from The Star)
Architecture for the commute
By MENG YEW CHOONG firstname.lastname@example.org
The upcoming Klang Valley MRT infrastructure promises to be a unique Malaysian endeavour.
A TRAIN station is a train station is a train station. Not so, if you ask the people who are building Malaysia’s first mass rapid transit line, known as the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT).
Already billed Malaysia’s largest public procurement project (estimated to exceed RM15bil), the 51km line will form a highly visible part of Malaysia’s urban landscape as it features 24 elevated stations (and seven underground) passing through largely developed areas from Sungai Buloh in Selangor, through Kuala Lumpur, before ending in Kajang.
As this rail infrastructure will form a permanent part of the citiscape, a lot of importance is being placed on how it looks.
“It has to last at least 120 years. And so, we talked to various people over their approaches towards designing,” said Glenn Gittoes, the engineering director of MMC Gamuda KVMRT (PDP), the project delivery partner for the massive project that comes under the auspices of Malaysia’s Land Transport Commission and MRT Corporation, a Government-linked company set up for the task of building rail-based public transport infrastructure.
The good news is that the job of creating the look landed on the lap of Hijjas Kasturi Associates (hijjas kasturi.com), the local architecture firm known for its soothing interpretations of what is Malaysian architecture.
Among HKAS creations are the Menara Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji (on Jalan Tun Razak), Menara Telekom (fondly called the Pucuk Rebung along Federal Highway), Menara Alor Setar, Menara Maybank, and the Securities Commission Building.
Serina Hijjas, director of HKAS, told The Star in an exclusive interview that her job as the concept architect entails delivering a distinct identity for the line.
Delivering a clear, crisp line identity is important when one looks at the existing mish-mash of rail infrastructure in the Klang Valley. There are the Rapid KL lines (Kelana Jaya and Ampang), the KL Monorail, KTM Komuter, and the airport express known as the ERL.
“Commuters will be given all the visual cues they need when they want to look for the KVMRT line. You don’t want to create any confusion, and the identity is to help people identify quickly that this is indeed the KVMRT line,” said Serina, who explained that while the choice of materials in certain locations may differ, a single, uniform look would prevail across the entire line.
That said, Serina’s interpretation of what is “Malaysian and tropical” will be constrained by the functionality and safety requirements of a rail system. As a concept architect, her role is to fit form to function, and not the other way round.
Gittoes, who had a hand in the building of many rail infrastructure projects all over the world, including Singapore’s MRT system as well as Rapid KL’s Kelana Jaya line, said that at least two architects were involved in the line identity architecture during the building of Rapid KL, and that meant that different parts of the line took on different looks.
“There are lots of foreign architects with ample experience in designing train stations, but having someone who understands Malaysian ideals and concepts is important, and hence, having a Malaysian do the job is important,” he added.
Gittoes explained further by citing the train stations in the Dubai Metro which have facades that incorporate the look of sand dunes and domes; even a cursory look is enough to give the impression that there is a clear identity to the line.
HKAS presented three concepts to the KVMRT, but one stood out distinctly above the rest – the wakaf.
“The wakaf was distinctly tropical and Malaysian,” said Serina, who also worked with Universiti ITM (UiTM) students when it came to studying each of the station locations.
“Wakaf” is the Malay word for a pavilion or a square, open structure, usually made with a low platform for sitting or lying down. It is meant as a temporary resting place for travellers before continuing one’s journey, or simply, taking a respite from the tropical heat.
Round after round of concept evaluation showed that the panel had a universal preference for the wakaf concept. In the end, the wakaf concept also turned out to be a value-for-money proposition, compared to the more modern designs, though KVMRT is quick to add that cost was not the only consideration.
“As a public commuter rail system, it is important for KVMRT to develop a unique Malaysian experience rail system that puts the connecting and sheltering of the people as top priority.
The design equates rail stations to sheltered pavilions on elevated rail lines. It will not be confused with Dubai or Hong Kong. It will be distinctly Malaysian, and it has to have clarity,” said Serina, who started off as an architectural assistant in Foster Associates in 1989 before joining HKAS in 1992 as director and project architect.
Each elevated station will measure around 120m in length, so it is a rather large structure, yet has to be made to look like it is floating. A floating, open roof shelters the main passenger platform at each station and will feature a contemporary hipped gable roof open on the sides to facilitate natural ventilation. “The stations will be a string of tropical pavilions that are light, airy and will provide respite and delight for travellers. What is important is visibility. It must be visually memorable, as it is an urban gateway, a landmark. The overall look and feel of the 31 stations must evoke feelings of being invited to a restful place, before continuing on one’s journey. Likewise, pedestrian walkways, bus stops, taxi stands and other supporting structures will use the same ‘language’, and that is tied up to the language of the station itself.”
Elaborating further on her approach towards the 24 elevated stations, Serina said: “We have to minimise its appearance in terms of ‘heaviness’. Each station stop will translate to positive values to the people and surrounding context. Depending on the location, there will be opportunities for community information, retail and small public facilities. Further public conveniences such as information kiosks, police beats and tourist information booths, will also be set up, responding to the specific locational needs of each station.”
But commuter convenience will remain the prime consideration in any station design. Beyond aesthetics, commuters, no matter what their degree of physical mobility, can rightly expect that this brand new system will be very user-friendly, said Audrey Teo Loh, KVMRT PDP’s chief architect.
“There will be universal access, with wheelchair friendly lifts on both sides of the access areas. There will also be tactile tiles for the visually impaired. No one would have to use ‘the other’ entrance. Everyone will be a ‘mainstream’ commuter.”
As the country’s major public procurement project, KVMRT has a long list of performance indicators to meet. Other than its obvious need to move lots of people efficiently, the infrastructure has to act as a retail activator to generate economic activities. There are also social concerns to address. Added to that is the need for sustainability, and it must not be too expensive to build.
The difficulty of Serina’s task is acknowledged by Teo, formerly the chief architect for transport infrastructure at Singapore’s Land Transport Authority.
“It is a modern interpretation of wakaf, which is wholly Malaysian. It is a hard task to interpret a design when you want something that has a Malaysian flavour, yet, is contemporary. To do the job well, you would have to be able to get the pulse of the country. We are glad that we have Serina to do that as HKAS is well known for its iconic designs,” said Teo.
For Serina, having the chance to put down the first imprint on the maiden MRT line came as a pleasant surprise. “We were very honoured that we were asked to do it. At first, we thought that all the architects were already in place for the project. MMC Gamuda proved to be very open to ideas. It has been a good experience and a great opportunity, as you seldom get the chance to set the rail line identity right from the beginning.”