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Harmonizing the future landscape of Kampung Baru

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The redevelopment of Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur has been a hot topic for debate since the last few decades.

There are three different lines of thought championed by various factions with vested interests in that matter.

Contrasting points of view

On the popular side, the traditionalists want the government to preserve the Malay traditional houses.

In other words, the main objective is retaining the identity of Kampung Baru as the last bastion of Malay heritage in the heart of metropolitan Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, the modernists have a completely different view.

They prefer to see new ultramodern high-rise structures in place of the old wooden houses that have always been synonymous with the Malay enclave for about 200 years.

However, there is another point of view which highlights on achieving the balance between the old and the new.

Designing the public realm

In September 2017, Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) published a paper titled “Kuala Lumpur: Designing the Public Realm”.

The research program was co-organized by Harvard University GSD and AECOM, a global design, engineering, and construction company.

A section of that research studio program, prepared by three Harvard University GSD students, discussed the issue of redeveloping Kampung Baru.

In brief, William Baumgardner, Chengyuan Du, and Dandi Zhang presented their interesting ideas in a project named “Micro-Infrastructure as Community Preservation”.

The need for public space

An intimate public space is hard to find in the hustle and bustle of a big city like Kuala Lumpur.

Yet, that objective has been one of the main concerns in the “new Kampung Baru” proposed by Baumgardner, Du, and Zhang.

Seven villages

They suggested that the empty lots and green spaces within seven villages in Kampung Baru be utilized as public spaces.

In case you don’t know, Kampung Baru actually comprises Kampung Atas A, Kampung Atas B, Kampung Hujung Pasir, Kampung Periok, Kampung Pindah, and Kampung Masjid.

Then, village meetings can be organized in those public spaces where the Kampung Baru folks can use, among other things, for resting or gathering.

Central network

Besides, the public spaces will be connected by a central network, contributing to pedestrian circulation.

In the meantime, it will also promote engagement in the neighborhood.

As the students put it in their own words:

“Each village has an opportunity to make its potential public spaces into unique anchors of the community.

“These spaces capitalize on the distinct cultural identities of the people, their houses, and the surrounding landscape.”

Development typologies

The project proposed two sets of typologies that can be used to redevelop the three most common zones in Kampung Baru.

Specifically, those three zones are residential, commercial and mixed-use.

Firstly, the new buildings in Kampung Baru will maintain the vernacular roof structures and at the same time, raise them.

Theoretically, this method can create new spaces for commercial or housing units.

Vernacular culture

Additionally, these roof structures accentuate a vernacular culture and architectural language that seems more significant with Petronas Twin Towers as its backdrop.

Furthermore, another typology suggests to abstract the roof’s form and orients it according to the zoning designation.

In summary, this typology enables the public to recognize the function of each building as they stroll around the area.

Architectural design

For both typologies, the students suggested the one- to two-floor existing buildings to be raised to three- to seven-floor buildings.

They also proposed those buildings to use a grid of 5 x 5 x 3 meters.

Photo: Kuala Lumpur: Designing The Public Realm

As a result, this grid will permit flexibility and modulating in the future.

In addition, other elements like wall units and balconies are modular to allow landlords to work within the provided parameters.

Certainly, uniform zoning regulations in Kampung Baru would ensure the continuation of the variety that already exists there.

Public spaces and sky bridges

Other than pedestrian walkways, the paper also suggested the inclusion of other amenities in public areas.

For example, outdoor theaters, galleries, botanical gardens, amphitheaters, and markets.

Besides, those public spaces will help to construct a continuous transition from indoor to outdoor and private to public.

Sky bridges can also link every parcel in Kampung Baru hence adding another layer of pedestrian circulation.

Where do we go from here?

Yes, the idea is practical and brilliant, if and only if, we live a perfect world.

To make it happen, the government needs to resolve some haunting issues.

Those issues include locating absentee landowners and dealing with current residents who are mostly migrant workers.

Until now, negotiations regarding the future of Kampung Baru with over 5,000 landowners are going nowhere.

In summary, we hope there will be a win-win solution that is beneficial and satisfactory to all stakeholders in Kampung Baru.

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