A Study of Multi Centred City Transformation

A Study of Multi Centred City Transformation

A Study of Multi Centred City Transformation
KL Sentral Central Business District

The development of transportation linkages encourages urban sprawl. Locally it has become increasingly evident in sections SS3, SS4, SS5, SS6 and SS7 next to Kelana Jaya LRT station, Bangsar South development next to Kerinchi LRT station and KL118 next to Maharajalela Monorail Station, thus leading to the speculation of the emergent of multi centred city development as a result of transportation development. Such transformations are triggered by the government’s continuous plan to expand the cities’ public transport network.

In the next 5 years, new multi centred city developments and their vicinity growth in Sungai Buloh Terminus station, Bus Rapid Transit in Bandar Sunway, Batu Kawan and Batu Maung near Penang’s Second Bridge, and the station stops for Kuala Lumpur – Singapore High Speed Rail are to be anticipated. Catalysed by transportation development, such complex yet dense transformative nature of the multi centred city development has encouraged us to relook into our local modern precedent – Kuala Lumpur Sentral Central Business District (KL Sentral CBD).

001_Overview of KL Sentral Station and traffic

Overview of KL Sentral Station and traffic, Image by Akira Mitsuda

Against this backdrop, this article intends to investigate the design challenges of such diversified use, dense and complex development. This is done by highlighting the transformative process of KL Sentral CBD and discussing the challenges of urbanising a Kuala Lumpur’s old railway marshalling yard into a modern transit hub.


In the 1880s colonial Resident Frank Swettenham set about rebuilding Kuala Lumpur with brick buildings after a huge fire and flood swept through Kuala Lumpur. The double disaster took turns destroying Kuala Lumpur primitive wooden structure. The brick kilns were sited, and the name Brickfields has persisted. The area became a ground for Kuala Lumpur’s industries, including the railway yards. During the colonial times, as Indians were brought in to operate the railways, they have eventually settled in Brickfields and its Indian character has persisted.

The current site for KL Sentral was formerly a marshalling yard for Malaysia’s national rail operator, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad. The emergence of Kuala Lumpur Sentral began when the Government awarded the privatization of Stesen Sentral to Kuala Lumpur Sentral Sdn Bhd, a consortium led by Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB) in 1994.

A concession was then signed on 1997, whereby Kuala Lumpur Sentral Sdn Bhd was tasked to build and surrender Stesen Sentral to the Government, in exchange for development rights over the surrounding 72-acre freehold commercial land.

18 years after work commencement in KL Sentral, the KL Sentral CBD has become a total facelift of its existing industrious self. Currently sited by Google Malaysia office, and a number of design practices such as RSP Architects Sdn Bhd, Arkitek MAA Sdn Bhd, Ong & Ong 360 Consultancy Sdn Bhd, many of which have offices outside of Kuala Lumpur. The vicinity to KL Sentral Transport hub, owing to the connectivity to the KL International Airport and flight check-in facility, facilitate travelling for international offices stationed in the KL Sentral CBD.

Passengers arriving in KLIA and KLIA2 will be alighting from the KLIA express are confronted at the KL Sentral CBD an environment of polished stone, stainless steel and glass, a modern outlook for the first impression of Kuala Lumpur for many travellers.

As KL Sentral CBD adjoins and submerges in the traditional Indian area of Brickfields and affluent residential suburb of Bangsar, its physical extensions are used to cut into and transform the older city. This creates a complex yet interesting skyline of the colourful low rise and high rises glass façade, portraying an image of the first impression upon arrival at KL Sentral station a progressive urbanizing nation of heritage complexity.

002_Contrasting view between KL Sentral CBD and Brickfields along Jalan Tun Sambanthan

Contrasting view between KL Sentral CBD and Brickfields along Jalan Tun Sambanthan


The weaving of the modern and heritage requires design care and sensitivity. Such urbanization is not entirely confined by and directed by governing council, albeit requiring the understanding and accommodation of demands and pressures from multiple and often conflicting origins. This is the case for the backdrop of KL Sentral CBD lying in the existing fabric of Bangsar to the east and Brickfields to the west. It attracts both low-wage service workers as well as high value knowledge workers and creative professionals. This heterogeneous population is crucial for the vitality and competitiveness of the city but it also poses the problem of uneven development, income disparity and social inequality.

For the past 5 years there have been disputes against any building developments in Brickfields due to traffic congestion and the increasing house prices. Whilst Bangsar is more accommodative to building development along Jalan Bangsar, the response from architects and urban planners to these contextual challenges – through the provision of sustainable housing, infrastructure, cultural and knowledge environments becomes ever more crucial.

If any Brickfields development restrictions were to be imposed, in short term it may be in the immediate neighbourhood’s best interest, may backfire and conversely contribute to regional undersupply of housing and eventually drive up the cost of housing in general. Careful planning of the CBD could help to reduce the overall cost of housing by contributing steadily to the housing supply, and therefore generally improves equitability in the housing market.

When planning equity in mind, the CBD may potentially be benefiting low and moderate income communities by linking workers to employment centres, introducing construction and maintenance jobs, and spurring investment in areas that have suffered neglect and economic depression.

The CBD may reduce transportation costs, leading to less households expenditure since transportation fee constitute a larger percentage relative to the higher income’s household. This frees up household income that can be used on food, education, or other necessary expenses. Low-income people are less likely to own personal vehicles and therefore more likely to depend exclusively on public transportation to get to and from work, making reliable access to transit a necessity for their economic success.

003_Overall view of KL Sentral Central Business District indicating the vacant lots

Overall view of KL Sentral Central Business District indicating the vacant lots.

MRCB albeit being close to fully utilising the 72 acres it has in KL Sentral, is putting aside two prime lots for development later, namely Lot F, next to Nu Sentral and 1 Sentrum, and Lot 349, adjacent to Menara Shell. Leaving the two lots undeveloped helps to reduce any sudden price hike in KL Sentral CBD, allowing the property prices to consolidate.

By deferring developments, it provides a buffer zone for locals to adapt to the progressive increment in prices. The recent opening of Nu Sentral Shopping Mall in year 2013 and the existing food stores off Jalan Tun Sambanthan act as a mediator and meeting points for both corporate office users and Brickfields residents for a place to dine and shop. Strategically situated between KL Sentral Station and Brickfields, the retail spaces becomes a gateway and welcomes the Brickfields residents to share its facilities. Though contrasting, it becomes a melting pot of options of public spaces via the inclusion of a Golden Screen Cinema, McDonald and public performance space in LG floor of Nu Sentral.

004_Event Performance space in Nu Sentral LG floor

Event Performance space in Nu Sentral LG floor, photo by Gopalakrishnan Nair

In anticipating massive use of public transport for the visually impaired, comprehensive consideration is given for installing tactile guided pathways from the arrival train station platforms to the Nu Sentral and the overhead bridge across Jalan Tun Sambanthan leading to the Brickfields Blind Association. This creates the sharing use of infrastructure, cultural and knowledge environments.

005_Tactile guided pathway on the KL Sentral Monorail station leading to Nu Sentral,

Tactile guided pathway on the KL Sentral Monorail station leading to Nu Sentral, photo by http://railtravelstation.com/


With more than 30,000 population already living and working in Kuala Lumpur Sentral CBD with a total 72 acres of land area, it creates a density of 100,880 population/km2, a density almost twice of Hong Kong, standing at 6,544 population/km2. The masterplan seeks to provide a total lifestyle of work, live, learn, and play for its workers and residents, and poses a diversity challenge as an integrative discipline for the design in architecture, urbanism, and infrastructural design; a self-sufficient multi centred city that blurs the dualism of these activities.

By merging of living and working within this ‘hybrid’ urban space, the diverse phenomenon has allowed the social and economic transformations of labour to create new form of spaces, namely, Small Office Home Office (SOHO), Serviced Office Virtual Office (SOVO) and Serviced Office Virtual Office (SOFO). These work live combinations allows home based small scale businesses, whilst the tower offices such as Plaza Sentral Office Suites and 1 Sentrum allows for larger scale of business entity supported by Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) facilities and infrastructure.

Whilst these empower production, it must however be equally enriched by recreation. Upon the creation of the space of work and live on Plaza Sentral (office, 2001), Suasana Sentral (residential, 2002), 1 Sentral tower (office, 2007), Suasana Sentral loft (residential, 2008), it creates a void of necessity for the development of commercial spaces for the workers to cool off and recharge. This encourages the making of Sooka Sentral (commercial, 2008) and Nu Sentral (commercial, 2013). Of such creations of spaces are only catalysed by the completion and running of KL Sentral (transportations hub, 2000). Such is the choreograph of development in KL Sentral CBD and may be used for reference for its programmatic development phases for other transit-oriented development such as the Tun Razak Exchange linking MRT Sungai Buloh and Kajang Line and Bandar Malaysia linking the LRT Kelana Jaya Line.

006_Development Phases in KL Sentral Central Business District

Development Phases in KL Sentral Central Business District

In 2006, with the successful validation of MSC status, it welcomes international IT and financial firms to put their addresses in the KL Sentral CBD. In years to come, the connection linking National Museum and Lake Gardens to the CBD will be completed, transforming the current homogenous spaces of work, live, learn, and play into a cultural and outdoor recreation. This will give a leading edge for further improving the programmatic diversity of KL Sentral CBD, as compared to the KLCC outdoor Park in the KLCC CBD. It opens the floodgate for a workforce where everything related to the soul such as language, creativity and general intellect, is used for production.

007_Development Phases in KL Sentral Central Business District

Development Phases in KL Sentral Central Business District

Whilst the KL Sentral transportation hubs have sprawl into the complex network of offices, residential, commercial and leisure, it requires the support of the integrated facilities management for the daily management and maintenance, namely the integrated Building Management, Traffic control, Façade Maintenance, General Cleaning, Car Park facilities, Auxiliary Security, and Information and Communications Technology maintenance team. Architect’s design integration of building operations are to be considered and inclusive to prevent high building operating cost in the future.

In the masterplan by the late Architect Dr. Kisho Kurokawa, the entire CBD and its vehicular flow are created from the notion of island design in the form of one way roads. There are 6 major islands, namely surrounding the KL Sentral station, Sentral Park, Hilton and Le Meridien Hotels, and island surrounding Plaza Sentral with UEM, MIDA, SSM and Quill 7 towers, island consisting Menara Shell, Ascott Sentral, Suasana Sentral & Suasana Sentral Loft Condominiums, and the island consisting of CIMB, Q Sentral, One IFC and St Regis Hotel & Residences, and the Sentral Residences. Within which are smaller islands surrounding each towers. This ensures all towers are being serviced and consist of a formal drop off area whilst not contributing to the congestion in other islands. Traffic control officers are always seen to be keeping on toes to ensure no parking at the curb that could cause rippling congestion to other islands. This, however has not stopped the traffic congestion outside the perimeter of CBD, on Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Jalan Travers, Jalan Damansara, and Jalan Istana during peak hours.

008_Indication of Vehicular Circulation and Island design consisting of towers.

Indication of Vehicular Circulation and Island design consisting of towers.


The KL Sentral CBD becomes a catchment area for having a transit hub in its centre. With the furthest buildings within 400m of walkable distance from the station, it corresponds to the distance someone can walk in 5 minutes at 4.8km/h. It becomes more encouraging with the covered walkway to shelter against rain, zebra crossing, traffic light, 24 hour securities for each drop off area. This creates a common space shared by low-wage service workers as well as high value knowledge workers and creative professionals. With 400m walking distance residents have easy access to daily needs in the diversified CBD, thus creating a Transit Orientated Development.

With more than 30,000 human population and approximately 7,000 car park spaces available in the KL Sentral CBD, the most possible cars to human population ratio is 1:4. This ratio is one third of the ratio from the 23.71 million total registered vehicles over the 30 million Malaysian population in December 2013.

009_Indication of walking distance (each circle is 100m in radius)

Indication of walking distance (each circle is 100m in radius)


Within the walking district, the masterplan allocates office towers to be aligning the train track, and placing residential used buildings away from hissing sound telegraphed through the track. This can be seen for Suasana Sentral (residential, 2002) and Suasana Sentral Loft Condominiums (Residential, 2008) located at the furthest southwest and St Regis Hotel & Residences (Hotel and Residential, 2015) and the Sentral Residences (Residential, 2016) are placed furthest to the north.

As the amount of commercial and office spaces exceeds the residential’s, the proximity is given to the offices to be adjacent to KL Sentral station facilitating workers to travel to work. To compensate this, the local residents are placed furthest from the station as residents can walk to work.

010_Masterplan of Program Indication

Masterplan of Program Indication


As the success of multi centred city is underpinned by efficient design and adequate infrastructure, the question as to the sustainability of these design and provisions becomes pivotal. The scale of infrastructure is often incompatible with changing demand of the city that is conducive for sustainable inhabitation. Its capacity is often outstripped by demand, leading to its premature demise.

Such is the example of 1930 Downtown Los Angeles in the wake of increased automobile ownership leading to decreased investment in the city centre. Downtown Los Angeles became a drive-in-drive-out destination as they would come into the area for a particular objective and then leave immediately once their business was completed. All great cities are susceptible to demise.

Against such odd, yearly appraisal and review are to be implement. Examples are The Master Plan of Singapore and the Tenth Malaysian Plan, reviewed once every 5 years, guiding the countries’ development in the near to medium term. Though such reviews are done by the governing bodies for a different scale, any Central Business District would have to be reviewed in the same sensitivity to transform the district to meet the changing demand and economic environment.

This is especially crucial in Kuala Lumpur where office spaces is abundant and currently undergoing major infrastructure developments, underlying by its potential for expansion. Such expansion opens doors for new CBD and new challenges for existing CBD to continuously transform. In KL Sentral CBD, the subsequent enlarging of LRT and MRT networks further increases the footfall for KL Sentral station. It was designed for 100,000 people per day, and is reaching 120,000. By 2017 upon the completion of enlarged LRT and MRT networks, KL Sentral Station would be looking at 180,000 to 200,000 people a day. As such, perpetual improvement to enhance the inter transit hub is required to meet the demands of the growing Kuala Lumpur and the newly connectivity to KLIA2.


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