Oct 3, 2008

Parliament House, Malaysia

Although not as famous as its predecessor, The Petronas Twin Towers, the Parliament building is a case worth studying as a building that is modernist in outlook yet respecting the local context.

The Architect:

William Ivor Shipley graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and then did national service as a British Army garrison engineer from 1950 to 1952 in Singapore, where he met his wife, Stella. Returning to Britain, he applied in 1953 to the Crown Agents to work in Singapore. However, he was informed that his posting would instead be as Settlement Architect when his ship arrived in Penang. He worked on the island until his transfer to Kuala Lumpur (KL) in 1956.

The Building:

Parliament House in the making. — Picture courtesy of William Ivor Shipley

The realization of Parliament’s House’s architecture was a process that mapped Shipley’s design development professionally. While in Penang, he met Konrad Wachsmarm who, with Bauhausfounder Walter Gropius, had developed a modular grid. He experimented with his own three-dimensional grid layouts and design ideas on an eight-bay linear standard office block that expedited construction and planning: over 200 were eventually constructed nationwide (an example is the PWD Head-quarters in Jalan Sultan Salahuddin).

As one of PWD’s most talented architects, his selection to design the Parliament House came as no surprise. From its inception and expanding on his grid measurements, Shipley honed spaces around the bicameral arrangements and to accommodate the Senate and the Dewan Rakyat in a podium block.

Separating processes of Parliament from governmental establishment, offices were then contained in an 18-storey tower block whose reticulated façade of pre-cast terrazzo cladding panels became its signature.

The roof of the Dewan Rakyat was formed as a pleated shell with a five-sided section but later refined into a more triangular one, leading to interpretations of a “Malay House Roof’ — which the architect had not originally intended.

Its generous internal space-provision for future expansion saw its accommodation of Malaysia when 11 states became 14 (and then 13) and up to the present day.
Despite not including the additional mural art and sculpture that Shipley had hoped for, the complex remains one of KL’s most prominent and significant buildings.

The construction of a national culture was important for post-colonial states like Malaysia. National buildings then were, as now, major visual signs towards which a national gaze or imagination gravitated.

Shipley’s contributions to the development of Malaysia’s built environment are crucial. He understood modernist architecture and transformed it for the region.

The result was a set of important national works that are not only functional and expressive, but which exude actuality of purpose and confidence commensurate with the times. (For the full article..)

The above post are excerpts from a New Sunday Times newspaper article (July 27, 2008) entitled “Shipley, an Architect Extraordinaire” by Lai Chee Kien, Assistant Professor with the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore, who also curated “Building Merdeka: Independence Architecture in Kuala Lumpur, 1957-1966” in Kuala Lumpur in 2007.

posted by ling


Isa said...

would love to get a full read of your post - however the link does not work...

GRI said...

Dear DeArasis:
The Getty Research Institute (GRI) is attempting to contact William Ivor Shipley, as the GRI would like to reprint the photograph of Parliament House under construction as seen in your post. Any information you may have would be much appreciated.

DeArasis said...

Dear GRI,

We're sorry, but we have not idea on this matter, either. Even the link we posted is lost.

Wishing all the best.


Anonymous said...

Dear DeArasis,

Thank you very much for checking.

All best,

Anonymous said...


I would love to get my hands on the full article but the link doesn't seem to work. Do you have any other link that I can use?

Thank you.

A Reid said...

Ivor Shipley built and designed his own residence in Horsham, West Sussex in 1964. Our family are fortunate enough to have lived in it for the last 48 years. If you'd like to see pictures of it, go to The Modern House website.
Alex Reid


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