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Malaysia’s Placemaking Residential Projects Are Popping Up

Malaysia is not short of placemaking projects – from city living to coastal residences – it shows it has much to offer.

Aug 18, 2021 | By Joe Lim

Malaysia is witnessing more gentrification of cities and towns, and the placemaking theme for residential and commercial use is becoming resolutely prevalent.

Anantara Desaru Coast Residences.

Anantara Desaru Coast Residences, Johor, Malaysia. Image: Anantara Group.

Placemaking: The old becomes new, and the new becomes better

Just off the ever-busy Jalan Klang Lama stands an old concrete warehouse, typical of a time when factories lined the Klang river. A few centuries ago, the river was the source of the country’s wealth, carrying tin and other trading goods to be stored in warehouses in what would eventually become Kuala Lumpur. Jalan Klang Lama, or Old Klang Road, is a historical landmark in itself, as it was the only link between Port Klang and the city centre.

Modern Transformations

Today the warehouse, Gudang Yee Seng 2, houses KongsiKL, a space dedicated to run arts and cultural activities. The warehouse, owned by developer EXSIM Group, has been repurposed from its previous function as a stainless-steel factory while retaining its original structure and textures.


KongsiKL is one of many examples in Malaysia of placemaking, breathing new life into old structures, and capitalising on the support from many generous individuals, organisations, and institutions throughout the years to help on operations, maintenance, and upgrades. Good placemaking makes full use of under-utilised spaces. Space is a luxury, particularly in more developed urban areas like Kuala Lumpur, so why not use what we already have?


KongsiKL is an old warehouse now dedicated to running arts and cultural activities, located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Image: Lee Kien Faye

 A place to live is not only a roof over our heads but a place to grow and thrive. Today’s developers and architects are tasked not only with building homes, but also ensuring the surrounding spaces are conducive to the wellbeing of its inhabitants. Placemaking, in this aspect, is exactly that — “making places”. Placemaking isn’t just about building basic infrastructure; it involves the interrelations between the surrounding vendors, amenities, and communities, and then fine-tuning the intended space to create a cohesive unit that, in the end, is more than the sum of its parts. Developers are embracing this concept as it provides a competitive edge while staying true to the values of sustainability.


UEM Sunrise’s Publika, on the fringes of Kuala Lumpur, is an example of a vibrant urban sanctuary. From the outside, it looks like a typical modern retail space surrounded by high-rise condominiums, but a stroll through its grounds reveals the developer’s thought and consideration towards creating a community-centric space inspired by art. Sculptures double up as benches and playgrounds (who says art isn’t functional?).

Aerial view of the facade of UEM Sunrise’s Publika

Aerial view of the facade of UEM Sunrise’s Publika, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Image: UEM

There is the main art gallery and an indoor performing arts space, and both established and lesser-known artists display their works for sale in many of the retail lots. Its concourse area is an open-air stage where the public can enjoy live music and performances. What’s also interesting and not very typical of malls is its “creative retail” concept, showcasing one-off shops that constantly evolve, offering shoppers a new experience every time they visit and ensuring the longevity of the development.

Less than 20 minutes away, in Petaling Jaya’s Section 13, is Tetap Tiara’s Jaya One. Built on what was initially an industrial area on the site of an aluminium factory, it is now home to co-working spaces, office spaces, retail spaces, and a performing arts centre.  “The Square” by Jaya One offers a cohesive ecosystem of pet-friendly co-working spaces, restaurants, and a performing arts centre. The development also features “The School” by Jaya One, with the concept of “Life-Long Learning”, which provides space for bazaars and workshops centred around community-building and skill-sharing.

Co-working spaces at UEM Sunrise’s Publika

Co-working spaces at UEM Sunrise’s Publika, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Image: UEM

In placemaking, the community knows best. We’ve seen placemaking reverse the decline of previously “undesirable” areas. It improves the economic viability of a place with the aim of creating healthy, productive, and resilient communities. It doesn’t have to be a costly effort requiring brand-new infrastructure, either. It can be as simple as a travelling arts and culture festival, such as Johor’s Pasar Barokah, or remodelling of an otherwise bland location. In the 90s, Kuala Lumpur’s Medan Pasar was a place you wouldn’t want to be stuck in after 8 pm, but it’s now a thriving cultural hub, thanks to the many arts programmes that take place there and the lively night scene in the surrounding heritage buildings.

The Square by Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

The Square by Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Image: Jaya One. 

The government is whole-heartedly jumping on the placemaking bandwagon to rejuvenate and reactivate smaller and less conventional spaces, reviving entire towns in the process. The Rain Garden car park at the end of Jalan Jeti Lama, Butterworth, Penang, offers passersby the opportunity to take a quirky “wefie” in a sampan. Yes, a sampan in a parking lot. Helmed by Khazanah Nasional’s Think City and the Seberang Perai Municipal Council, the project is part of the Butterworth Baru Programme, an initiative to transform Butterworth into a culturally vibrant town, improve pedestrian accessibility and revive the local economy.

Butterworth was once a government administrative centre and was quite a busy town when the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was based there in the late 1950s. As the years passed, the town’s façade became a mixture of heritage buildings and modern buildings, many of them left vacant as businesses moved elsewhere. It became a sleepy town, often just a stopover as tourists headed straight to Penang island. The plans to rejuvenate Butterworth involve the planting of more trees, improving and creating pocket parks, gardens and upgrading the streetscape into a system of interconnected open spaces so pedestrians can easily walk from one place to another through pleasant green surroundings.


The Awakening

Sleepy towns with a rich heritage, like Butterworth, are ripe fruit for placemaking opportunities. Ipoh, Perak, is an example of a town rejuvenated through a collective of placemaking efforts. Ipoh’s fortunes have waxed and waned over centuries. It was once a booming town fuelled by tin mining that eventually became a sleepy backwater. Its transformation was gradual, starting in 2012 when a hostel that used to house performers from a neighbouring theatre was converted into the Sekeping Kong Heng Hotel. Since then, cafes, hostels, and art spaces have mushroomed around the town, resulting in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It now has its own Hollywood-esque “IPOH” sign.


Anantara Desaru Coast Residences

Anantara Desaru Coast Residences – Master Bedroom. Image: Anantara Group.

On the other end of the placemaking spectrum (and the other end of the country) is the hospitality and residential project developed entirely from scratch. Developed by Minor International (MINT) — one of the largest hospitality, restaurant, and lifestyle companies in the Asia Pacific — and Themed Attractions Resorts & Hotels (TAR&H) — a subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional, Anantara Desaru Coast Residences features 20 three and four-bedroom private pool villas, ranging in size from 3,100 to 6,426 square feet. Each villa is fully furnished to the highest luxury standards, equipped with a private infinity pool, and features panoramic views of the South China Sea. Owners and residents benefit from the year-round management and in-residence services offered by the adjacent five-star Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas, as well as access to all of its dining, leisure, and spa facilities. Family-friendly attractions in the area include two championship golf courses offered by The Els Club Desaru Coast, as well as an adventure waterpark, a waterfront retail village, a conference centre, and other world-class hotels and resorts.

Anantara Desaru Coast Residences, Malaysia.

Aerial view of Anantara Desaru Coast Residences, Malaysia. Image: Anantara Group.

Situated along the developing Desaru Coast in Johor, this project links public and private investments in a network that will result in long-term economic growth for the area. The developers took careful consideration in ensuring the development retained the overall aesthetic of the area, making full use of the surrounding natural advantages. There isn’t one right way to carry out placemaking, but the end goal is the same: creating spaces for communities to live, learn and grow in.

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