Underground jewels for the Klang Valley MRT

  • Living
  • Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015

An entrance to the Merdeka MRT Station, with the proposed KL118 retail block and tower in the background.

Natural features in the city form an aesthetical bedrock for transit architecture.

KUALA LUMPUR’S Klang Gates quartz ridge is an attraction like no other. Running northeast of Kuala Lumpur within the Bukit Lagong-Kanching-Klang Gates region, the 16km long quartz dyke is the longest of its kind in the world, and it is also unique as it has four types of quartz formations there.

In a pleasant twist, quartz also forms the design philosophy for the architectural aspects of the seven underground stations of the first-ever MRT line through the city, the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line, otherwise known as Line 1 of the Klang Valley MRT (KVMRT).

According to project owner, MRT Corporation Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp), this quartz formation inspired the architectural design concept of the ground level entrance structures for the seven underground stations of KVMRT: Muzium Negara, Pasar Seni, Merdeka, Bukit Bintang, Tun Razak Exchange, Cochrane and Maluri.

“The multifaceted quality of quartz and its colourful reflections echo the spirit of Malaysia, with its multiracial and multicultural society,” MRT Corp cites, adding that each station would have its own individual design themes in line with each locale.

The Muzium Negara entrance is an expression of contrast between the old and the new. 

“Translating this multifaceted aspect into architectural form, we had a slightly transparent, reflective, and angular shape as we attempted to balance aesthetics with functionality,” said design manager Tricia Low Yi Ching, 33, who worked alongside architectural manager, Yap Seh Cheong, 43.

The duo are employees of MMC Gamuda KVMRT (T) Sdn Bhd, the turnkey contractor for the design and construction of MRT Line 1’s 9.5 km underground alignment involving tunnelling, seven underground stations and ancillary works.

To develop the architectural designs for the stations, international consultants, Aecom and Mott MacDonald were roped in as the overall project lead consultants, forming partnerships with Malaysian architectural firms, Veritas Architects and NEUformation Architects, respectively.

The Aecom-Veritas team is in charge of Muzium Negara, Pasar Seni, Merdeka and Bukit Bintang stations, all of which are located in heavily built-up urban sites, while the Mott MacDonald-NEUformation team took care of Tun Razak Exchange, Cochrane and Maluri, all located in sites that are currently being transformed by large, mixed development projects.

“With the multifaceted aspect as the overarching design concept for the entrances, we proceeded from that point to layer the interior of each station with its individual design theme that reflects each station’s unique site and historical context,” said Low, a civil engineer by training.

Transit architecture is not just about looking good as one has to factor in safety and ease of use, as well as maintenance costs to the operator.

There was plenty of Malaysian input when it came to the architecture of the underground MRT stations. 
Tricia Low and Yap Seh Cheong, both of MMC Gamuda KVMRT (T) Sdn Bhd.

“The design intent is to provide clear, unrestricted access through an intuitive layout that reduces dependence on wayfinding signage,” said Low.

According to Yap, there is no single template that could be applied across all the seven stations as each of them have different layouts and depths vary due to alignment constraints.

For example, the depth of the Bukit Bintang station is almost equivalent to a 12-storey underground building where the passenger platforms are stacked, while at other locations, such as Maluri, the station is only half as deep and is served by an island platform.

Refreshing themes

For Muzium Negara MRT Station, which is next to KL Sentral, the catchphrase is ‘Transition’, which is based on the fact that the museum is a treasure trove of all things old and priceless, while neighbouring developments are all brand new. At its concourse level, columns with glass cladding depicting modes of public transport from yesteryears provide a sense of nostalgia in an otherwise sleek and contemporary station interior.

The keyword for Pasar Seni MRT Station, which is near to the meeting point between Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak, is ‘Confluence’ (Kuala Lumpur also means muddy confluence).

“This is the birthplace of Kuala Lumpur, and we are paying tribute to this confluence by stylising its Y shape into a contemporary interior design motif,” said Low.

One of the entrances to the Tun Razak Exchange station, which sits at the site of the future Tun Razak Exchange. New

The theme for the Merdeka MRT station, which is close to Stadium Merdeka, where Independence was proclaimed, is rather straightforward.

“We pay tribute to that by having an ‘Independence’ theme there,” said Low of this station which will be integrated with the proposed KL118 development, formerly known as Warisan Merdeka, a 610m-high office tower touted as the future tallest building in Malaysia. Patriotic images are featured at its concourse level and include the proclamation of Merdeka by the late Tunku, as well as text of the Rukunegara.

Bukit Bintang is a place that practically never sleeps. The theme for the Bukit Bintang MRT Station is ‘Dynamic’. The everpresent dynamism and vibrancy of this area is expressed in a bold, four-storey high feature wall composed of a dynamic trapezoidal geometry in different tones of red that suggest movement.

The Tun Razak Exchange development will be a future finance hub, and the design of the station here has to reflect that fine line between beauty and the need to project a business-like image.

“The MRT station is located in a planned financial district, and since Malaysia is at the forefront of Islamic finance, the theme is ‘Islamic Corporate’. The design intent here is to project an Islamic identity while maintaining a contemporary, formal and corporate ambience. Here, a consistent and identifiable Islamic motifs are expressed in columns, walls and ceilings.

“The colours will be contemporary, but not loud. In fact, it will be slightly subdued to reflect that formal, corporate look,” said Low.

Both Cochrane and Maluri MRT Stations are located in parts of KL which are currently being transformed by the ongoing construction of two large urban regeneration projects, Sunway Velocity and an upcoming Ikea store that will be Malaysia’s second.

In tandem with these developments, it is envisaged that both stations will play a major role in injecting vibrancy to their respective site contexts.

Pasar Seni MRT Station, which pays tribute to the birth of Kuala Lumour is seamlessly integrated with the existing LRT station.

The theme for Cochrane MRT Station is ‘Urban Living’, while for Maluri MRT Station, it is ‘New Generation’. In both stations, a combination of colours are used to bring some fresh, fun and cheerful ambience.

Yap, who has been practising as an architect since 1997, added that MRT Corp is also concerned about durability of the materials chosen, as well as ease of maintenance over the long term.

“The materials chosen must look good, and can withstand a high degree of wear and tear, while requiring little maintenance,” he said, adding that the various finishes for the stations have been identified and are being procured, such as granite tile flooring, aluminium and glass wall cladding, as well as aluminium ceiling tiles.

Putting aesthetics and practicality at the forefront of design is a good sign, especially since more underground stations are expected to be built. As society does not just want a functional train station, but one that also reflects the cherished values and mores of time, an ‘Art Express’ initiative has been introduced by MMC Gamuda KVMRT (T) Sdn. Bhd. Instead of conventional 2D art, artwork will be introduced in the form of uniquely designed benches at station platforms.

In this regard, the thought and effort put into the architectural elements of these maiden underground MRT stations serve as a good indication that more gorgeous things are on the way for our growing metro system.

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