A recent competition yielded exciting bench designs for some of KL’s underground MRT stations that are stylish and functional at the same time.
THE construction of major infrastructure projects normally leave little room for public participation, save for comments related to environmental impact assessments.
However, Line 1 of the Klang Valley MRT project, otherwise known as the Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) line, offered a precious opportunity for our design and architecture students in the form of a bench design contest for its seven underground stations.
The MRT stations are Muzium Negara, Pasar Seni, Merdeka, Bukit Bintang, Tun Razak Exchange, Cochrane and Maluri – all constructed on a design-and-build basis by MMC-Gamuda KVMRT (T) Sdn Bhd (MGKT) under the supervision of the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp), project owner of the SBK line.
In fact, this contest marks the first time where Malaysian students were given the opportunity to be directly involved in designing an element of a major infrastructure project. Eventually, 19 institutions of higher learning submitted 133 designs.
As the overall designer of the identity of each of the underground stations, MGKT invited students to design something that could fit up to three people while not exceeding 2m in length. That was the basic requirement as the aesthetical aspects had to be in line with the theme set for each of the seven stations. The materials chosen for the benches had to be flameproof, easy to maintain and withstand high degrees of wear.
For the Muzium Negara Station, next to KL Sentral, the catchphrase was “Transition”. It was based on the fact that the museum is a treasure trove of all things old and priceless, while neighbouring developments are all brand new.
“Confluence” was the keyword for the Pasar Seni Station.Located between the meeting point of Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak, the nation’s capital city Kuala Lumpur (which means muddy confluence) had its humble beginning here.
The theme for the Merdeka Station, close to Stadium Merdeka, where Inde-pendence was proclaimed, is straightforward, and needs no further elaboration.
Bukit Bintang being a place that never sleeps, was aptly termed “Dynamic”. The vibrancy of the area expressed in different tones of red that suggest movement was reflected in the interior of the station.
The Tun Razak Exchange station took on “Islamic Corporate” as its theme, given that it will be a future finance hub. The design here had to show that fine line between beauty and the need to project a business-like image.
Both the Cochrane and Maluri Stations located in parts of Kuala Lumpur, are currently being transformed by two urban regeneration projects, Sunway Velocity and Malaysia’s second Ikea store. Both stations are expected to play a major role in injecting verve and vigour to their respective sites.
While Cochrane’s theme is “Urban Living”, Maluri takes on “New Generation” as its design direction. In both cases, bold colours were used to inject a fun and cheerful ambience.
From the entire lot of submissions, 63 designs made it to the second round after shortlisting by 14 judges from industry experts, as well as senior management from MRT Corp and MGKT. In January, 21 of these designs were chosen as finalists, and the public could vote for their favourites. The final decision rested with the panel of judges, who announced the winners in March.
Kuala Lumpur’s Erican College should be proud of Lee Ling, 22, and Chong Chin Sheng, 21, both pursuing a Diploma in Interior Design at its School of Art and Design.
Lee’s interpretation of Islamic corporate earned her the grand prize for the Tun Razak Exchange Station, while Sitiawan-born Chong’s came out tops for his take on the spirit of independence for the Merdeka Station.
Lee, a native of Port Dickson, drew upon Islamic motifs, arches and space as her source of inspiration, and thanked her Iranian lecturer Asma Rashidi, the coordinator in Pratique of Design School at Erican, as her motivator.
For Chong, taking part in the contest proved to be another moment of personal growth. “In this journey, I’ve realised that I must defend my design if I strongly believe in it, even if some people don’t like it, as long as there are others who admire it,” he said.
Hailing from Temerloh, 21-year-old Mohamad Saiful Anuar Zamri from Politeknik Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah of Kuantan, Pahang, did very well by winning the contest for the Muzium Negara station with his beguiling rendition of “transition”.
Meanwhile, Sungai Buloh-born Siti Nur Hajar Kamsani, 23, was thrilled that her idea of representing the diversity of Malaysia was accepted by the public and judges as the chosen design for Cochrane.
“My submissions were three-sided benches to represent the three major races in Malaysia,” said Siti Nur Hajar, who just completed a diploma in landscape architecture at UiTM Seri Iskandar, Perak.,”
“I am thankful to God for this achievement, and also my family, friends and lecturer. Indirectly, this competition honed not just my skills, but also that of other youngsters in Malaysia,” said Siti, who is hoping to continue her studies.
Winning the competition for Maluri definitely changed Jackson Chia Sen Chung.
“It has given me a huge boost and I am now more confident of my designs,” said Chia, 23, who submitted his entry while pursuing an interior design diploma at Saito College.
“I believe that the design process is something that can push you forward to understand who you are,” said the Kuala Lumpur native who is now pursuing a Degree in Interior Architecture at Petaling Jaya’s First City University College.
“I think that most of us are now living the fast-paced urban lifestyle that doesn’t give us much time and space to enjoy the moments, or just to take things slow. Don’t forget that you’re human too, and there are times where you need to pause.”
It was a pleasant surprise for Chan Lee Kang, 23, winner for the Pasar Seni bench design. An architecture student at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Housing, Building and Planning, it was the first time she had participated in a national-level competition.
“This win is very significant to me as I am not the best student in my batch,” said Chan, who will finish his studies in June.
His tale is one of rising from despair to being a believer in himself, after many struggles.
“I had gone though a very hard time – there were times when I doubted my ability to design, and felt lost when I couldn’t convince my lecturers.
“The win is a turning point for me to regain my passion and boost my confidence,” said Chan, who somehow felt great affinity for the Pasar Seni area even though he is from Batu Pahat, Johor.
“Pasar Seni itself is the greatest inspiration for me. I adopted the railway, Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang as design elements, and used modern and dynamic styles to shape my design. The final product is a combination of site content and modern shapes as I attempt to recreate the history of Pasar Seni,” said Chan, who also expressed his gratitude to Tetawowe Atelier of Kuala Lumpur, where he interned.
“I had a great time there as I explored different styles of design and learnt to think about every detail from other perspectives ... how to design from heart and soul. The idea and concept for the Pasar Seni bench was actually conceived during my internship, which imparted a very positive influence on me,” added Chan.
“Ultimately, winning the competition gave me a lot of confidence and reinforced my belief in design.”
The winners each took home RM7,000 and a certificate, while the 15 finalists received RM3,500 each and a certificate.
However, no entry was deemed good enough to clinch the prize for Bukit Bintang.
The judges felt that the submissions fell short in functionality, even though they did not lack in beauty.
MRT Corp’s project director for the SBK Line, Marcus Karakashian said the final design for Bukit Bintang will be an adaptation of the shortlisted entries received for the station.
Elsewhere, academicians and practitioners alike have roundly praised the bench design competition. Head of the architecture programme at USM, Dr Mazran Ismail, said the competition was not only a good platform for students to exhibit their talent and express their ideas on a real project, but also a precious opportunity for them to contribute to national projects and development.
“I hope MMC-Gamuda will organise more competitions like this in future which really benefit the students,” said Dr Mazran, who added that students like Chan had made the university proud.
For Erican College, the competition is nothing short than a perfect opportunity, both in the conceptual and practical sense.
“The winning designs would eventually appear at actual MRT stations!” said Asma, who added that her fellow lecturers are always looking for opportunities whereby students can demonstrate results of their imagination. “Through all the different stages of the competition, from concept creation and development, to technical drawings and submission, Erican’s team of lecturers devoted time and energy to ensure their students’ success.”
However, those who are itching to feel – whether with their fingers or their bums – these world-class benches will have to wait just a while longer. By all accounts, the seven underground stations will only open for passenger service by the 2017 Merdeka celebration.