Malaysia’s architectural heritage forms the basis of a gallery

By KARINA FOO
karina@thestar.com.my Photos by Raymond Ooi

Rich history: Visitors to KLCG will be able to learn about significant events people in KL’s past.

WHILE National Day may be over, the events that led up to the country’s 56th birthday will always live on in history.

In fact, Malaysia’s culture, tradition and history are being preserved within an establishment that has become a tourist draw in Dataran Merdeka itself.

The KL City Gallery (KLCG) is situated in a 114-year-old building that was built during the British colonial administration. The building faces the iconic Malayan federation flag that sits on the flagpole towering 100m from the ground, making it the sixth tallest flag pole in the world.

Owned and managed by Arch Collection Sdn Bhd, KLCG is an interactive gallery where visitors can learn about the rich history and the envisioned future of KL through photographs, architectural miniatures as well as a breathtaking three dimensional model of Kuala Lumpur city.

In this 30,000sq ft building, visitors can learn the history of the country and marvel at the carefully carved details of each architectural model that is displayed for viewing or for sale in the retail section of the gallery.

The entire establishment is the brainchild of Andrew J.K. Lee, the founder of Arch and a man with a great passion for all things with a heritage. His deep interest in architectural modelling and dedication in driving the business as a tourist hotspot has made Arch one of the largest model-making companies in Asia today.

Lee invested about RM5mil for the gallery and he is progressively seeing returns from tourist visits and their purchases of souvenirs and memorabilia from Arch.

The gallery draws about 1,500 to 2,000 tourists on a typical weekday and the number increases on weekends, with 95% of visitors being international tourists.

Lee is working closely with Tourism Malaysia to heavily promote the gallery in hopes of boosting the number of visitors by an extra 3,000 a day. Although this is a relatively small number, Lee hopes that this will contribute to the country’s tourism industry.

“There are plenty of tourists and local visitors in the Bukit Bintang area, but they go there for shopping.

“There was a missing link because the historical areas of KL were overlooked and I wanted to emphasise and create an interest for this because it has plenty of stories to tell.

“Like other metropolitan cities, I wanted to create a proper walking and guide map for visitors because many people are slightly apprehensive about going around KL on foot,” said Lee, who was born in Johor but grew up in KL.

He took a year to document, detail and finally create the first guided Kuala Lumpur Walks & Tours Map to complement KLCG.

The map has also become an informative and colourful mini-guidebook.

“We walked around the city and pencilled in everything that was worth seeing, from old heritage buildings and monuments including the Guan Yin Temple, Sze Ya Temple, to the shop houses along Jalan Hang Kasturi and Central Market to name a few.

A walk through architecture: Visitors viewing a map of a Greater KL featuring historical buildings.

These were built in the middle to late 19th century and the map also provides a small description of their history and background,” explained Lee.

The other features of the comprehensive map include train and bus routes as well as other events and promotions around the city.

Lee, being innovative and creative, also wanted something that was eye-catching to be placed at the entrance of the gallery and so he came up with the giant “I Love KL” sign.

This has proved to be a clever move to attract visitors into the gallery as the sign is a popular site for taking the type of “I was here” photos favoured by tourists.

“There is still room for improvement as we are trying to find more ways to bring in more visitors. We rely on advertising, marketing and social media to do this. Everything that we do is based on our genuine hope to successfully promote our buildings and glorify these significant landmarks.

“I’m also planning to create a similar city gallery for Johor, Penang, Malacca and Kota Kinabalu where each state will showcase their own culture and monuments. The project in Johor should kick off by the end of this year,” said Lee.

The gallery also houses the Arch Gift Shop that features and promotes collectibles and souvenirs made of wood veneer.

There are also intricately handmade artworks depicting the heritage of the country and a wide range of museum-quality merchandise.

A DIY workshop enables visitors to add in their own personalised touch to the souvenirs they have purchased.

Choosing from a series of Arch’s collectible items, they can learn to assemble all the veneer parts together to form their own unique masterpiece.

“All our products are made in Malaysia by Malaysians in our design workshop where visitors can observe the production process and progress through glass. The majority of the frames for the artworks are of durian wood from trees that don’t bear fruit anymore,” said Lee.

Among the newer products that Arch has introduced is covers for smartphones that come in either singles or a set for couples. In the near future, visitors can expect dining at the gallery’s new café that will emulate the Mock Tudor architectural style of The Royal Selangor Club in Dataran Merdeka.

“The café will serve local kopitiam fare like nasi lemak, roti bakar, the staple eggs, kaya and toast and beverages.

Lee and his team are continuously working to improve the gallery’s multimedia installations in the gallery as well as teaming up with organisers for KL based property fairs to draw in more visitors and property investors.

KLCG is a trove of history that is worth visiting as it is within the vicinity of other historical buildings and structures that date back more than a century.

Some of these include the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (1897), National Textiles Museum (1905), former National History Museum (1919), KL City Library (1989), Victorian Fountain (1897), Royal Selangor Club (1889), St Mary’s Cathedral (1894), City Theatre, Sessions & Magistrates Court (1910), High Court Building (1909) and Jamek Mosque (1909).

The Kuala Lumpur City Gallery is located at 27 Jalan Raja, Dataran Merdeka, 50050 Kuala Lumpur. It is open daily from 8am to 6pm and parking is free for visitors. For more information, call 03-2698-3333, e-mail arch@archcollection.com.my or visit www.klcitygallery.com.

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