Located at the city centre, the historically significant Merdeka Square (or Dataran Merdeka) is an iconic spot for locals and tourists, known for hosting the annual National Day parades and other major events.
Underneath Merdeka Square lies Dataran Underground, an open platform that was purposed to promote art, culture, food and fashion via exhibitions, corporate functions and private receptions. However, it has not turned out as planned due to lack of visibility and activities. Apart from a few retail lots, a cafeteria, and photo-opportunities around the 95-metre Merdeka Square flagpole, visitors do not actually have reason to stay long at that area.
THE SPARK TO DESIGN
In this project, student Phoo Weng Yan proposes to revive the site into a recreational and art learning centre, plugging it into the surrounding neighbourhood’s art and cultural context, which includes the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, Kuala Lumpur Library, DBKL City Theatre and the upcoming River of Life programme.
The proposal involves making use of the existing underground space and expanding its implications and usage to bring communities together via the arts. It will provide a platform for all forms of arts—visual, craft, sculptural, performance, music, theatre and cinematography, among others—to enhance experiences, learning opportunities and art appreciation.
The concept of ‘Improvisation, the expression of inner thought into reality’ has been applied to the design—showing one’s journey from individual isolation to an expression of passion and spirit through art.
This content is proposed in a three-in-one mode—Recreational, Cultural Food, and Learning Studios. The Recreational mode creates a lively, sociable and fun landscape, with a variety of interactive elements that promote culture and bring people together, such as the batik garden, performing stage and freestyle spot. The Cultural Food mode includes galleries and performances, serving as a platform for young artistes, designers and entertainers to showcase their talents as the main attraction for visitors. The Learning Studios offer affordable classes and hands-on workshops on performing, music, crafts, filming and visual arts. This proposal not only adapts with the local context but further enhances it and brings Malaysian architecture, culture and tourism to a new level, resulting in a combination of historical beauty and contemporary vibrancy.
The main constraint for this project is the site itself—as it’s located underground, the challenge lies in how to attract people to enter and feel comfortable in the basement.
The proposed solution is to open up the underground via an open-air atrium. This will allow cross and stack ventilation to improve the hot and dry environment in the basement, while the Green roof and shelves help cool the environment, allowing sunlight to enter, minus the direct glare. It is a wild and brave idea, which will require a lot of architecture and engineering considerations.
Another key design feature is a gentle ramp (with a 1:16 slope) that guides visitors from the ground-level entrance directly to the Basement 2 level. The ramp curves around the open-air atrium, with various features located alongside it, such as galleries and souvenir stores, to enhance the human experience.
LESS IS MORE
White is always the best colour for an art centre. It encourages imagination and enhances artworks. It is elegant and noble, brightens up the underground and makes people feel comfortable and relaxed. At the same time, it also requires a smart selection of tones, shades, materials, textures and surfaces—whether reflective or matte—to enhance the space and suit its functions.
Student Name: Phoo Weng Yan
School: First City University College
Programme: BA (Hons) Interior Architecture & Design
Supervisor/Instructor: Chua Huwi Huwi
Project Name: Merdeka Square Recreational & Art Learning Centre
Location: Merdeka Square and Dataran Underground
Site Area: 13,100 square metres
Gross Floor Area: 5,667 square metres
Building Height: 4 storeys; 10 metres
Client/Owner: Kuala Lumpur City Council (DBKL)
Images: Phoo Weng Yan