Monday, November 9, 2009
Art Deco Walk 4: Oriental Building, Jalan Tun Perak.
I was on my way back to the office from the Magistrates Court, then in Jalan Raja, as a pupil-in-chambers in 2004 when I realised my court shoes needed repairing. I went to the sidewalk cobbler seated under the arches of the Oriental Building/CIMB Bank in Jalan Melaka, facing Jalan Tun Perak, to have my delinquent shoe repaired.
As I stood under the arches of CIMB Bank, watching the cobbler at work, something about the broad horizontal bands of brickwork and the radiating ribs extending from the archway indicated that this could be an Art Deco building.
I walked across the street to the Masjid Jamek LRT station for a better view, and it hit me like an epiphany -- the building I pass by every day on my way to court is, indeed, a very fine example of an Art Deco building.
Notice the classic tall, narrow windows framed by metal muntins, with Neoclassical geometric spandrels?
Art Deco frequently utilises contrasting materials to emphasize differences in colour and texture. The white frieze with a bas-relief of overlapping coins frames the entire central exterior facade of the building.
Ribs beam out from the archway and taper off into bold horizontal bands. The sharp, clean lines suggest at an inchoate sunburst motif.
The projecting panels of walls in between the windows are stepped, creating the illusion of depth. Stepped pillasters begin at the 3rd floor, flanking the windows.
I learned later that the Oriental Building was designed by A.O. Coltman in 1930. A.O. Coltman, as you may well remember, is the Art Deco savant responsible for other amazing landmarks such as the Odeon Cinema, OCBC Building in Medan Pasar and the Medan Pasar Clock Tower.
The Oriental Building housed Radio Malaya in the 1940s. Picture reproduced from "Malaysia: A Pictorial History 1400 - 2004" by Wendy Khadijah Moore, without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use.
Jalan Tun Perak used to be known as Java Street. After Malaysia achieved Independence, it was renamed Mountbatten Road. Mountbatten Road was named after Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Allied supreme commander in Southeast Asia during World War II.
Mountbatten Road was only renamed Jalan Tun Perak in 1980, after the fifth Bendahara (equivalent to the post of Prime Minister) of the Sultanate of Malacca. Bendahara Tun Perak was in office from 1456 to 1498 and had served under Sultan Muzzafar Shah, Sultan Mansur Shah, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah and Sultan Mahmud Shah.
The fact that most city dwellers who work in the vicinity of Jalan Tun Perak do not know the age the Oriental Building indicate both the agelessness of its design and that the building has been very well-maintained.
However, I find that the classical grandeur of the Oriental Building has been marred somewhat by the rather obtrusive posters and banners, and the constant presence of illegal hawkers and litter outside the building. Much improvement could be made if the posters were tastefully framed and positioned, and the area outside the Masjid Jamek LRT station rid of illegal traders and litter. It is my contention that illegal businesses contribute nothing to the economy of the country, undermine City Hall's efforts to maintain hygiene, health and cleanliness standards and create the impression that petty crime is condoned in Kuala Lumpur.
Let us make the Oriental Building a point of interest that art and history buffs would be thrilled to visit! In order to generate interest in our heritage buildings, effort must be made not only to engage the curiosity and enthusiasm of the people, but also to reduce or eliminate the elements that would create the perception that our City is uncared for and unloved.