Asia's First Islamic Financial Centre, Kuala Lumpur
We formed part of the renowned Grant Associates team working on the masterplan for Kuala Lumpur’s (KL) new international financial district known as the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX). The vision for this 30-hectare site was for a highly functioning, innovative, and dynamic urban district that would establish TRX as a financial centre of choice. The intention was also for TRX to become a globally significant civic park and public realm, with integrated environmental design solutions reinforcing sustainability and ecological profile.
These aspirations were all in keeping with evidence that is increasingly showing that those Asian cities that are transforming themselves into clean, green and sustainable places to live and work, are subsequently attracting much greater foreign investment, skilled labour and tourism. New urban development in KL that aspires to be ‘World Class’ must differentiate itself from unsustainable development models and pursue genuine ecologically-based advantages over competitors.
With these considerations in mind we produced a Biodiversity and Environmental Design Guide with objectives to:
• Adhere to environmental policy objectives for KL, Malaysia and the ASEAN region.
• Make the link between provision of high quality biodiverse green infrastructure and the Centre’s economic success.
• Set a benchmark for KL’s emerging integrated sustainable water management strategy.
• Celebrate Islam’s respect for the environment.
• Promote biophilic design - the instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.
Green infrastructure proposals included the incorporation of elements of Malaysia’s traditional Kampung gardens such as various traditional food and medicinal plants, potentially to be incorporated on tower block roofs and facades (sky-kampungs); inclusion of locally representative habitat analogues with existing lowland dipterocarp urban forest reserves providing references (Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, Bukit Sungai Putih Forest Reserve and Bukit Sungai Besi Forest Reserve); and informing the architectural design to ‘visually borrow’ from the surrounding karst topography.
The scheme had become labelled as ‘Asia’s first Islamic financial centre’. It therefore seemed appropriate to consider whether the development’s greenspace, and from an ecological perspective biodiverse components of this, could be inspired in part by Islamic culture. The Qur’an is replete with references to the precious resources of air, water, and land, and proscribes wastefulness.
The prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him) is said to have encouraged the planting of trees, banned destroying vegetation even during war, loved animals and displayed great kindness to them, and encouraged other Muslims to do likewise. The Qur’an also describes the believing men and women as those who ‘walk on the Earth in humility’ (25:63). Some scholars have interpreted this verse, and others like it, to mean that Muslims are to protect nature’s many bounties.
Given Islam’s scriptural reverence for nature we also proposed reflecting this in the design of the landscape, particularly in the vicinity of the proposed mosque. Islamic garden design recommendations made reference to:
• Water. Islamic gardens have always traditionally had water at their heart such as fountains, pools, and flowing watercourses, which in turn produces greenery and shade.
• Boundary features. Enclosed rectangle courtyards/gardens are a feature of Islamic landscape design and create opportunities for greening facades.
• Symmetrical lay-outs. Eight-pointed stars, octagons and rectangles express the ideals of harmony and order in Islam, and can be created using beautiful geometric shapes for pools, paths, pavilions or flowerbeds. There is scope here for reference to the ecological architecture of many species on the Malay peninsula to celebrate such symmetry.
It was, however, also considered important not to uniquely focus on Islamic design references, recognising that many Malaysians believe that park and garden designs should reflect a tropical theme, and specifically showcase Malaysian identity, i.e. be a harmonious fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian culture, referencing artistic history, legends, fables, and customs.