KL Megastructures: Transformation of a mining town into a global city

KL resonates the progress and the struggle of a 61-year-old nation that is trying to be respected as an independent nation and recognised on the global stage


Kuala Lumpur (KL) has become one of the world’s most exciting and fastest-rising cosmopolitans. The capital of Malaysia is a hive of human activities. World-class infrastructure, megastructures, rows of elegant structures, shopping areas, parks, monuments, and both public and private facilities have transformed a former mining town into a world city.

With a population of 1.79 million people in an area of just 243 sq km, KL has become the country’s symbol of success.

It reflects how far Malaysia has progressed, the rewards of self-rule and independence, and the transformation of a country that had for centuries been under the clutches of foreign powers and influences.

KL resonates the progress and the struggle of a 61-year-old nation that is trying to be respected as an independent nation and recognised on the global stage.

But the nation’s capital’s rapid transformation was neither due to sheer luck, nor coincidence.

Since independence, the country’s leaders have always wanted a capital city that can rally the less than five million people to embrace the new sense of freedom, to have the sense of joy and pride of a capital city that they can be proud of.

They wanted a city that all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, creed and location, can gravitate towards and bring them together in more ways than one.

More importantly, KL is the showcase of a nation that has succeeded in exorcising the demons of its foreign powers and can chart its own future.

The Kl Monorail. for the 1st time, other nations turn to Malaysia for guidance in transforming their economy from an agriculture-based country to a fast- and rapidly growing economy

Born from the pursuit of precious metals more than 15 decades ago, KL today manifests the country’s success — how far Malaysia has transformed from the backwater nation that was reliant on commodities and precious metals, into a developed nation.

Above all, KL embodies independence, developments and Malaysia’s future.

Like most of the world’s capital cities, KL is the centre of economic activities, trades, finance and business.

Wilayah Persekutuan KL, or its English equivalent, the Federal Territory of KL, is already generating economic activities valued at almost RM200 billion, or almost 20% of Malaysia’s total gross domestic product (GDP) of RM1.18 trillion.

The economic value generated from the area — which is about 2.5 times the size of the KL International Airport — is bigger than the GDP of Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Melaka, Terengganu and Kelantan put together.

Undeniably, KL is the nation’s hub for economy, business, trade, finance and culture.

Building a Capital from the Vision of the Past

KL has changed drastically over the last 40 years. Back then, there were only a handful of landmarks. Tall structures were few and far between. But for outsiders visiting the nation’s capital, it was a moment to look forward to.

Like tourists, they flocked to key areas in the city. What was absent then though were large shopping complexes, high-rise condominiums, sophisticated glass and steel structures, light rail systems and flyovers zigzagging across the city.

For many at that time, KL was about the hustle and bustle of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. The Globe Silk Store was a favourite for shoppers seeking bargains.

The Mun Loong department store was remembered for the more affluent customers. For children, the Ampang Park amusement centre on the top floor was the closest to visiting Disneyland. The bas mini with the collector hanging precariously at the door donned the streets of KL.

However, that image of KL is a chapter in the history books.

Malaysia’s remarkable and rapid economic growth from the 80s had contributed to the stunning rise of a capital. Malaysia has shifted its economy to manufacturing and other sectors, and has been less reliant on the agriculture and mining sectors.

Malaysia was following the footsteps of other regional countries like Singapore and Taiwan, and began to embrace the industrial sector. That move had propelled Malaysia into the most stunning growth period in its history.

Investments poured into the country, especially in heavy industries, manufacturing, and high-tech and semi-conductors sectors. In the span of a few years, these sectors had become the country’s main export, creating jobs, and contributing to the growth and wellbeing of the people.

Malaysia’s GDP grew consistently above 7% in the 1980s and the 1990s, From 1988 to 1996, Malaysia’s economy expanded at a stunning 8%, pushing the country to become one of the “Asian Tigers”.

For the first time, other nations had turned to Malaysia for guidance in transforming their economy from an agriculture-based country to a fast and rapidly growing economy.

The economic growth has boosted wealth. Businesses prospered. Investments in infrastructure grew at a phenomenal rate. And KL had benefitted from this boom period more than any other locations in the nation.

KL’s rapid modernisation has resulted in skyscrapers lining the landscape. Empty plots have been replaced with modern, forwardthinking developments.

New developments are taking shape — more corporate and business towers, shopping complexes, hotels and other structures are being built to meet the rising demand.

Malaysia, and KL in particular, stamped its mark on the world map with the Petronas Twin Towers, the then tallest building in the world. The towers remain to be the tallest twin towers on the planet until today.

Completion of the twin towers had been the start for the megastructure revolution which saw more of such skyscrappers filling the country’s capital.

The monuments — which had transformed the small mining town into a modern cosmopolitan — include the Dayabumi Complex, KL Tower, Maxis Tower, Maybank Tower, Petronas Tower 3, Menara Multi Purpose, Telekom Tower, Vista Tower, Ilham Tower, Istana Budaya and KL Sentral. All these structures have added to KL’s modenisation into the 21st century.

This year, the Exchange 106 will become the tallest-standing structure in Malaysia. Constructed within the Tun Razak Exchange district, the nation’s complete financial district, the 106-floor Exchange 106 will be topped with a 48m illuminated crown that takes the tower to a maximum height of 492m

In two years’ time, the under-construction Merdeka PNB118, a 610m skyscraper estimated to cost about RM5 billion, will be the tallest building in Malaysia and will become the latest megastructure in the KL city centre.

A Global City for the World to See

The spectrum of business, social and recreational, and entertainment activities have added to KL’s prominence. More than just a capital, KL has become a global attraction. Millions of Malaysians and foreigners enter the capital every day, whether to work, transact business or for leisure.

KL’s uniqueness and the completeness of its offerings had made the cosmopolitan among the top 10 most visited cities in the world, putting the capital on Peninsular Malaysia in the group of elite cities like Hong Kong, London, Singapore, Paris, New York and Shenzhen.

In Euromonitor International’s Top 100 City Destinations Ranking 2017 Edition, KL has been bunched together among the top 10 most visited cities, with 12.3 million foreigners making their journey into the capital last year.

Forbes magazine has rated KL as the eighth most visited cities in 2017 based on the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index for 2017. KL stands together with the great cities of the world which include Paris, London and New York.

More and more people are expected to make KL their preferred destination. Structures like the Merdeka PNB118 and Exchange 106 will become new landmarks to the city’s attraction as an alpha city of the world. For many, it will be more than just a symbol of freedom; it would be the testament of a nation coming of age.