The journey of Putrajaya — Malaysia’s jewel capital city

Putrajaya embraces two main themes — a city in a garden and an intelligent city


About two decades ago, an endless glade of palm oil plantations in the south of Kuala Lumpur (KL) known as the Prang Besar estate was turned into the country’s third and youngest federal territory, Putrajaya.

It became the most ostentatious, comprehensive and elaborate administrative capital in South-East Asia, the brainchild of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his first tenure as the prime minister. Granted as a federal territory on Feb 1, 2001, Putrajaya came third after KL on Feb 1, 1974 and Labuan Island on April 16, 1984.

How It Came About

The vision to replace KL with Putrajaya as the administrative capital emerged in the late 1980s. The federal government back then negotiated with the state of Selangor on the prospect of another federal territory.

The new city was proposed to be located between KL and the KL International Airport (KLIA). Two areas were proposed — Prang Besar and Janda Baik, Pahang. After the final site at Prang Besar was chosen in 1993, the then government formed a consortium to develop the master plan for Putrajaya.

The federal government paid the Selangor state government for approximately 11,320 acres (4,581.04ha) of land in Prang Besar. Different from the Petronas Twin Towers in the KL City Centre and KLIA which were the results of international design competitions, the Putrajaya project was conceived as being “made-in-Malaysia” and “made-by-Malaysians”.

Construction began in August 1995 and it was Malaysia’s biggest project and one of South-East Asia’s largest, with an estimated final cost of US$8.1 billion (RM33.29 billion).

According to Putrajaya Corp, the location for the new administrative capital was chosen in July 1993; the conceptual master plan approved by the Cabinet in February, 1994; the master plan sanctioned in February 1995; and the ground works started immediately thereafter.

The government administration then shifted in 1999 from KL to Putrajaya as the former continued to grow, but faced dreadful congestion and limited space.

By 2005, all governmental ministries had relocated to Putrajaya, except for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Works in the capital.

Today, Putrajaya also hosts all diplomatic activities for the country and functions as a potent symbol of the nation’s ambitious modernisation agenda.

Yet, KL remains as Malaysia’s national capital.

The Multimedia Super Corridor

Putrajaya epitomises the country’s vision to build a city capable of meeting the challenges of the new millennium and moving the country rapidly into an era where information technology will be an essential part of the development.

Putrajaya also shares its border with Cyberjaya — its twin city, but with a different function — also known as Malaysia’s version of the famed Silicon Valley.

Both cities are part of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project, a 15km by 50km region stretching from the KL City Centre to KLIA.

The MSC framework was conceptualised in 1996 under Dr Mahathir’s first term as PM to spearhead digital transformation in Malaysia.

The purpose of the framework was to boost and create a hub for innovative producers and users of multimedia technology, as well as to push towards the country’s goal of Vision 2020.

The MSC covers an area of 750 sq km (75,000ha) which stretches from the Petronas Twin Towers to KLIA, including Putrajaya and Cyberjaya.

When the idea of Putrajaya came about, the gigantic scale of the place led critics to accuse Dr Mahathir of putting up a costly monument for himself.

At that time, Malaysia was still nursing the wounds from the Asian economic crisis. The steep price tag drew fierce criticism from Opposition leaders and many others.

Many had questioned the proposed administrative capital, despite the plans for the project being done prior to the 1997-98 crisis.

Dr Mahathir then rebutted the critics’ claims. “We build things we can use and it is meant for the government of the future, maybe 100 years, 300 years, 1,000 years, I wouldn’t know, I won’t be around by then,” Dr Mahathir had said then.

Jewels of Putrajaya

Putrajaya embraces two main themes — a city in a garden and an intelligent city. It was initially planned to accommodate at least 335,000 people on its 4,400ha site, and is divided into 20 precincts.

The core area is designated for government, commercial and civic-cultural facilities, while the peripheral areas are assigned for housing, parks and open space, community facilities and recreation. Putrajaya Lake, the strongest element of Putrajaya’s master plan, separates the peripheral area from the core.

The artificial lake has been the venue for high-profile events such as international hot air balloon festivals, flower carnivals, the Tour De Langkawi and international waterski championships.

Meanwhile, there is one main axis which leads from the Putrajaya International Convention Centre to the Prime Minister’s Office — and most government buildings are located along it.

One of the first structures completed was the Putra Mosque, which can be spotted from afar for its dusky pink dome, topped with a gold tiled finial measuring 76m above ground level. According to Putrajaya Corp, the elaborately decorated dome took only six weeks to complete due to the use of modern technology, which was able to create a perfect mould of the dome.

In addition, there are many parks and gardens threaded through the city to make green space truly accessible to residents of Putrajaya.