Government Offices, Kuala Lumpur: The 1893 Proposal
Updated: Jan 22, 2018
Kuala Lumpur history buffs would know of the Neo Classical design proposals that preceded the present Saracenic/Mughal-eclectic styled Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad. There were in fact two Neo Classical/Classic Renaissance architectural proposals put forward by the Selangor Public Works Department before deciding on the present design (constructed between October 1894 to April 1897).
Charles Edwin Spooner described the history of the Government Offices project in brief at the PWD Dinner Party (held in conjunction with the completion of the building) on 3 April 1897.
“Perhaps the history of the building you are now in is not known to all of you. In 1893 a new Post Office was applied for and several heads of departments represented that they wanted more office room especially fire proof rooms for the safe keeping of deeds, etc. The public complained of having to run up and down the hill between the Treasury and the Bank. I then suggested offices on the plain, a Post Office on the Dhoby’s Green at a cost of $32,000, and a Government Office to cost $194,800, a building something like the Colonial Office, with a quadrangle in the middle. On showing them to H.E Sir C. Smith he would not have them at my price, but allowed $20,000 for a Post Office and $60,000 for Government Offices. Then the post and other offices were to be in one building and I was told to get out plans for a building to cost about $80,000, that being the original cost of Government House, Singapore. The figure was not limited, but it would be useless to send in a design that was not strictly moderate in price." (1)
We would like to share with you drawings of the first design scheme mentioned above, signed off by CE Spooner as the State Engineer of Selangor Public Works Department on 1 July 1893.
Location Plan purchased from Arkib Negara Malaysia (ANM Acc. No. 1957/0042944). Blue shades indicate existing private properties that had to be bought over for the project.
At this juncture, the road facing the Parade Ground that is today Jalan Raja was still known as Gombak Road. In this scheme, the Post Office was placed as a separate building on a triangular site bounded by Weld Street, Holland Street and Gombak Road. The 'Road to Stappak' labelled bottom left is the old Residency Road which would have led to the Setapak tin mines back then.
Sketch Plan purchased from Arkib Negara Malaysia (ANM Acc. No. 1957/0042944). Estimate for Government Offices (the whole building with basement) - $194,800 Straits Dollars.
The 228'x210' plan featured a central quadrangle with external and internal perimeter verandah-ways, which allowed separate entrances from Gombak Road, Weld Street, Holland Road and Clarke Street. Its ground floor was designated for the Mines Office, Chinese Secretary's Office, Treasury, Land Office, Public Works Department District Office. The upper floor was to accommodate the Audit Office, Survey Office, Public Works Department Head Office and the Secretariat Office. A handwritten note on the sketch states a basement as an additional option. If you take a closer look at the sketch drawing of the Government Offices below, you'll notice that it appears to be three storey - the raised bottom floor apparently the 'basement'. There is no further description of what the basement was meant for but it would have made sense to raise the building in view of flood, of which Kuala Lumpur is still notorious for.
Sketch Elevation purchased from Arkib Negara Malaysia (ANM Acc. No. 1957/0042944)
Kuala Lumpur's old civic quarter would have looked totally different had the 1893 proposal been approved. The above sketch includes proposals for the Sanitary Board (far left), the Gombak Bridge and the Railway Station (far right). This Neo Classical row was designed by the Selangor PWD State Architect, Arthur Charles Alfred Norman and Chief Draughtsman, Regent Alfred John Bidwell.
Apart from the Gombak Bridge, the Railway Station was the only design from this scheme that was built. It was most likely completed in 1895 and later demolished beginning of May 1904 to make way for AB Hubback's 1905 FMS Railways Central Offices.
1893 Sketch Elevation of the Railway Offices, at the junction of Market Street and Gombak Road (later known as Victory Avenue).
Railway Offices constructed according to the 1893 design proposal (demolished in 1904). Image sourced from Pictorial History of Railways in Selangor
1. Gullick, J.M. (2007), Selections from the Selangor Journal, Selangor Journal, Reprint 26 (J.M. Gullick, editor), Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (MBRAS)
2. Arkib Negara Malaysia Acc. No. 1957/0042944: Government Office
3. Pictorial History of Railways in Selangor, accessed on 18 January 2018.