Cover Story: Points of pride: Significant facts about Malaysian real estate

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on August 29, 2022 - September 04, 2022.
Cover Story: Points of pride: Significant facts about Malaysian real estate
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The construction sector has been the backbone of economic growth in many countries, including Malaysia. Its sister industry, the property sector, has also been an important growth engine over the last few decades.

Malaysia’s real estate industry has not only brought forth investment opportunities, but also created the physical environment in which people live, work and entertain. Most of all, these buildings serve as vessels of stories about Malaysians — they are our cultural artefacts on who we are, where we came from and where we are headed.

To celebrate Malaysia’s 65th Independence Day, City & Country has listed 65 interesting facts about the country’s real estate and construction sectors.

Central region

1 Mimaland in Gombak, Selangor, was the first theme park in Malaysia. Opened in 1975, it was closed in 1994 following a landslide and has since been abandoned.

2 First World Hotel in Genting Highlands has 7,351 rooms. It has held the Guinness World Records title for the largest hotel in the world by number of rooms since 2015.

3 The first skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur was Menara Bumiputra, now known as Menara Bank Muamalat, which was completed in 1978 and stood at 494ft.

4 The first project built using the Industrialised Building System (IBS) in Malaysia is seven blocks of 17-storey flats, housing a total of 3,000 units and 40 shoplots, in Jalan Pekeliling, KL.

5 Ampang Park, located along Jalan Ampang, was the first shopping complex to be built in Kuala Lumpur. It opened in 1973 and was closed in 2017, before being demolished the following year to make way for the Putrajaya Line (MRT2).

6 Jalan Klang Lama, or Old Klang Road, was the first major road in KL. It was built in 1965.

7 The first toll plaza in Malaysia was at the 20km Tanjung Malim-Slim River toll road, which was opened to traffic on March 16, 1966. There was a 50 sen charge for cars and RM1 for buses and lorries back then.

8 The Petronas Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. It is now the world’s tallest twin towers. Its design is based on the five pillars of Islam.

9 Merdeka PNB 118 will have the highest observation deck in Southeast Asia when it opens in mid-2023.

10 Pudu Jail in KL once had the world’s longest mural, which was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records.

11 KL Sentral is the country’s largest railway station and the first transit-oriented development (TOD). Opened on April 16, 2001, it replaced the old KL railway station as the city’s main intercity railway station.

12 Desa Kudalari along Lorong Kuda was the first high-rise condominium in KL. The 187-unit project was completed in 1984.

13 The Majestic Hotel is the oldest hotel in KL, having opened in 1932. It was the venue of the inaugural meeting for the formation of theIndependence of Malaya Party, a multi-racial party led byDatuk Onn Jaafarand presided byTun Tan Cheng Lock, the then president of theMalayan Chinese Association.

14 The Federal Kuala Lumpur was the first international-class hotel in post-Independence Malaya. It opened for business just three days before Independence Day (Aug 31, 1957).

15 The biggest roundabout in the world is the Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah in Putrajaya, which has a diameter of 3.5km.

16 Carcosa Seri Negara in KL, which consists of two colonial mansions — Carcosa (built in 1896, the oldest mansion in Malaysia) and Seri Negara (built in 1913) — was the first electricity and telephone wired building in the country. About 60% of the Hollywood film Crazy Rich Asians was shot here.

17 Oriental Building in Jalan Tun Perak was the tallest building in KL in the 1930s, standing at 82ft, or five storeys high.

18 Subang Parade was the longest mall in Southeast Asia when it opened in August 1988. The building has more than 200 stores in a space of about 1.1 million sq ft over three floors.

19 Subang Airport was officially opened to air traffic on Aug 30, 1965, with the then longest runway in Southeast Asia at a length of 3.7km and width of 45m. Its large colonnaded hall was the first of its kind and would be replicated in the design for the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Stansted Airport in London.

20 KL was destroyed by fire and flooding in 1881 due to structures that were built using wood and attap roofing. Frank Swettenham, who became the British Resident of Selangor in 1882, gave instructions for all buildings to be built using bricks and tiles. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy bought a large piece of land to set up a brick-making factory to supply bricks for the rebuilding of KL. The area became known as Brickfields.

21 The Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman is one of the oldest surviving traditional Malay houses. Built in stages between 1910 and the early 1930s, it was owned by the local headman of Mukim Bagan Samak in Bandar Baharu, Kedah, and was originally located in Kampung Sungai Kechil. It was rescued, relocated to KL and restored from 1996 to 1997 by Badan Warisan Malaysia.

22 20,200 cu m of concrete was used to construct The Exchange 106 in Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), which is the size of eight Olympic-size swimming pools. The process was carried out over 48 hours, making it the second largest concrete pour recorded globally.

23 Tugu Negara in KL’s Lake Gardens was built in February 1966. Standing at 15.5m, it is the tallest freestanding group of bronze sculptures in the world. It was designed by American sculptor Felix de Weldon, who also created the Iwo Jima Memorial.

24 The largest mall in Malaysia is currently 1 Utama Shopping Centre, with 2.19 million sq ft of net lettable space. However, IOI City Mall will take over the title when it officially opens Phase 2, which will add one million sq ft of net lettable space to Phase 1’s 1.5 million sq ft.

25 Istana Lama Seri Menanti in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, is considered to be one of the tallest wooden palaces in Southeast Asia at four storeys. It was built by two craftsmen and the entire structure was assembled without the use of nails. Originally the residence of Negeri Sembilan’s royalty, it was later converted into a museum.

26 Petaling Jaya was the country’s first satellite town to support KL’s economic boom in the 1950s. The development of PJ started in 1952 with the construction of 800 houses in an area known as Old Town today. PJ, which is about 97.2 sq km, was granted city status in June 2006.

27 Opened to the public in 1997, the Genting SkyWay was Southeast Asia’s longest and fastest cable car system at the time.

28 Stadium Merdeka was designed by American architect Stanley Jewkes, upon the instruction of Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. When it was completed, the stadium held the world record for the tallest prestressed floodlight towers and the biggest cantilever shell roof. The stadium was also the largest stadium in Southeast Asia at its completion in August 1957.

29 Once the tallest tower in Asia, KL Tower is the Islamic falak observatory to observe the appearance of the crescent moon, which marks the beginning of the Muslim months of Ramadan (fasting month), Syawal (Hari Raya Aidilfitri falls on the first day of the month) and Zulhijjah (Hari Raya Aidiladha falls on the 10th day of the month). Currently, the tower has the highest observation deck open to the public in KL.

30 To meet budgetary and technical demands, the suspension roofing of Stadium Negara, which had to be lightweight, was clad with compressed paper and resin sheets. This alternative had to be devised due to the prohibitive cost of aluminium and steel post-war.

31 The National Mosque was built on the former site of a church, the Venning Road Brethren Gospel Hall, which was acquired by the government in 1961. The church was offered land in Jalan Imbi as a replacement, and is now known as Jalan Imbi Chapel.

32 Built at about RM4 billion, klia2 is the largest purpose-built terminal optimised for low-cost carriers in response to the exponential growth of low-cost travel in Southeast Asia. It was built to replace the previous low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT).

33 Batu Caves Murugan statue is the third tallest statue of a Hindu deity in the world. Unveiled in January 2006, the statue took three years to construct at a cost of RM2.5 million.

34 The Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel (SMART Tunnel) is a storm drainage and road structure in KL and was a major national project in the country. The 9.7km tunnel is the longest stormwater drainage tunnel in Southeast Asia and the second longest in Asia.

35 KL City Gallery used to be a printing house. It has the largest structural support system of cast iron columns and trusses in Malaysia, which allowed for a large open interior and supported heavy metal letterpress printing blocks.

36 The Royal Selangor Club — one of Asia’s oldest sporting institutions — was established in 1884. It started out as a tiny wooden building with an attap roof and was a meeting point for the educated and high-ranking members of privileged British colonial society.


Northern region

37 Until 2014, the Penang Bridge was the first and the only road connection between the peninsula and Penang island. The Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, popularly known as the Second Penang Bridge, was the first commercial project in Malaysia to use earthquake-proof rubber bearings. At 24km, it is the longest bridge in Southeast Asia, connecting Bandar Cassia in Seberang Perai to Batu Maung on Penang island.

38 Penang Free School at Green Lane in George Town, Penang, is the oldest English-medium school in Southeast Asia. It was established in 1816.

39 The walls of Masjid al-Hussain in Perlis are not painted but rather decorated with marble, pebbles, granite and quartz. Its twin minarets are the first hexagon minarets in the world.

40 Fort Cornwallis, built by Francis Light as a defensive measure when he gained possession of Penang island, is the oldest British structure in Penang. It is also the largest standing fort in Malaysia.

41 Upon its completion in 1988, Komtar Tower in Penang was the third tallest building in Asia.

42 Crystal Mosque on Wan Man island in Terengganu was built in 2008 using steel, glass and crystal. It is the first mosque in the world to have solar panels, WiFi connection and an electronic Quran.

43 The Ipoh Railway Station, which is widely known as the Taj Mahal of Ipoh, was designed and constructed by Kuala Lumpur railway station’s British architect Arthur Benison Hubback, who had served in India. Hubback used his knowledge of Anglo-Asian architecture in India in the design of the stations.


Southern region

44 The Astaka (Tower A) in Johor is the tallest residential building in the country at 279m. Located in Zone A ofIskandar Malaysia, the 70-storey building houses 438 apartments, including penthouse duplexes.

45 Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple in Melaka is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia and one of the oldest functioning Hindu temples in Southeast Asia.

46 The Sultan Ibrahim building in Johor Baru was the tallest building in Malaysia until independence. The foundation stone was laid in 1940 but construction was not completed until 1942, when Malaya was already under Japanese occupation.

47 The Johor-Singapore Causeway, which was completed in 1924, also serves as a water pipeline between Malaysia and Singapore, where some of the treated water is sold to Malaysia. The Causeway is the busiest land route in the world, with 350,000 travellers daily.

48 St Peter’s Church in Melaka is the oldest operational Roman Catholic church in Malaysia, having been built in 1710. However, it has an even older bell that was created in Goa, India, in 1608. The bell was brought over from another church that had been burnt by the Dutch.

49 The Cheng Hoon Temple in Melaka is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It contains fine decorations and sculptures brought from China in the 18th century. The temple is close to Jonker Street and is popular among local worshippers and tourists alike.

50 Saint Paul’s Church in Melaka is the oldest church in Southeast Asia. It was built in 1521.


Sabah and Sarawak

51 The Pan Borneo Highway is expected to be the longest highway in Malaysia, with more than 2,000km for the Malaysian section. It is slated for completion in 2028.

52 Jesselton Hotel is the oldest known hotel in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Built in 1954, the colonial building has changed hands several times and is still in operation today.

53 Atkinson Clock Tower is the oldest standing wooden structure in Sabah. Built in 1905, this all-wood, no-nails structure survived the destruction of Jesselton town during World War II. It still keeps good time.

54 The Kuching Old Courthouse is the oldest building in Sarawak, having been completed in 1871. It was meant to replace an earlier wooden courthouse constructed in 1847, and was used for this purpose until 1973, with all state council meetings being held there since the fifth meeting in 1878.

55 Carpenter Street is the oldest street in Kuching. It used to be known as Attap Street due to the use of nipa palm leaves on the buildings there. The street’s name was changed to Carpenter Street to reflect the various woodworking workshops there.

56 Sabah Customs Tower is the first earthquake-resistant building in the country. The 8-storey seismic-design building also housed the Kota Kinabalu Customs Office in 2018.

57 Sitting on a foothill with a view of Sarawak River and the Main Bazaar, Tua Pek Kong Temple is said to have the best Feng Shui in the city. The temple appeared on official records in 1876, but it’s believed to have been built in 1843.

58 Fort Margherita in Kuching was built to guard the river from pirates. Completed in 1879, Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak, named it after his wife, Ranee Margaret. Today, it is home to Brooke Gallery, which houses a wide range of memorabilia of the Brooke era.



59 Malaysian Nehemiah Lee invented the Nehemiah Wall — the honeycomb-shaped block that is used in building the walls of flyovers. The design is widely used in countries such as Singapore and Australia.

60 The first subsidiary management corporation (sub-MC) was formed in 2019 at the 1 Mont’Kiara mixed-use stratified development in Mont’Kiara, KL.

61 The Malaysian flag (Jalur Gemilang) was designed by architect Mohamad Hamzah, who worked in the Public Works Department, in 1963. Hailing from Johor, he is also famous for designing structures such as the Diamond Jubilee Hall, Mahkota Tower and Johor Baru City Council Building, as well as other government buildings, quarters and mosques across Johor.

62 The North-South Expressway (NSE) is the longest expressway in Malaysia, measuring 748km. It runs from Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah, near the Malaysia-Thailand border, to Johor Baru in the south. The expressway was officially opened on Sept 8, 1994.

63 It is common for buildings in Malaysia to name the fourth floor “3A” because the number four sounds like the word “die” in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. Whereas in places such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, the fourth floor is renamed the fifth floor.

64 The Malaysian Rubber Board and Public Works Department jointly invented the world’s first Cup Lump Modified Asphalt (CMA, or better known as rubberised road) technology. The first project was three stretches of road in Teluk Intan, Perak, in 2017. The benefit of rubberised roads is their durability, as they are able to withstand higher loads, have higher heat resistance and are cheaper to maintain in the long run.

65 The KL River of Life has made it into UK newspaper The Independent’s “World’s 10 Best Waterfront Districts”. The RM4.4 billion project involves 10km of the Klang River in central KL and the clean-up of its waters and shoreline runs 100km upriver. It is also one of the hardest and most expensive urban river restoration projects in the world.