Micro-Infrastructure as Community Preservation: Kampung Baru


Residential Design

Kuala Lumpur, Kampung Baru | Team: William Baumgardner, Student ASLA; Chenyuan Gu, Associate ASLA; Dandi Zhang, Associate ASLA | Faculty Advisors: David Rubin, ASLA; Spela Videcnik; Rok Oman
Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Given the way people use space in this culture, both horizontally and vertically, I could imagine this proposal working in a heartbeat.

- 2017 Awards Jury


  • Hanif Kara - Structural Engineer


In the face of immense development in Kuala Lumpur, Kampung Baru stands as a last testament to the past historical and cultural heritage of the capital city. The project rebukes the proposed master plans completed and instead provides a new paradigm of micro-infrastructural development through which residential design and new forms of public space are championed. Working on a parcel level, property owners would be able to remain in the community they call home while also improving their lives and retaining and strengthening their community's identity and interaction. 


Kampung Baru is located directly adjacent to Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC). Founded as a Malay enclave by the British Empire in 1900, Kampung Baru has served as a cultural nucleus that was a draw for the Malay population and is now situated at the crossroads of Kuala Lumpur’s development path. The towering skyscapers that represent the new growth and development of the capital city have quickly surrounded the area, embodying the juxtaposition of modernity against tradition. It has become a critical issue for the city:which path they will take and champion?

Within the seven villages of Kampung Baru is a vibrant array of expressions of identity. From architecture that has evolved from the vernacular to the colonial and the fusion that naturally occurred, to a verdant landscape of dense shade trees with fruits hanging from their branches, to a bustling set of commercial corridors that overtake the streets, Kampung Baru remains an integral manifestation of the diversity and identity Kuala Lumpur champions. The residents here are deeply connected to their neighborhood and the way of life their families have known for generations. In the face of the new development, Kampung Baru encapsulates the pressures of modernity and the fragility of community and cultural ancestry.

2017 finds Kampung Baru faced with myriad issues. Central to all of these are two main topics. First, is the absence of landowners who have moved elsewhere in the city for a variety of reasons. In their place, new residents have moved into the area and are primarily migrant workers from neighboring countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, and China. These residents are not as invested in the quotidian life of Kampung Baru, and therefore are choosing to spend their time elsewhere, leaving a physical and tangible vacancy. Second, is the lack of participation in the community from all age groups. Historically, the mosque was the central force of community that brought the seven villages together through daily prayers (Salat), weddings, and other social events. Over time, the younger generations have chosen to spend their time in the new mega shopping mall developments like KLCC instead of traditional means.

However, one of the main cultural cornerstones of Kampung Baru, the night markets, remain key aspects of daily life in the community and the city. The night markets are a variety of food, clothing, and other goods stalls that overtake the city streets. Opening past 8 pm and closing around 1 am, the night markets occur at the darkest and coolest part of the day, and after the daily prayers have ended. It is within this darkness, illuminated by the lights of the city, that Kampung Baru comes alive. The nocturnal is not a temporal feature, but a spatial and socio-cultural force. Amidst the tropical heat and humidity, the role of the night is integral into how the community and city operates.

Today, Kampung Baru is a stalemate of development. There are around 1,300 residences with over 5,000 property owners, with land that is valued over 1.6 billion US Dollars. Laws guarantee equal property ownership amongst all members of a family causing a litany of red tape that is preventing much of the development. Various master plans have also been undertaken for the city that envision razing the historic homes and replacing them with characterless new steel and glass developments where even the renderings are filled with caucasian users in place of any figures that resemble the existing community’s population and demographics.

Through an analysis of the current and historic issues, along with the aspirations of the city through various master plans and schemes, the projects posits a new form of micro-infrastructures that would encourage community participation and counter the towering developments that are constricting Kampung Baru. Lacking a public space, this project aims to address the need of public space by utilizing the vacant lots and green spaces with each village of the community. These public spaces could host the meetings of each village and allow for an intimate neighborhood-scale space where residents could rest during the day, gather at night, and adapt to the everyday needs of the users. Each village would have an opportunity to make their potential public spaces into bespoke and unique anchors of the community. These spaces would help to capitalize on the distinct cultural identities of the people, their houses, and the the surrounding landscape.

From those public spaces, the project has developed a language of development typologies that could be implemented on the parcel scale. These typologies are ordered into three main categories: small, medium, and large parcels. We posit that the landowners could implement these different typologies that are an increase from the 1-2 floor existing buildings to something from 3-7 floors. Both typologies are set on grids of 5 x 5 x 3 meters, allowing for flexibility and modularity over time. Wall units, balconies, and more are all modular as well, allowing for the landowners to work with in the given parameters, but maintain a uniqueness that is so critical to Kampung Baru’s identity. Over time, the parcels could also be connected to one another through sky bridges, creating another layer of pedestrian circulation to the lots. Maintaining the same zoning throughout Kampung Baru as well would also ensure the variety of experiences that is already found in the community as well.

By including new public spaces, whether actively programmed or flexible, the new guide of community development for Kampung Baru champions the role of the community and facilitates the ability for the community to re engage with their land they are so deeply tied to. The new models of development could also then be disseminated throughout the other ethnic clusters of Kuala Lumpur as a guide for future development as well. Utilizing and implementing these new forms of community development would help to ensure the preservation of the unique diversity of Kampung Baru, and Kuala Lumpur and could also serve as a stepping stone for similar discourses of how the built environment and landscape can shape and inform the cultural integrity of a city.

The project aims to breakdown the immense effect of urban shock the Petronas Towers have had on the community. While the structures themselves are new and taller, they help to provide the community members with a set of guidelines and rules that will help the proposed structures better fit into the community and reduce the immediate and long-term shock. What is the future rolee of architecture and landscape architecture when it comes to community preservation in the face of rapid urban development? We are those charged with designing new spaces and developments for all. We have the ability to speak for those who may not have a voice in their communities. And we have the capability to ensure that the systems, structures, and infrastructure both physical and metaphorical that are the backbone of a culture, community, or society are preserved and even championed over the shallow ambitions of others.