Changing Landscape: 106 Mansions to 106 Floors

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Malaysia, Asia’s melting pot, has traditionally been at the centre of everything in the region. From the food culture that has become uniquely imbued with flavour and colour; our music and fashion; and even our people. Malaysia stands as a beacon of hope and a tastemaker for many economically, politically, artistically, and culturally. 

Its capital is no different. First-time visitors to Kuala Lumpur usually agree on one thing: it is nothing like they expected. To these visitors, it is a city with many facets and even more surprises, a city of many modern, shiny skyscrapers that fill the skyline, all set against the backdrop of kampung houses, traditional shop lots, and the thousands of little touches that showcases a city as comfortable in its modern sheath as it is with its ancient roots. 

And towering above all of them are the iconic ambassadors known the world over, the Petronas Twin Towers, next to the more modest yet no less interesting, KL Tower. This year, a third pillar to inspire awe – and to encourage Instagrammable moments – rises as the country marks a new energy, ambition and direction towards innovation – the gleaming edifice that is, Exchange 106. 

Exchange 106 at Tun Razak Exchange promises to define the city’s changing skyline while putting Kuala Lumpur on the world map yet again. Having created job opportunities for thousands of people during and after construction, it has been the subject of much discussion the world over, as a demonstration of architectural skills, construction excellence, and an interior that sets a new international standard in quality finishes and amenities.

But more than just an amazing building, Exchange 106 is a link to Kuala Lumpur’s, or KL as it’s affectionately known, historical roots. It represents a unique retelling of the significance of the city’s early township and structures, most of which were built in the early 20th century coinciding with the tin mining boom, in an area that was once known as “Pak Luk Kan”. 

Kuala Lumpur means “Muddy Confluence” – not really the sexiest moniker, but that’s what it means in Bahasa Malaysia, our national language. The name was taken from its location, right at the junction of the Klang and Gombak rivers, which were trading and transportation arteries in days gone by. 

During the late 19th-century, some of these areas were administered by the local “Kapitan Cina,” who recruited Chinese fortune seekers eager to find their fortune in the riverbeds of the young city’s fledgeling mining industry. One of the greatest “Kapitan” of that era, Yap Ah Loy was credited as the founder of Kuala Lumpur as he was so influential and well respected among the growing Chinese community in the area that he could get them to build, develop and share the space towards the creation of our now shining city. With the wealth of the time, many of the local workers soon saved their own fortunes, making homes.

With the economic boom, grew the administration of public services under the Federated Malay States and its future incarnations. So too, then grew the need to house the public service employees which resulted in public housing enclaves in Kuala Lumpur like Federal Hill, Cochrane and Pak Luk Kan.

“Pak Luk Kan”

So what does Exchange 106 have to do with this? 

A typical old house in the now developing TRX area

Well, the story goes back to the early days of Jalan Imbi predating the construction of Jalan Sultan Ismail. The area between Jalan Imbi and Jalan Davis was dotted with many bungalows that flourished and were collectively a well-known landmark among the KL community known as “Pak Luk Kan”. To begin with, the name “Pak Luk Kan”, which literally translates into “Land of the 106 Bungalows” or “106 Buah Rumah Banglo” was part of the architecture blending local and colonial styles that can be found in our country, which has become a part of our national identity.

The bungalows in Pak Luk Kan housed Public service employees from the 1920s all the way into the 1980s and 1990s when section by section, they made way for first, the Pasar Raya Bukit Bintang, which came to be locally known as the Imbi Market, which was relocated to make way for Lot 10, and thereafter, the Pasarakyat Bus Terminal. 

Mr V. Raju, a retired civil servant from Malaysia’s Department of Survey and Mapping (JUPEM) and previously a resident of Jalan Selatan remembers the area well. He noted that almost all the government quarters then at the Pak Luk Kan area were built before Independence and could have been historical gems if an effort was made to preserve them. “My family’s time in the 106 bungalows area was idyllic. Our kids played out on the road and in each other’s houses. We had Chinese and Malay neighbours on either side, it was all very Muhibbah”, he explained. He further added, “As the years when by, the Imbi area became a hot commodity with its proximity to the mushrooming commercial and retail developments of a growing Kuala Lumpur. We knew it was just a matter of time that the government quarters made way for the spread of the city.” Mr Raju added, he moved when the area made way for the development of the market area. “While we may seem to lose a bit of old Kuala Lumpur, I’m glad that Exchange 106 is paying homage to the Pak Luk Kan era – incorporating a bit of the heritage into its history too”.

Pak Luk Kan contributed to the rich heritage of different cultures in the area around Jalan Imbi. Originally known as Imby Road in English, Jalan Imbi was named after Sergeant Imby Seedin in 1905, as his home was considered a unique landmark to Kuala Lumpur. From thence, sprouted well-known landmarks that exist today including Imbi Chapel, Oversea Restaurant, Sakura Restaurant,  Fei Har Ching Ser Temple. 

In the vicinity of the “Pak Luk Kan”, there are large parts of Jalan Imbi that were owned by the late Loke Wan Tho. A known personality of the day, he was the poetry-loving film and cinema magnate, philanthropist, respected ornithologist and a shutterbug who founded the Cathay Organisation and was the son of tycoon Wong Loke Yew. Another famous landowner in the area was the Low Yat Group. Since then, Low Yat Group was one of the pioneers of Kuala Lumpur’s development where they actually managed the development of commercial buildings in the Golden Triangle. The legacy first started by Tan Sri Low Yat was then carried on by his descendants in further developing Kuala Lumpur, taking the new opportunity and leaving an indelible mark on Kuala Lumpur.

From its beginnings as a tin-mining settlement, the capital had also by then grown into a vibrant metropolis with older landmarks juxtaposed with modern skyscrapers. This represents the duality of the city as it looked to keep its history alive while building its future at the same time.

Mulia Property Development Sdn Bhd, the developer of Exchange 106, was quite taken by the history of the area and found a way to connect to it by referencing the 106 bungalows. Drawing on the historic references of the land, it took the original idea of Pak Luk Kan and modernised it. From 106 bungalows that adorned a single area, it transformed the spirit of the neighbourhood by taking it to the skies. Now 106 glorious floors of gleaming ambition were free to welcome innovators, dreamers, builders and artists to a new age of KL – much like the original Pak Lun Kan had driven the civil service residents of its time. “How befitting that Pak Luk Kan is now ‘Pak Luk Lau’ (106 floors), and the area that used to house the leading public service members of Kuala Lumpur will now house the leading corporate citizens of Malaysia,” commented Christine Yeap, Head of Marketing of Mulia.

The new Heart of Kuala Lumpur

The Pak Luk Kan area and now Exchange 106, is located in the heart of the Tun Razak Exchange development in the city’s Golden Triangle area, being famously distinguished as Malaysia’s main attraction with world-class amenities that are bordered by Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Imbi. In a huge milestone in April 2017, the development of Exchange 106 completed 60 continuous hours of pouring of concrete on an area that has the size of eight Olympic swimming pools, making it as the second-largest concrete pour to be recorded in the history of megastructure development.  

A signboard indicating a Chinese Village in the location

With the arrival of this megastructure, it will change the way most complex infrastructure projects of the future will be delivered. For one, the development offers excellent public transport connectivity by way of its accessibility for its tenants with access to major roads and highways just a stone’s throw away. 

Throughout its development, globally recognised new technologies and modern practices were applied contributing to faster completion of the building, and while this elegant and grand structure was being built with some of the most advanced and innovative strategies that adhered to the highest standards of construction safety and security. All parties involved made sure that technologies and practices were shared amongst all counterparts, ensuring high productivity. 

One of the noteworthy and amazing architecture details of Exchange 106 is the imported marble floors and walls of the highest quality in the lobby and common areas coupled with the high ceilings finished in an English Burlwood veneer. This breathtaking finishing alone gives this evolutionary building its royal grandeur and appeal; almost a reminiscing the “Pak Luk Kan” mansions that were once the epitome of old and luxurious Kuala Lumpur.

Aside from that, for those who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, this building is designed with sustainable technology that is acknowledged under the Green Building Index (GBI). It’s sustainable boast the latest in-building technology including high performance insulated glass, energy-efficient MEP systems, 100 per cent LED lighting and state-of-the-art lift technology; plus the adoption of landscaped greenery and effective recycling management. These unique characteristics alone make Exchange 106 an architectural gem that will inspire and become the benchmark for future tall structures in the country and region.

“Exchange 106, it is truly amazing for the development of this paradigmatic structure located in Jalan Imbi that pays homage to the “106 Bungalows, “says Mulia’s Chief Executive Director, Dato’ W H Lai. For him, the area brings back fond memories of childhood days of visits to that area referred to as Pak Luk Kan. Now the ‘Pak Luk Kan’ charm is revitalized with a new iconic image and updated to ‘Pak Luk Lau’.  “In time to come, I believe Exchange 106 will be as fondly nicknamed as Pak Luk Lau, as popularized by the Pak Luk Kan of yesteryears. For its tenants, Exchange 106 is not only where It’s a place to be able to showcase their stature and success; it is also an opportunity to be part of the heritage modernized area that once was known as KL’s “Pak Luk Kan” explains Dato Lai.

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