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Project Profile

 

2008 Award of Excellence

Stadium Merdeka

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Project TitleStadium Merdeka

LocationKuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Size40,387 square metres

CostUS$ 1,625

Responsible PartyAhmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid, Laurence Loh, Ibrahim bin Awang, Tun Mutalib bin Tun Hassan, Elizabeth Cardosa, Permodalan Nasional Berhad, PNB Merdeka Ventures Sdn Bhd, The Merdeka Heritage Trust, Badan Warisan Malaysia

Heritage ArchitectArkitek LLA, Badan Warisan Heritage Services, Nordin Kidam & Hadi, Jurutera Budiman and Design Cost Consultants

ContractorKoridor Padu

Date of CompletionAugust 2007


Context

The Stadium of Independence, or Stadium Merdeka as it is more commonly known, has special significance as the site of the formal declaration of independence of the Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957. Purpose-built for the independence declaration event, the stadium embodies a singular moment in Malaysian history; when Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of the Federation of Malaya, shouted “merdeka” (independence) seven times from the middle of the field.

Designed by architect Stanley E Jewkes, Stadium Merdeka is a Modernist landmark. The stadium served as the principal venue in Kuala Lumpur for celebrations and sporting events until 1993 when a new stadium, meeting more contemporary expectations, was built. During the 1990s, the owner allowed Stadium Merdeka to fall into a poor state of repair, leaving many with the impression that the stadium was unworthy of protection. Before the site deteriorated completely, however, several individuals, working in cooperation with the Malaysian government, stepped in to save the building.

The restoration of Stadium Merdeka in 2007 coincided with the 50th anniversary of Malaysia’s declaration of independence. Since its restoration and refurbishment, the stadium has reclaimed its status as a symbol of Malaysia’s independent and multicultural society, promoting cultural integration through sports, recreation, education and nationhood. Substantial work on the building and its grounds since that time have further enhanced the stadium and brought it more fully into the twenty-first century.

Building History

Stadium Merdeka is an excellent example of the Modern era in architecture. Following precedents in Europe and in North and South America, the building’s vocabulary provided a freshimage for the new nation of Malaya. Architect Stanley E. Jewkes was a staunch advocate of the ideas of Swiss architect Charles Edouard Jeanerette, best known as Le Corbusier, creating a building bereft of traditional architectural symbolism and celebrating the new technology of reinforced concrete (ferroconcrete). With its deeply cantilevered balconies and dramatic curving roofline, the stadium also reflected the visionary buildings of Erich Mendelsohn and Bruno Taut, both of whom understood the plastic qualities inherent in the new industrial materials and introduced these on a heroic scale. At the time the stadium was constructed, the cantilevered concrete shell roof, one of the most significant features of the building, was the largest, dual-direction cantilevered structure in Southeast Asia.

In the years after its completion, the stadium gradually succumbed to often ill-advised efforts at modernization. The seating capacity of the stadium was increased in early 1986 with the addition of upper tiers rising into the airspace on the north, east and south terraces. Further changes were made for the 1989 XV SEA Games, when the grandstand was changed and the game’s torch platform was built, were involved a set of grand steps leading up to the torch. The stadium’s owners, trying to stay up with the times, enclosed sections of seating, replaced the original seats with plastic seats and metal fittings and slowly removed many of the original finishes and details of the old stadium. Lobby and concession areas were also modified as vendors gradually added new layers of decoration and advertising. Changes to the lighting fixtures were equally ad hoc.

By the late 1990s, falling increasingly into disrepair and facing competition from other stadium venues, Stadium Merdeka’s future became less tenable. What had once been the pride of the nation and a vibrant sporting arena, had become a forgotten and deserted place. The economic crisis of 1997 compounded the issues affecting the stadium’s viability as the then owners could not service the venue’s bank loans. The stadium and its land were slated for eventually put up for auction in 2000

Some in the community saw the stadium’s potential and recognized its special heritage value. Forming a government-led equity trust company chaired by the President of Badan Warisan Malaysia (BWM), which functions as the national heritage trust, the stadium’s supporters initiated an ambitious effort to save the structure. In 2000, the Chairman of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), Tan Sri Ahmad Sarji, brokered the purchase of the site with the specific aim of saving the stadium from destruction. As plans emerged for its renovation, PNB continued to operate the venue, hosting concerts and other large-scale events.

Project History

The vision of the project, as conceived by BWM, was to recover the nation’s collective memory of 1957 and to rekindle the soul of the country through the articulation of the structure’s heritage values. To do this the conservation project planners relied on the guiding concept of recapturing the “spirit of place”. The project planners determined that the main significance of the place was tied to the events of the morning of 31 August 1957. The conservation team thereby decided that the stadium should be restored to this period, with all later additions removed. 

The project began with the development of an Area Conservation Plan in 2004. One of the first steps to emerge from this plan was the gazetting of the stadium as a national monument. In 2004, the PNB applied to the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism to have the property gazetted as a national monument under the Antiquities Act 1976. The ministry formally granted this recognition on 17 October 2005. With its status verified, plans could then go ahead for a combined conservation and rehabilitation process, one that recognized the special qualities of modern architecture and also conveyed something of the historic importance of the site. The project managers subsequently selected a conservation team, the first task of which was an in-depth condition investigation survey, including a detailed documentation of the stadium. This included taking photographs and preparing measured drawings. The survey also identified problem areas and established baselines for future work.

This was followed by the drafting of an over-arching conservation policy statement, which set out the programme for intervention. Following which, the team prepared a comprehensive set of building conservation drawings and specifications. This was completed in mid-2006 and the project team released a call for bids in late 2006. A contract was awarded to a building contractor at the end of the year. Actual construction began in the early part of 2007 and was complete by April.

Project Scope and Framework

The Area Conservation Plan prepared by the BWM on behalf of the owner, PNB, clearly set out the cultural significance of the site. Based on the results of the conservation investigation survey, and research conducted as part of the conservation plan, the project embodied several key principles. These included:

• Respect for the original form of 1957

• Special attention to the entry area

• Identification of a comprehensive colour palette

• Adherence to the principles of tropical design

• Respect for the cantilevered shell roof

• Recreation and retention of precast concrete terraces

• Special consideration for the original seating pattern and materials

• Attention to the “borrowed landscape” (the original site of the stadium)

A significant part of the project was the demolition of the concrete upper tiers that had been added in 1973. The project also required reprogramming some of the spaces at the ground floor level and the redesign of concession areas and circulation. The project also included installing “VIP rooms” and new lavatory facilities to meet user expectations and modern code requirements.

Particular emphasis was placed on the interpretation of the site for visitors. To highlight the special historic character of the site, the BWM conceived an exhibition space housed in the grandstand lobby to showcase an exhibit titled “The Road to Nationhood”. This exhibit describes both the stadium and its place in Malaysian history and includes photographs and displays to explain the stadium’s significance as a cultural site.

Conservation Methodology and Materials

The conservation plan aimed to restore the stadium to its original form of 1957 and embraced the concept of authenticity, placing emphasis on original design and materials and on recapturing elements that had been lost to view. The plan also emphasized protective measures for existing features, especially during the demolition phase and during construction, and put emphasis on the concept of reversibility. In addition, the conservation plan paid careful attention to detail and accentuated quality over speed in the restoration and rehabilitation process.

“Maximum retention” was a governing dictum. The project designers emphasized that deteriorated original fabric was not to be discarded but instead should be treated with respect and care. Repair was a hallmark, whereby existing features were assessed and individual treatments determined in accordance with accepted practice. This meant that concrete surfaces were cleaned, and exposed reinforcing bars were treated and patched with concrete. New coatings were acceptable as long as they did not detract from the historic character of the site and did not compromise the original design or existing fabric.

The conservation work attempted to reinstate the original profile of the building. The stadium had been designed to nestle in the landscape, with the excavation of the site and exploitation of natural contours resulting in a structure with a notably low profile. The addition of upper tiers in 1973 had interrupted this original concept and resulted in unsightly protuberances along the upper sections of the stadium. The removal of these upper tiers thus meant a reversal to the original design. This step also removed added weight that had caused structural problems and was threatening further damage to the stadium’s key structural components. Other unsympathetic additions and alterations which were removed included ad hoc partitioning on ground and first floors of the grandstand and free-standing enclosures on the top of the lower tier. In addition, the electric score board was relocated to its original site on the east side of the stadium to free the skyline on the north end.

The project also sought to restore the building’s climatic features, an important aspect of Modern-era design in Southeast Asia. The stadium’s architect had designed the grandstand to be appropriate for the tropical conditions of Kuala Lumpur through installing a ventilating breezeway along the top of the tiers as well as open seating. In succeeding years, the spaces between the vaulted volumes of the concrete shell roof on the first floor had been enclosed with vertical partitions to provide enclosed air-conditioned spaces. To reinstate the natural ventilation, the project called for the removal of these additions.

The stadium’s seating presented a particular problem. In the original design all the terraces featured wood strip seating constructed out of chengal, a tropical hardwood that is today very scarce. This seating had been removed and replaced with plastic bucket seats, a style popular in the 1970s. The project team reinstated the original seating plan, drawing upon the historic plans and remaining physical evidence, but specified moulded PVC as an appropriate substitute for wood, as it matched the visual qualities of the original seating but required less maintenance.

The conservation project also reinstated the original colour scheme. Paint scrapings and colour analysis revealed that the metal awning at first floor level had originally been painted with stripes of red, black and white, and had at some point been painted over in blue. The contractor examined the archives of Malaysian paint companies and applied several tests to find acceptable colour matches, both for the awning and concrete tiers and for the visible supporting structure. The final result was a near perfect approximation of the original colours. To achieve a greater sense of authenticity, the conservation team elected to brush the paint onto the concrete surfaces rather than spray it on.

The selection of building elements and features such as tiles, pipe-fittings, lighting and floor finishes was also based on historic precedent. When details of the original were unavailable, the architects chose materials reflective of the aesthetic tastes of the 1950s. Whenever possible, they sourced replacement features from the original manufacturers.

Important Issues

The greatest challenge faced by the project’s designers was to ensure that all the stakeholders, consultants and contractors clearly understood that this was a conservation project and not simply a demolition and upgrade project. This meant that that all parties involved had to fully appreciate the special implications of this choice and make decisions accordingly. Very clear rules, procedures and systems were part of the project from its outset. Stringent fines were incorporated into the contract to ensure compliance by the contractor and to prevent the destruction of significant historic fabric.

The contractor was familiar with the building technology employed in the construction of the stadium and was able to apply his knowledge to the project. Regarding the special procedures, although mistakes were made early on in the project, the contractor gradually came to appreciate the conservation process and its distinct requirements.

The only major new additions to the stadium were the creation of the VIP rooms and provision of modern restroom facilities. Toilet fittings were selected to blend with the conservation team’s choice of mosaic tiles for the floor and walls. An observer can easily conclude that these spaces were not created in 1957, but sufficient references to mid-twentieth-century design ideals were provided to connect the new additions to the spirit and time of the original stadium.

Project Sustainability and Viability 

Throughout the effort to recapture the feeling and materials of the past, the BWM never took its eye off the need to ensure the stadium’s financial and social sustainability. The rescue of the stadium, a significant national heritage site, gave particular significance to the project and helped imbue it with a special sense of value. This emotional and historic connection will undoubtedly have an important impact on future fundraising.

Now managed by a special entity called the Merdeka Heritage Trust, the stadium’s managers intend to capitalize on the inherent value of the site as a sports and events area. The stadium’s present stewards are confident that the government‘s heritage, education, sports and tourism agencies will continue to contribute funds, including special appropriations. The trust also envisions support through individual and corporate donations, rental for private events and entry fees for visitors interested in the site’s interpretative tours. More important, however, will be the funds derived from ticket sales, as the stadium today once again serves as a significant venue for sports and special events.

Project Impact

The combined conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of Stadium Merdeka has provided a fresh source of inspiration for the people of Malaysia, including local residents, politicians, corporate leaders and educators, and has had far-reaching impacts on the local community. The popularity of the stadium as a community and sports venue has contributed to increasing the economic and social vibrancy of the surrounding area, and several sports bodies have located themselves in the neighbourhood for this reason. The stadium is notably devoid of any religious connotations and in this way welcomes people of all backgrounds and helps to reinforce the ideals of the Malaysian people.

The Merdeka Heritage Trust is aware of its responsibility for preserving the site and making it accessible to Malaysia’s people. The conservation process was carefully tracked and updates on the work were shared regularly with the public. A short film titled “Restoring Merdeka” was successful in raising awareness and understanding of the value of this heritage building as an important issue.

The Stadium Merdeka project speaks also to ideals etched in the collective memory of Malaysia. The continued existence of the stadium helps ensure that this continuum remains intact, in form and substance, as the nation’s future generations come to experience it.

Quote from the Project Team

“This is the first modern building of the new nation of Malaya, and stands as a testimony to our nationhood. The restoration of the Stadium Merdeka has reinstated its status as a symbol of Malaysia’s multi-cultural society promoting cultural integration through sports, recreation, education and nationhood.”