The capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is situated inland at the junction of the Klang River and the Gombak River, a site that lends its name Kuala (river-mouth) and Lumpur (muddy estuary). This city, relatively new to the Malay Peninsula, was initially settled as a port for the nearby Ampang tin mines. The area has been inhabited at least since the 1850s by Chinese and Sumatran Malays, who each had their own kampong or village. These settlements were comprised of densely clustered, small houses roofed with atap (palm thatch). The cemetery that served these two communities was located on the site of today's Masjid al-Jami, which stands on the promontory at the confluence of the two rivers. Though there were mosques, temples, churches and schools to serve these communities, they were destroyed with the arrival of the British.
In 1880 the face of the settlement was drastically altered, when the British decided to move their capital of the Federated Malay States inland from Klang and rebuilt the city of Kuala Lumpur. A European quarter was established on the west bank of the river, where government offices and British bungalows were erected. The kampongs of the east bank were replaced by brick buildings sporting tile roofs, of a standardized shop-house design. Plots were regulated with wider streets between them and "sanitary lanes" behind them. The streets and roads were surfaced with locally found laterite gravel. Due to sanitation concerns, trades thought to produce pollutants were relocated away from the city center. By 1887 there were said to be 518 brick houses in Kuala Lumpur.
Addressing British concerns of urban sanitation and fire-safety, the Sanitary Board, also known as the town council, was established to regulate the city in the 1890s. Its responsibilities included the maintenance of roads, the provision of drainage and sewage disposal, the regulation of construction, the erection of signage, the maintenance of kerosene street lighting (until the introduction of electricity in 1906), the administration of the markets, and enforcing the compulsory cleaning and white washing of houses. In 1896, the city received its first piped water from the Ampang reservoir.
For the first two decades of their occupation, the British engaged their unique "Raj" architectural style, which they brought from India, in the construction of noteworthy buildings in Kuala Lumpur. This style was based on a large scale, with loosely interpreted combinations of Gothic architecture's accentuated verticality and arches and Moghul Indian architecture's use of axial symmetry, prominent minarets, copper-clad onion shaped domes and numerous sub-domes, and dentiform archways, also with Moorish influences of alternating materials in bands. The imposing result built in combinations of brick, concrete, plaster and marble imperially overshadowed local timber architecture. Though quite unlike the pre-extant Malay architecture it was thought by the British to be culturally appropriate to an Islamic country.
By the turn of the century, the export of tin and rubber had become giant British endeavors. Kuala Lumpur became flooded with a new demographic as Tamils from India were brought over both to oversee trade and administration and as laborers. Also, the city became more accessible to the hinterland with railway access originally created for the transport of raw materials. By 1939, the town covering eleven square miles had grown to a population of about 50,000 people and would grow to an estimated 176,000 by 1947. The British town plan drawn up in 1939 to control this development, was never fully implemented. In January 1942, Japanese military forces occupied Kuala Lumpur. The British temporarily reclaimed the city in 1946 and reconstituted the Sanitary Board to rehabilitate the city. Two years later the Sanitary Board was replaced with a more cohesive municipal institution. On August 31st, 1957, the Federation of Malaya was granted independence from the British. Since 1957, Kuala Lumpur has remained the Federal Capital where every August 31st, Malaysian independence is celebrated at Dataran Merdeka (Freedom Square) in front of a colonial remnant, the Royal Selangor Club.
Today, mosques, churches and Chinese and Indian temples grace the city in conjunction with skyscrapers and recent mega projects. In the 1990s, Kuala Lumpur underwent multiple mega projects as part of the Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) aiming to transform the country into a technological world leader. The MSC fills a 50 km long and 15 km wide area, which stretches southward from the city center to the airport. This corridor incorporates the tallest building in the world, the 451 meter Petronas Twin Towers, as well as the Ampang Tower, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the Esso Tower, the Kuala Lumpur Tower (or Menara KL) and the Telekom Tower. Other large-scale projects undertaken in the last decade of the twentieth-century include the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque in Shah Alam, the Shah Alam Stadium, the Bank Negara Disaster Recovery Center, the Government precinct in Putrajaya, the Multimedia University in Cyberjaya, and the KL International Airport. Experts of Feng Shui, which holds large popular appeal in Malaysia, believe that KL is well balanced between the five elements: earth and metal elements are represented in high-rise buildings and roads, flora elements are represented by the landscaping of trees and plants, water elements are represented by artificial waterfalls and fountains and the fire elements are represented by brightly lit streets.
Guide to Kuala Lumpur Notable Buildings. 1976. Kuala Lampur: Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia, (Malaysian Institute of Architects), 8 -14.
Chen Voon Fee, ed.1998. The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, Volume 5: Architecture. Archipelago Press, 74 -75, 48, 130-131, 110-111.