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1.0 History and Background

Photo: The KL – Selangor Chinese Hall after Refurbishment in 2010
Picture taken by Zamri Salleh (USM)

Situated at the far corner along Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin (it was previously Victory Avenue) and Jalan Perdana in Kuala Lumpur, the Malayan Railway Administration Office, also known as Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Berhad), KTMB was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a colonial-government architect who was at that time the Architectural Assistant to the Director of Public Works.

The Malayan Railway Administration Office building was formerly known as the FMS Railway Head Administration Office. The initial planning started in 1913 and construction began at 1914.

However, due to the impact from World War I and sluggish economy, construction progress was rather sluggish and the building was only completed in November 1917 after the First World War ended. It was handled and planned by C.E Spooner, the Director of PWD and also General Manager of F. M. S Railway from 1901- 1909 with the help of Ang Sing, a local contractor. The total sum of construction was RM780, 422.

The Malayan Railway Administration Office building is the final government building to be built under the “Monumental Buildings Programme”. The programme started with the construction of Sultan Abdul Samad building and ended with Malayan Railway building namely around 1895 to 1917.

During the Second World War in 1945, this building was the train administrative centre at that time which escaped the bombing in 1945 during World War II. This building is located opposite the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station building, separated by Jalan Hishamuddin.

Initially, this building is used as FMS Railway Head Administration Office. Later in 1946, it was known as “Malayan Railway Administration Headquarters”, and in 1985 it is fully-utilized as KTM Berhad’s head office.

2.0 The Structured

A.B. Hubback incorporated classical elements in this building design and it features articulated Islamic architectural elements such as Moorish as well as domes on top of each building that can be found in mosques. The structural design of this building creates a notable impression of Islamic architecture. Through its structure, the history of transportation management and train administration can be unveiled. The Malayan Railway Administration Office building structure is dominated with curves and towers and it adds to the beauty of the surrounding buildings in Kuala Lumpur. This building is an example of Moorish Revival architecture which reflects highly of the Ottoman and Mughal Empire during late 13th and early 14th centuries with influence from Greek and Gothe architecture in the 14th century.

The five domes with embellish columns located on each sides of the four corners reflects Greek aesthetic splendor in the 14th century. This historic building has suffered two major destructions. The first damage was on the northern section after the bombing during World War II whereas the second time was a fire damage on 14th of November 1968, at the second floor of the same section.

The lower ground of the Malayan Railway Administration Office building is adorned with 97 large Gothe arches and 4 small arches. Offices such as human resource, IT, money collection and security counter are all located on the ground floor. The external section of building are made from prefabricated concrete block including a semicircular Gothic arch, by an array of prefabricated etched pillars.

First floor holds 94 large Gothic shaped windows, 4 large round arches and 4 small round arches.

The Signaling, Chairman and Treasurer's offices are situated at the first floor while other office departments such as Internal Finance, Public Relation and Documentation and Exhibition are located at the second floor. Structurally, the second floor consists of 171 Gothic arches, 4 large arches and 12 small arches.

3. Architecture Style

The KTMB’s Head Office’ architecture style is brought to Tanah Melayu by C.E Spooner, State Engineers, Selangor Residence at 1889 under reign of Sir William Maxwell. C.E Spooner has been brought to Tanah Melayu from Ceylon, India to supervise the development at Selangor. Sultan Abdul Samad’s building is the first building built under C.E Spooner supervision. Therefore, KTMB’s Head Office had the same architecture style.

KTMB head office has influence with Moorish architecture as one of the main aesthetical criteria in conjunction with ‘Massive Building Program’ under the reign of Sir William Maxwell at Selangor. Moorish architecture is a design term used to describe the articulated Islamic architecture, as Tanah Melayu is the Muslim country.

The architectural style was exported to British Malaya (present day Peninsular Malaysia) via British engineers and architects influenced by Indo-Saracenic stylings in British India. During the design of a new town hall for Kuala Lumpur in the late 19th century, C. E. Spooner, then State Engineer of the Public Works Department, favoured a "Mahometan style" over a neoclassical one to reflect Islamic mores in the region, instructing architect Arthur Bennison Hubback, who was further assisted by R. A. J. Bidwell, to redesign the building.

This hybrid stylistic architecture had a same similarity with Islamic architecture form India. ‘Indo Saracenic’ style is refer to the Moorish Architecture, as well as a combination of the Gothic Architecture and Roman Architecture. These combinations become a complement to the design of the KTMB’s Head Office.

By doing this they kept elements of British and European architecture, while adding Indian characteristics. The British tried to encapsulate South Asia's past within their own buildings and so represent Britain’s Raj as legitimate, while at the same time constructing a modern network of railways, colleges, and law courts.

4. Symbol and Object

1. Column

Type: Doric order

No. Material: Pre - fabricated composite. It was design to speed the construction.

Location: Along the first and second floor corridors.

Description: The columns are the idea adopted from the Moorish architecture style. It is largely influenced by the Roman architecture. Doric order has been applied to columns design. The picture below showed a series of columns at second floor. The column been designed with the geometric decorated capital to support the arches.

There are a few series of columns were arrange along the corridor of KTMB’s head office. It is arrange according to the floor. At ground floor there are big massive pilasters. Triple columns series and two columns with pilaster series was arrange side by side at first floor. Then at second floor the double column series and single column series were arrange side by side. The columns and the arches has been arrange through a good hierarchy, from the ground floor to the upper floor. The bigger column and arches has been place at ground floor and it getting smaller to the upper floor. The architect (A.B. Hubback) made a good visual impact. Visually the building looks aesthetically firm and critically designed by the architect.

Picture above shown the design that been applied on the KTMB head office (left) and The Alhambra, Spain (Moorish). The Alhambra is a Moorish palace and fortress complex constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus.

Both building used the same arches design, column; capital and based, and the column shape. The right picture shown, the KTMB head office column capital which is slightly same design built at The Alhambra. To built the British and the Europe at Tanah Melayu, the architect need to use some decorative elements from their architecture style. The choosen Moorish architecture as their building identity is to reflect Muslim community at Tanah Melayu.

2. Arches


  1. Circular arches:
  2. Pointed arches ( Ogive/Acute Arches):
  3. Corbel arch

No Material: Hard stone or brick block with the plaster on the interior side.

Location: Along the building corridors.

Description: In geometry, an arc is a closed segment of a differentiable curve in the two-dimensional plane. It is a circular shape or semicircular shape structure built from many types of materials. Arches have been used since the early civilization. The used of the arches have change according to the design, time, needs and the civilization.

The architect, A.B. Hubback used onion shape Moorish arches to articulate the advance of technology, the British’s ideology and their region to Tanah Melayu. In conjunction with “Massive Building Program’, he design the KTMB’s head office with supervision of C.E Spooner to create a Moorish Architecture building. Designing Moorish building, A.B Hubback used arches structure at most of the building façade. The repetition of arches along the corridor made a building esthetically beauty and harmony, while providing shades and access from room to room.

There are three types of arches at KTMB Head Office:

(a) Circular arches
(b) Acute-pointed arches (Ogive arches)
(c) Corbel arch

(a) Circular arches: The semi circular arches at the KTMB Head Office first floor have been design like the cross section of an onion. The onion shape circular arches are very synonym with the Moorish architecture. The picture (left wing) below shows the circular arches at first floor. Circular arc is a segment of the circumference of a circle. If the arc segment occupies a great circle (or great ellipse), it is considered a great-arc segment.

(b) Acute-pointed arches (Ogive Arches): There were two series of pointed arches. At ground floor there were 101 arches are single pointed arches and 77 pairs at the second floor. The bigger arches at the ground floor made the building visually looks stable and strong.

According to The Dictionary of the Building Preservation (edited by William Ward Bucher), 1996, acute-pointed arch is a two centered arches with centre of the spring line outside of the intrados creating a sharply pointed arch. It is commonly used during the Gothic Revival.

In Gothic architecture, ogives are the intersecting transverse ribs of arches that establish the surface of a Gothic vault. An ogive or ogival arch is a pointed, "Gothic" arch, drawn with compasses as outlined above, or with arcs of an ellipse as described. A very narrow, steeply pointed ogive arch (like the one in the construction above) is sometimes called a "lancet arch."

The ogive arches in the evolution arches design from the start of Roman architecture, which is the evolution and innovation from the semi-circular arches and circular arches. The ogive arches gave a better flexibility to the height of the arches design, the building height and the engineering itself. The ogive shape arches also giving more depth to the arches compare to the circular arches. The flexibility of the ogive aches gave a big impact to the design and engineering during the Gothic era. There were many higher building and new building was built in that era.

(c) Corbel arch: Corbel arch is a false arch constructed by corbelling courses from each side of an opening until they meet at the mid-point, a capstosne is laid on top to complete it(Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture, second edition 2002, Ernest Burden). In the other words, corbel arch (or corbelled arch) is an arch-like construction method which uses the architectural technique of corbellings to span a space or void in a structure, such as an entranceway in a wall or as the span of a bridge. A corbel vault. uses this technique to support the superstructure of a building's roof.

Although an improvement in load-bearing efficiency over the post and lintel design, corbelled arches are not entirely self-supporting structures, and it is sometimes termed a "false arch" for this reason. Unlike "true" arches, not all of the structure's tensile stresses caused by the weight of the superstructure are transformed into compressive stresses. Corbel arches and vaults require significantly thickened walls and an abutment of other stone or fill to counteract the effects of gravity, which otherwise would tend to collapse each side of the archway inwards.

The measured drawing above show
the location of two corbel arches at
the main entrance porch.

Corbel arch is constructed by offsetting successive courses of stone at the spring line of the walls so that they project towards the archway's center from each supporting side, until the courses meet at the apex of the archway (often capped with flat stones). For a corbelled vault covering the technique is extended in dimensions along the lengths of two opposing walls.

The diagram above showed the monolithic construction of the corbel arches at colonnades (porch). It is the arrangement of the big bricks or stones. Every piece of the bricks carried the load from the lintel to the foundation at the same time.

The architect, A.B. Hubback used different type of arches at entrance porch to create the design variety at the façade of the KTMB’s head office. At the same time to portray the art of British architectures, the skill of their architect and the labors. If we look at it closely to the porch it is not only providing a fine façade, the arches also use to provide the lighting at the porch, balance the middle arches and to avoid an empty massive wall at the porch.


3. Cupolas Type: Moorish Cupola

No: 1 unit
Material: Reinforced concrete

Location: On top of the centre dome. Front elevation No scale
Description: In architecture, a cupola is a small, most-often dome-like structure, on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome.

The word derives, via Italian, from the lower Latin cupula (classical Latin cupella from the Greek kypellon) small cup (lat. cupa) indicating a vault resembling an upside down cup. Cupolas often appear as small buildings in their own right.

They often serve as a belfry, lantern, or belvedere above a main roof. In other cases they may crown a tower, spire, or turret. The chhatri, seen in Indian architecture, fits the definition of a cupola when it is used atop a larger structure.

4. Turrets

Type: Moorish Turret
No: 4 units
Material: Reinforced concrete
Location: 2 unit on top of the entrance colonnade, 2 unit at second floor.
Description: Turret (from Italian: torretta, little tower; Latin: turris, tower) is a small tower that projects vertically from the wall of a building such as a medieval castle. Turrets were used to provide a projecting defensive position allowing covering fire to the adjacent wall in the days of military fortification. As their military use faded, turrets were adopted for decorative purposes, as in the British Raj style.

A turret can have a circular top with crenellations(also known as battlement) as in the picture at right, a pointed roof, or other kind of apex. The crenellation is normally use for military architecture at Europe but at KTMB’s the architect using the turret as decorative structure to the building. In the other ways, it might contain a staircase if it projects higher than the building. However, a turret is not necessarily higher than the rest of the building. As applied to the KTMB’ Head office, it was used on top corner of the portico as decorative elements.

Turrets might be smaller or higher but the difference is generally considered to be that a turret projects from the edge of the building, rather than continuing to the ground. The size of a turret is therefore limited by technology, since it puts additional stresses on the structure of the building. It would traditionally be supported by a corbel as we see at the entrance portico.

5. Pinnacles

Type: Moorish pinnacle
No: -
Material: Pre-cast concrete
Location: On top of the turrets, cupolas and domes.

A pinnacle (from Latin pinnaculum, a little feather, pinna, compare panache) is an architectural ornament originally forming the cap or crown of a domes (Islamic/Moorish architecture), buttress or small turret. The pinnacle looks like a small spire capped every domes at KTMB head office. Pinnacle was mainly used during Gothic architecture and after that it was applied to the South Asia architecture. The usage of the pinnacle is actually have its own purposes.

The pinnacle had two purposes:

  1. Ornamental - adding to the loftiness and vertices of the structure. They sometimes ended with statues, such as in Milan Cathedral.
  2. Structural - the pinnacles were very heavy and often rectified with lead, in order to enable the domes or flying buttresses to contain the stress of the structure vaults and roof. This was done by adding compressive stress (a result of the pinnacle weight) to the thrust vector and thus shifting it downwards rather than sideway.

During British coloniallization they try to build a building as the building build at Britain. This Pinnacle was brought as element of English design to, Tanah Melayu to symbolize Tanah Melayu as their colony.

Historically, some have stated that there were no pinnacles in the Romanesque style, but conical caps to circular buttresses, with finial terminations. This style are not uncommon in France at very early periods.

In this and the following styles, and mainly in Gothic architecture, the pinnacle seems generally to have had its appropriate uses. It was a weight to counteract the thrust of the vaults, particularly where there were flying buttresses and the domes. It stopped the tendency to slip of the stone copings of the gables, and counterpoised the thrust of spires.

6. Decorative Corbel Struts

Type: Moorish style struts
Material: Pre-cast brick or carved stone 
Location: Along the roof overhang (roof drainage)


In architecture a corbel (or console) is a piece of stone jutting out of a wall to carry any superincumbent weight. A piece of timber projecting in the same way was called a "tassel" or a "bragger". The technique of corbelling, where rows of corbels deeply keyed inside a wall support a projecting wall or parapet, has been used since Neolithic times. It is commonly use in Medieval architecture and in the Scottish baronial style as well as in the Classical architectural vocabulary, such as the modillions of a Corinthian cornice and in ancient Chinese architecture.

The word "corbel" comes from Old French and derives from the Latin corbellus, a diminutive of corvus (a raven) which refers to the beak-like appearance. Similarly, the French refer to a bracket-corbel, usually a load-bearing internal feature, as corbeau (a crow). A cul-de-lampe is a kind of bracket-corbel supporting a vault. This the term is also used for a corbel with a tapering base. The usual word in modern French for a corbel in the context of Classical architecture is modillon.
As authority required the architect, A.B. Hubback to built the British at Tanah Melayu, he used these precast corbel struts to supports the cornice along the parapet wall of the building.  The right picture shows the carved corbel struts at the Alhambra, Spain. Corbel struts are not only used to support the cornice at the same to add the aesthetic value to building edges. The creativity shown by A.B. Hubback is not only portray the British but creating a new modern design at Tanah Melayu. 
These precast struts been to speed up the construction of the KTMB head office using the labors from India. The decorative geometric struts creating the style of Islamic and Moorish design values to the building.

7. Bareel Vault

Type: Moorish Barrel Vault
No: 1 unit
Material: Solid brick work (monolithic construction)
Location: Building main entrance

Ground floor plan

Description: A barrel vault, also known as a tunnel vault or a wagon vault, is an architectural element formed by the extrusion of a single curve (or pair of curves, in the case of a pointed barrel vault) along a given distance. The curves are typically circular in shape, lending a semi-cylindrical appearance to the total design. The barrel vault is the simplest form of a vault: effectively a series of arches placed side by side.

Barrel vaults are known from Ancient Egypt, and were used extensively in Roman architecture. Early barrel vault designs occur in northern Europe, Turkey, Morocco and other regions. In medieval Europe the barrel vault was an important element of stone construction in monasteries, castles, tower houses and other structures. This form of design is observed in cellars, crypts, long hallways, cloisters and even great halls.

At KTMB head office, the barrel vault been applied at central court, around the main grand staircase. This massive barrel vault is design to support the big domes and the cupola on the roof top, grand staircase, and floors. Structurally it is use to support the building structure but by providing the texture to the vault it is creating a beautiful architecture.

The picture (left) showed the interior of the domes of the Pantheon, Rome. The dome using the same decorative texture as applied on the barrel vault at the KTMB head office. This decorative texture is use to avoid a massive blank surfaces. The design is innovated during the baroque era when they using the painting to decorate those interior surfaces.