A History of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building in 60 Seconds

Photo of Sarah Anne Lee
22 June 2017

With over a century of history, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building has been a part of Kuala Lumpur since the city was just a miner and trader settlement. Today, it is one of the capital city’s most treasured heritage buildings.

The building was commissioned by the British administration in an effort to centralize administrative offices. It was constructed on top of vegetable farmland bought by the government. The construction of the mega project commenced on the 6th of October 1894, and was completed in 1897.

The ultimate design was a reworking of a preliminary design by A. C. Norman, whose original vision was deemed too Classic Renaissance by head engineer C. E. Spooner. Young architect R. A. J. Bidwell and newly appointed senior draughtsman A. B. Hubback redesigned the plan to incorporate more Moorish features, creating the final, visually stunning Neo-Mughal building that stands today.

The red bricks, white arches and banding popularized the ‘blood and bandages’ style. The use of various types of arch helped ventilate the large building in humid tropical weather. Three towers line its outer straight wall: two circle staircase towers at each end, and a 41 m (135 ft) tall clock tower in the middle, with a bell replicating London’s Big Ben.

Four million bricks, 50 tons of steel and iron, and 3,000 cubic feet of timber went into creating the two-storey, F-shaped building, which had to be reinforced in certain areas due to having been built on a river bank. At its grand opening ceremony ball, the building was the first in the city to be illuminated by electricity and exterior gas lights. This elaborate act is echoed in the contemporary practice of illuminating the building with L.E.D lighting.

Topped with copper-clad onion domes, the building was the first of many similarly designed public buildings throughout British India. The Islamic aesthetics suited the Malay State Government offices. The previously titled Government offices were renamed after the reigning Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Abdul Samad.

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