Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya Negotiating Urban Space in Malaysia by Ross King (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. 321 pages.)

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Timothy P. Daniels

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Abstract

Ross King’s Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya: Negotiating Urban Space in
Malaysia provides a provocative interpretation of urban landscapes in
Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, a recently built government administrative
center. He attempts to explicate meanings of the built urban environment as
well as its history, ideology, and contemporary possibilities.
Consisting of a preface, five chapters, and an afterword, the book is
highly illustrated with pictures, sketches, maps, and architectural plans. In
the preface, King introduces the dilemma of Malaysian nationalism, imagining
a multicultural nation with a politically dominant Malay Muslim
majority, through the specter of the fiftieth anniversary of independence.
He informs us that its two venues – Kuala Lumpur’s jumbled, multi-community
spaces and Putrajaya’s purely Malay pan-Islamic spaces – indicates
an ambivalent identity: Kuala Lumpur, “historically a Chinese town … is
today the capital of a nation that privileges the Malays” (p. xxiii). He immediately
moves to selectively deconstruct Malay identity, stating that it is “in
the main a construction of the colonial era” during which people of diverse
origins from insular Southeast Asia migrated to the Peninsula (ibid). This
oft-repeated assertion, which is a hotly contested topic in Malaysian discourse,
indicates a slant toward the widespread Chinese Malaysian perspective
that Malays are not the country’s true “natives.” King also states that
his focus will be to “read” the messages of architecture in terms of things
observed, imagined, forgotten, and potentially reconciled along with some
historical background ...

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