Nine years ago, Melbourne-based architecture studio Fender Katsalidis Architects was approached by Malaysia’s biggest asset management company, PNB Merdeka Ventures to design a mixed-use tower in central Kuala Lumpur.

At over 600 metres high, Merdeka PNB 118 will be one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world on completion. Featuring an elegant design, the development will house purpose-built offices, a 6-star hotel, a dual-level observation deck, and a massive retail mall among others. The mega tower will be flanked by smaller residential towers and the glass-domed retail podium on the ground floor. 

Currently under construction, the building has reached its halfway point and is already far taller than any building in Australia. 

Located in a neighbourhood with great historical significance, Merdeka 118 is sited adjacent to the Merdeka Stadium, from where Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. Merdeka means ‘independent’ in the Malay language and Merdeka 118 will be the centrepiece of the city, which already boasts of the 452-metre Petronas Twin Towers and the 421-metre Kuala Lumpur Tower.

The new precinct is expected to bring in further development to the area in terms of new infrastructure such as roads and railways.

The RM5 billion development is being built on 19 acres of land in three phases with the first phase consisting of the 118-storey tower and shopping mall expected to be completed by 2021. 

Fender Katsalidis describes the building’s faceted design as “an expression of its structural pathways, resulting in a pattern of triangular shapes reminiscent of those found in traditional Malaysian arts and crafts”. This exterior design language continues into the soaring atrium volumes of the dramatic podium interior. The faceted facade serves a practical function too as it will help to break down wind pressures on the tall building.

"Our responsibility rested in the social challenge of respecting the site and Malaysian custom, not simply introducing a huge, overpowering building," says Karl Fender, a founding partner of the firm.

"The immediate area is also extremely congested and the design team needed to harness the opportunities offered by this new building complex's infrastructure to help remediate pedestrian and traffic problems, not create more."

Fender Katsalidis is working with local architect RSP Architects, and landscape architect Sasaki Associates Construction on the project, which commenced in 2015.

Images: Fender Katsalidis Architects