CREATIVE IMPULSE: We talk to Nafisah Radin, Principal of NR Architect and NR Interior Design for her views on the influence of traditional Malay culture on architecture Nafisah Radin has definitely affected Malaysians from all walks of life with her work.
The famed architect of the award-winning Energy Commission Corporate Office “Diamond Building” is well-known in the industry as a versatile architect and designer capable of bringing her midas touch to any kind of projects — residential, commercial, offices, and many others.
Although she has been involved in projects worth over RM1.5 billion in her illustrious career, money isn’t her main motivation. “You must not be in architecture for the money, or you will be very disappointed!” says the gregarious
Nafisah. “To be a successful architect, one must be extremely passionate about architecture. It’s not just about individual gratification either. Teamwork is important. The primary objective is to meet the clients’ needs. Beyond that, we also have to think of the bigger picture — what we contribute to the country.”
Asked if there is such a thing as a national identity in local architecture, Nafisah says that we are still looking for one. “Malaysia is still a relatively young country which is multiracial, multi cultural and multireligion. There are various strands of ethnic elements in property — Malay, Chinese, Indian and others. We don‘t have too many historical buildings of our own singular origin to identify with. We may need to look beyond this to come up with a unique Malaysian identity,” says Nafisah.
“Currently, as the world gets ‘borderless’ and technology is a common currency, architecture may eventually become interchangeable. Perhaps we should be looking at a global or international form of architecture that will define common solutions and architecture designs,” adds Nafisah. “Not all projects offer us the opportunity to do that. Sometimes, we are lucky to have projects where clients wish to create an identity to accompany the architectural design.”
Nafisah cites her recent project at Jabatan Audit Negara in Negeri Sembilan as an example where the client specifically requested for a distinct, local Malay aesthetic and flavour. Nafisah incorporated Minangkabau roof, some Islamic-style facade and other elements of Malay motifs.
The building which was completed early last year has fast become a popular landmark in Seremban. “Even though it’s an office building, it looks like a palace. Every client wants their own identity. As an architect, I try to understand and conceptualise their aspirations, strategy and vision. Taste and design is very subjective, after all. If the clients prefer modern designs, we have to comply,” says Nafisah. Nafisah also adds that everything should be done within context.
“You can’t generalise everything. There is a place for both modern and traditional buildings. For example in tourism, most foreigners are more interested in heritage and traditional structures, something with historical elements. They might not want to see high-rises and modern buildings because they have plenty of those in their own countries,” explains Nafisah.
“In chalets and resorts, it is always nice to adopt some kampung or traditional architecture. These are the kind of designs that will attract tourists who will pay a premium for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the other hand, it would really look awkward if we try to impose a traditional Malay design without relevance or context. Imagine putting a Minangkabau roof on KLCC!” Nafisah quips.
In addition to Jabatan Audit Negara, Nafisah cites other projects such as PLUS Highway’s Seremban and Pagoh’s Rest & Recuperation (R&R) areas and a bungalow in Petaling Jaya with a tropical vernacular pitch roof as other examples that have a traditional Malay look and feel creatively implemented into their designs.