Condominiums are everywhere in KL. They bear suitably Orwellian names like Prosperity Gardens and Serenity Heights. An ad in the hotel lift proclaims one particular project (but reasonably sized at four storied townhouses) as exuding beauty. I took a liking to that phrase. Exuding beauty.
From the 8th floor balcony of one those condominiums, it’s quite clear that the city sits in a wide valley with the hillsides almost completely covered with apartment buildings, each exuding into the smog filled sky and one’s vision. When I was growing up, the big housing trend was for large estates made up of rows and rows of identical terraced houses (corner blocks being in high demand), lavish with concrete if somewhat shorter on style. I didn’t like them back then (and I was only ten or so) but these were infinitely superior to the condominiums which look cheaply constructed and in general attempt to poorly hide their resemblance to prison cell-blocks with equally cheap decorative flourishes such as garish paint jobs and red-tiled roofs as if painting something green and purple and putting a little red hat on its top could make a difference.
As far as I can tell their attractiveness to the aspiring KL home-owner or investor is driven by a combination of marketing hype, security (they are after all vertical gated communities – each floor accessible only via security card) and the lack of many other alternatives.
It wasn’t like this once. Many of the sites where the condominiums sit used to be inhabited by squatters who over time had transplanted their native kampong or village building style of elevated wooden homes, mosques, community centres and corner eating shops into the heart of the city. On other sites were british colonial period terraced shops with high ceilings, deep walkways and cool if dark interiors. And in the grander suburbs, those closer to the city or up on hills, there would have been two storied bungalows on acre blocks with driveways wending through tropical gardens, a little inefficient in land use perhaps and difficult to maintain but of its period.
These are generally gone now, replaced by piles of concrete exuded from the collective minds of KL developers, town planners and investors.
But hey, it’s development, people gotta live somewhere and if they chose to live in beauty stricken extrusions instead of spreading ever further out taking up space better occupied by trees then it may not be a bad thing. Besides, accusations of nostalgia on my part would not be far off the mark.