By Carolyn Hong
Not enough green spaces in Malaysia? Want more parks? Well, make them for yourself, says world-renowned landscape architect Ng Sek San, or better known as “Seksan”.
With this DIY philosophy, he has thrown his talent into two new projects to make over neglected spaces in the city.
Sekeping Back Lane in Bangsar is one such quirky experiment. He converted a 200 sq ft space at the back of his Sekeping Tenggiri guesthouse into a self-contained unit with a kitchen, loft room and bathroom. Where does the backlane come in? It’s the living space, of course. Having been landscaped into a shady garden, it’s become a space to chill and entertain.
“There are so many resources at our disposal – our back lanes, for example,” he said. “We aren’t using these enough as our green spaces. It calls for a new way of thinking.”
Stretching his imagination, Seksan also imagines that unused TNB (Tenaga Nasional Berhad) reserves can become parks. He has found one such reserve in Bangsar which is 600 to 800 metres long and 40 metres wide. He already sees it as a community-run park with a playground, allotments for organic farming, and even adventure sports on the sloping land.
He and his friends are now seeking permission to build this park which will be privately funded and maintained by the neighbourhood.
“We need not rely on the government to do everything for us,” he said. “We know our community better; we can use citizen initiatives to build parks, bicycle paths.”
It is these sort of initiatives that has made Seksan, 53, one of Malaysia’s best-known landscape architects. Some may find this New Zealand-trained Ipoh boy’s ideas eccentric but he has certainly sparked interest in creating spaces suitable for Malaysia’s preference for community living, warm weather and casual ethos.
If this is considered to be green or eco-friendly, it’s not something he deliberately set out to be.
“Green architecture is a term bandied about a lot. It’s not a bad thing but it’s more about marketing than a real philosophy,” he said.
He said it’s often driven by multinationals which are required by their home countries to be environmentally-friendly. But he prefers not to jump onto the bandwagon; rather he views his work as picking the best way to build for the environment and community.
“It’s about being appropriate with construction technology, using local material, focusing on the community as well as being visually appealing,” he said.
Landscaping, to him, is not decorative. Instead, plants are building material to block out the sun instead of metal louvres, and trees are walls and fences. Many of his buildings are without many walls for better ventilation and light.
These ideas are first tested in his Sekeping guesthouses.
The first one, Sekeping Serendah comprising six houses in a patch of jungle in Serendah, was built about 10 years ago. Today, there are seven Sekepings in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and George Town rebuilt from terrace houses, a coffee shop, a warehouse and a tin foundry. They are built without walls, with trees indoors, and recycles material salvaged from abandoned buildings.
“This is one way of spreading ideas as thousands visit the Sekepings,” he said.
But if the Sekepings are small scale, these ideas need not be. His biggest project is the PJ Trade Centre in Damansara Perdana, four blocks of 20 stories each. The landscaping here grows upwards, with sky gardens every few floors. Car porches were eliminated to give the buildings a frontage of a landscaped plaza, rather than tarmac and petrol fumes.
Seksan’s DIY philosophy extends to his politics, most famously his Malaysian Spring project for the May election where colored flags – resembling spring flowers – were planted in green spaces for political awareness.
“Change is not about the government. It’s about how we work with the community to make Malaysia a better place,” he said.
Photo credit: Carolyn Hong