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Architect Manny Canlas on his favourite buildings in Malaysia

The architecture of Malaysia draws on many diverse influences. Kuala Lumpur is a prime example; a trip through the capital will reveal buildings inspired by Asian and Malay Islamic traditions, modern and post-modernism, and the colonial period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These various styles and trends have also had a significant impact on contemporary Malaysian architecture, including iconic structures like the Petronas Twin Towers.

One person who can speak with more authority than most about the art of building design in the south-east Asian country is Filipino architect Manny Canlas, who moved to Malaysia three decades ago and has worked on many of the towering structures that dot the Kuala Lumpur skyline today.

Canlas recently spoke to Inquirer.net about his long and distinguished career, as well as his involvement in the design of buildings such as the Twin Towers and parts of Platinum Park, one of Kuala Lumpur's biggest and most ambitious current urban developments.

Platinum Park, Kuala Lumpur - his proudest work

It would be easy to assume that working on the Petronas Twin Towers would be the most memorable project of Canlas' career, but he actually feels prouder of Menara Felda and the Naza Tower at Platinum Park.

Menara Felda is a 50-storey office tower with a curved, cylindrical exterior. It boasts a wide range of facilities, including a financial hub, a medical centre and even its own food court. 

The nearby Naza Tower is even more striking. This 50-storey commercial building won the Best Commercial High-Rise Development Award for the Asia Pacific region at the 2012-13 International Property Awards, thanks to its pair of uniquely 'twisted' buildings. It was designed with eco-friendly principles firmly in mind, from the energy-saving variable-voltage, variable-frequency motors and motion sensors found in the lifts, to the inbuilt rainwater harvesting system that reduces water consumption. Even the cement used to build the towers was environmentally friendly, having been mixed with waste products such as ground granulated blast-furnace slag and pulverised fuel ash to cut carbon emissions.

"The company I worked with [RSP Architects] does not restrict itself to the basics," Canlas explained. Referring to the Naza Tower, he added: "A lot of modern technology has been introduced."

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur - his big break

One of the most instantly recognisable skyscrapers on the planet, the Petronas Twin Towers stands at 88 storeys and 452 m above street level. The 58.4 m sky bridge connecting the two towers is on the 41st floor, 170 m above the city's streets. The buildings' two pinnacles are topped by spires with 23 segments and a ring ball comprising 14 rings of varying diameters, and also house aircraft warning lights and external maintenance equipment. In the entrance halls, the foyer is adorned with designs and patterns influenced by traditional handicrafts and songket fabric weavings. Furthermore, the wall panels and screens draw inspiration from hardwood carvings from Peninsular Malaysia's east coast, while the floors are based on intricate patterns of pandan weaving and bertam palm wall matting.

                                        (iStock/Predrag Vuckovic)

Prior to working on the Twin Towers, Canlas had primarily designed hotels and condominiums for resorts in Malaysia and neighbouring countries. When his firm was commissioned by Malaysian government-owned oil and gas company Petronas, Canlas was given the opportunity to lead the local team that initially took care of Argentine-American architect Cesar Pelli's design plans for the landmark building, which was once the tallest in the world.

Queens Bay Complex, Penang

Canlas was also involved in the design of the Queens Bay Complex, the largest shopping centre in Penang. The 2.5 million sq ft mall, situated near Bayan Lepas airport, is home to clothing and electronics brands, mid-level restaurants and a Golden Screen Cinemas complex. In total, more than 500 stores are located inside the 73-acre attraction.

Becoming an architect and forging a path

As a child, Canlas aspired to be an artist. But when he went to the University of Santo Tomas to apply for a place on the fine arts programme, he accidentally joined the wrong queue and was asked if he wanted to become an architect. Clearly, it was meant to be.

Asked what differentiates him from other architects, Canlas explained: "I've always been vocal and straight to the point. When you have that confidence and you're true to yourself, it will bring you anywhere."

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