Current trends that influence Malaysian architecture in 2019

Expert says design considerations will be inextricable from the country’s ongoing housing affordability agenda

Residential units made from refurbished shipping containers in Kuala Lumpur. Aisyaqilumaranas/Shutterstock

Issues of unaffordability and scarcity of space in Malaysia’s urban areas will lead property developers to gun for residential units of smaller dimensions, maximising the number of dwellings in one building.

This trend toward downsizing, among others, will inform Malaysian architecture and interior design this year, according to one of the country’s leading architects.

“There will be a greater interest among architects and interior designers towards small-scale residential units,” said Ar. Mustapha Kamal Zulkarnain, principal at Selangor-based architecture firm Arkitek Mustapha Kamal (AMK) and one of the judges at the PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards (Malaysia).

Small-scale, big value housing

Last year saw Malaysian developers take to building “cost-effective housing units with good localities,” the Auckland-educated architect noted.

Developers have recently shown a predilection toward building high-rise units, in relatively smaller sizes of 450 to 840 square feet, according to a recent report released by, the country’s leading property portal. Such units typically offer flexible spatial layouts and space-saving furniture, accommodating a wide gamut of demographic segments, including single adults, young couples, 2+1 families, newlyweds, senior citizens, and empty nesters.

“Buyers are accepting smaller homes as part of the reality of urban living,” PropertyGuru Malaysia noted in its GuruView predictions for 2019.

Cost-saving options for residential customers

Affordability continues to be a hot-button issue in Malaysia, where the current ruling party, Pakatan Harapan, is planning to build a million affordable housing units over a 10-year period covering two election terms.

Among end users who work and live in the same place, dual-key homes will likely gain favour as they tend to be built closer to public transportation, added PropertyGuru Malaysia. Such smaller units are expected to proliferate with the advent of massive transport infrastructure projects in the peninsula.

Two of these public-private ventures won the Special Recognition for Public Facility at last year’s awards. Construction engineering company Ekovest Berhad gained the honour for the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE) that serves the Sri Damansara, Rawang, Kepong and Sungai Buloh areas, while Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn. Bhd won for the Mass Rapid Transit Sungai Buloh – Kajang Line.

Greener cities, heritage revival

Ar. Mustapha Kamal Zulkarnain presents the award for Best Green Development to Berjaya Corporation Berhad for The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Sultan Ismail

“There will also be more inclusive architecture, more reliance on digital technology, and greener and more collective cities. More emphasis will be given to local material as well as local techniques, on robotics and automation,” said Ar. Mustapha.

Malaysia’s biggest developers are catching up to the demands of the market. At the 2018 Awards, special recognition was presented to developers and projects that excelled in universal design, green development, and corporate social responsibility (CSR), including Sime Darby Property, Berjaya Corporation Berhad, Lion Group Property, Mah Sing Group, and Best Developer award-winning LBS Bina Group Berhad.

“Finally, there is a growing trend of going for retro design at older places,” Ar. Mustapha noted. One example is the Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s renovation of a historic building that houses the city’s Tourism Bureau office, which received the Special Recognition for Public Facility in recognition of the city agency’s rebranding efforts.

Which projects will set the tone for architecture and interior design in Malaysia in the future? Let the world know by nominating them to the 2019 PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards (Malaysia). Nominations close by 22 February. Find more details here: