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Two Rivers and the Seven Hills: the Forgotten Genius Loci of Kuala Lumpur

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

"Genius Loci – is the spirit of the place a location's distinctive atmosphere that is held by the natural geography and culture of the place representing the sense people have of a place"

- Norberg Schulz

Naturally, Kuala Lumpur had a beautiful landform and rich biodiversity. Two main rivers meandering through seven undulating hills merging into one at the confluence and flows naturally into the sea were the Genius loci of Kuala Lumpur. In the earlier days when man explored this pristine land, they live harmoniously with nature. Life depended on the rivers and hills for food and freshwaters. The rivers became the main lifeline of the human settlement for transportation and daily routines. However, when more people knew about the tin that the hills and rivers preciously hold, many decided to stay and took all the reserved voraciously. That was the beginning when people greedily wanted to fulfil their own wants and the Genius loci of this beautiful land were slowly forgotten.

The hills were flattened to make ways for buildings, roads and railways. The forests were replaced by concrete jungles and the rivers were confined by the concreted banks. Standing at the confluence of the two rivers now, and looking around, for those who knew the history of the place will realize - the Genius Loci of the place is almost gone. The soul of the city is greatly damaged.

Future development in cities should seriously look into how to preserve the Genius loci of a place. Looking at Kuala Lumpur, rejuvenation of the river is still an unfulfilled longing. A lot of effort has to be done to remedy the situation - beautifying the riverbank effort had missed greatly on the opportunity to weave the city activities with the river. In the end, the river is still left alone. In the day time, the physical view of the river which currently still looks like a monsoon drain does not invite many people to be near it. The water is still untouchable and cannot be enjoyed as it was once a playing field for the kids in the area. Further studies can be done in researching the possibility of reengineering the riverbank using the ecological approach to bring back its natural look that is more comforting and pleasing to the eyes. Thus, it is very important to create a green network within a city and connecting them to the river in the effort to bring back nature and biodiversity into the city. Sadly, though not much can be done about the flattened hills the potential visual and physical link should be done to the remaining hills. More shady trees need to be planted within the city to cool down the urban heat which will allow people to walk comfortably in the city even at noontime.

At night time, surprisingly the River of Life is ‘lifeless’. Dark pathways may invite dangerous crime to happen at any time. This also invites homeless to comfortably sleeps at any nooks and dark corners. Families were seen trying to bring their children to the riverfront but seem to make a u-turn when the pathway gets darker and not lighted without any offer of activities. The new pedestrian bridge crossing seems promising to shorten the travel time to Masjid Jamek but it is quite frustrating when there is no direct access to the blue pool. One has to walk around the perimeter of the Masjid Jamek in a dark alley and will have to enter the Masjid compound to reach the blue pool. If the Masjid gate is close, you will not have the opportunity to experience the blue pool in a close range but can only view it from far across the river.

Dark and ‘lifeless’ riverfront on a weekend night.

More activities need to be introduced along the river to enliven it. The bustling activities happening at Dataran Merdeka is a great source to bring people to the riverfront by allowing a continuous flow of activities to happen with enough lighting. For example, series of appropriate public arts from Malaysian artist that would remind our local people on the history of the place can be placed along the river to give it more meaning and attachment and at the same time uplift our local craftsmen. Sadly, the type of stories being told on the signage along the river is not significant at enough. More important historical events can be shared for the locals to know the history of this very historical area.

The current signage at the riverfront. More important events that happen in this area should be shared through this signages to educated people about the place.

Traditional games can be placed at strategic points for people to stop and enjoy the games so that these games will not be forgotten by the younger generations. More spilling over of the activities especially food and beverages from the building and shops along the river, allowing them to have double frontages would be a great advantage and a welcoming stop after a long walk. Allowing some kiosk of food, drinks or snacks to operate along both sides of the river would also be a wonderful crowd-puller. A continuous, full of activities and safe walk along the river from Dang Wangi station to Brickfields which then link it well to KL Sentral would greatly encourage people to enjoy the river due to easy access from the public transportation hubs. Possible spots can be identified to provide pocket parks to allow people to rest along the river.

Strengthening the activities along the river and connecting them with the hills may enhance back the genius loci and will create place attachment when the public starts to understand the meaning of it.

Learning from the mistakes of the past and seeing the tremendous efforts and billions of ringgit that need to be put into remedying the damaged to bring back the Genius Loci – future city development will definitely need to think hard about identifying and preserving the Genius loci from even the conceptual sketch design up till the implementation stage. Enhance it, do not ignore or easily bulldozed the Genius Loci because in the near future we will be regretting it and only then we will realize a place without the Genius Loci is like living in a place without a soul. Remedying it then will be difficult, expensive and maybe frustrating because eventually once the Genius Loci is damaged we will never get its origin no matter how hard we try.






Image by Nicole Geri

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