The making magnificent buildings of Arthur Oakley Coltman in KL

Apart from Brigadier General Arthur Benison Hubback, who designed some of Malaysia’s most famous buildings such as the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and Masjid Jamek, another British architect, Arthur Oakley Coltman, also left his mark on Kuala Lumpur.

He worked with the architectural firm Booty Edwards & Partners in Malaya from 1925 to 1957, a time which included the Art Deco period, a style reflected in many of his works.

Here are Coltman’s best known buildings in Kuala Lumpur:

Clock Tower

This clock tower is located in the Old Market Square (Medan Pasar Besar) in the heart of KL.

It was commissioned to commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937 but the memorial plaques were removed following Independence.

The sunburst motif on the lower panels is typical of Art Deco design. The clock tower has recently had a much-needed facelift after years of neglect and vandalism but still looks rather drab and has weeds growing out of the top. The clock faces, presumably not the originals, are made by Seiko.

OCBC Building

More attractive is the OCBC building, located on the same square as the Clock Tower and also built in 1937.

It was designed with basement parking for bicycles. The set back ground floor provides shade for pedestrians and is an Art Deco version of the five-foot way found in traditional shophouses.

Oriental Building

This was the tallest building in Kuala Lumpur when it was built in the 1930s. It housed Radio Malaya and some say the design looks like a 1930’s style radio, similar to this one perhaps.

One of the upper four floors was used by the Oriental Government Security Life Assurance Company whose premises were damaged in a minor earthquake in 1936.

Anglo-Oriental Building

This building was also built in 1937 – a busy year for Mr Coltman. It was the headquarters for Anglo-Oriental, a tin-mining company and its main doors were made of pewter.

It incorporates a number of art deco features which must have been the height of fashion when it was new.

Lee Rubber Building

Also a 1930s design, the Lee Rubber Building was commissioned by Lee Kong Chian, a Chinese businessman from Johor, who made a fortune from rubber and pineapple plantations.

During the war, the building was used by the notorious Kempeitai military police. Both Coltman and his wife were interned by the Japanese during the War (he in Singapore and she in Sumatra).

Rubber Research Institute

Also commonly referred to in short as the RRI on Jalan Ampang is a series of brick buildings with large concrete or plaster mullions and embellishments in art deco style.

The uppermost decorations shown here which look like towels on a rail represent sheets of latex hanging out to dry, an everyday sight at the time on any rubber plantation.

A foundation stone laid by the Sultan of Selangor bears the date “22nd April 1936”.

Odeon Cinema

The Odeon Cinema on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman was built in 1936 for the Cathay Organisation.

Unfortunately its exterior is now almost entirely blanketed in advertising posters but the towers with flagpoles are just visible flanking the entrance.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei

Coltman was active in Brunei too where he completed the detailed drawings for the famous Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque which was completed in 1958.

Mercantile Bank KL

Coltman left Malaya in 1957 but his firm Booty Edwards continued to obtain work including the redevelopment of Mercantile Bank in 1961 (you can see the OCBC Building on the left).

The building has been remodelled a couple of times since following its rebranding as HSBC. Most recently, it found a new life as a hotel, Pacific Express.

The style of the lower floors is an attempt to blend in with the adjacent heritage shophouses on Medan Pasar Besar and to upgrade the overall appearance and ambience of this historic market square. It works as long as you don’t look up!

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