Local buildings fail to reflect multi-culturalism, says academic

Tajuddin-Rasdi-design-of-mosques-used-to-be-inclusive-malaysia-masjid-1KAJANG: Architecture and city planning cannot materialise without a new narrative that takes into account multi-culturalism, an academic said today.

UCSI’s Tajuddin Rasdi gave the example of the design of mosques in the country, saying it has progressed from one that was dynamic, universalistic, inclusive, tropical and humble, to its current dogmatic, Middle Eastern and exclusive state.

“From the design of mosques in Malaysia, the reading of its language suggests a Malaysia with a population of Malay-Muslims that are uncomfortable with the non-Muslims.

“That is why the mosque has a big fence, a momentous gateway and an imposing scale to project the siege mentality against non-Malays and that the Malays are far backward in understanding Islam devoid of the social implications in modern society,” he said at a talk on architecture and nation building, held at the Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur (IUKL) yesterday.

Tajudin, who heads UCSI’s school of architecture and built environment, lamented that many architects and planners in Malaysia do not look into the issue of multi-culturalism and the idea of democracy, “as they have been practising and following other forms, other technological requirements and economic requirements”.

“Academics and professionals in architecture must embrace the discourse of democracy and multi-culturalism in order to innovate new building solutions, housing concepts and city planning.

“If you were to follow the idea of multi-culturalism, and if you are designing a mosque, then you should consider that we live in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and multi-religious society,” he said, lamenting however, that architects do not do that.

“They only follow a form that has been done for a certain purpose in a different time for certain societies.”

He questioned the justification in transferring those designs here in a different context of society.

University campuses not prioritising students

As for university campuses, Tajuddin said the design of such campuses should cater more to students, as they are the reason why the university was set up.

Citing Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and the International Islamic University Malaysia, he said a large chunk of budgets for these varsities was used to build big buildings like the chancellary, “when it is just a facility to help the academics acquire certain things to teach the students”.

“They are just support staff. How is it then, that they have become the focus? The idea is that students are supposed to be prioritised,” he said.