Photoessay: PAM, part I

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What happens if you have a group of architects design a building entirely for themselves? The PAM (Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia – Malaysian Institute of Architects) building in Kuala Lumpur is precisely that. I got a tour from one of the people involved in its creation, which proved both insightful and the kind of thing you hope never to face yourself as a creative – i.e. when your client  is also an expert in your field, has a vested interest and there are many of them! It’s full of the kinds of features architects love like exposed concrete and structural finishes; open spaces, voids and plenty of natural light and air circulation. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of thing that tends to get heavily diluted by commercial considerations because it’s financially unviable – the actual usable floor area yield of this building is far below what would be needed to make it a profitable exercise for any developer. Still, I’m glad such proofs of concept exist, if only to showcase some ideas that might make it into more public use. But by far the most impressive thing about the building is the way light plays inside the structure as the sun progresses; though it appears externally solid, it’s internally very porous and light – just not the kind of place for tricophobics, as you’ll see in the second part of the presentation. MT

This set was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 and my custom SOOC JPEG profile pack.

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Prints from this series are available on request here


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved


  1. On topic reply: Interesting concept and one that succeeds I think in that it affords interesting angles and integration of concrete and glass (more evident in the pull back shots). Personally, not a fan of the overall end result – too cold. Must have been a real challenge to photograph since it would have been easy to capture “more of the same….”

    Off topic reply: How can a modern multi-story building intended for public occupancy be built without automatic sprinklers? A couple of fire hose stations are evident (nice, but useless). Obviously, the building construction won’t burn, but it’s what we put inside them…. I would not want to office on the top floor. An architect’s mission is to create structures that address human needs for “shelter” (used in a very expanded sense). One of those needs in our modern world is to create habitable spaces that don’t present excessive risk of physical harm or significant financial loss.

    • I believe the actual office areas have sprinklers – I remember seeing the exposed pipes in the roof. Definitely wouldn’t have passed inspections even in shoddily lax Malaysia…

  2. Sam Marriott, Jurmala, Latvia. says:

    I also felt it looked and felt like a prison block. Cold, harsh, admitting no human feeling. I can’t imagine living in such a place. Bah!

    • It isn’t a residence.

      • Sam Marriott says:

        Well, if you are working in such a place for 8 or more hours a day, at least half your waking life, you are living in it.

        • Technically true, I guess…

          • Sam Marriott, Jurmala, Latvia. says:

            Ming, given my thoughts above, I want to say that your photographs of the structure are of the expected high quality. I’ve been reading you for several years and alwyas find something thought provoking, and this post obviously provoked thoughts. I don’t really know why I felt strongly enough to reply, only that I felt I had to say it. To me the beauty of the photographs clashed with my sense and feel of the place. That’s really the essence of it that your photographs brought out for me. Carry on with your fine efforts here. It would be a great loss for many of us if you couldn’t find the time, or the will, to do it anymore. You would be missed.

  3. My congratulations for this set of images. Almost all of the comments are about the subject and the readers response to it.

    I also got the impression that the space is very institutional, though a school was not what came to my mind. My first response was that the interior photos make the place look like a prison.

    My second response was it looked like a cave (dark inside) and spiked my sense of dread when I need to work in spaces that have little natural light and lower illumination levels. This feeling my be more due to the sequence of your images than what I may experience if I was there. Living near Seattle plays a role too.


    • Thanks – and that’s perhaps the best possible thing; you see the subject first (as it’s mean to be).

      Prisons are nowhere near this nice in person…at least not in our part of the world. Natural light is actually quite good, but the contrast is also really extreme because of the intensity of sunlight here (and playing off that was intentional).

  4. The prison ambiance is striking.

  5. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Air conditioning would be a massive cost, with so much open space. And having lived in the tropics for a couple of years, I can’t imagine that it would be much fun doing office work in KL without air con.

    All those stairs – do they have elevators as well?

    Nothing personal – but from my exposure to them, I’ve decided that architects are useful for ideas and concept drawings – but you need someone with practical skills & experience in the building industry to translate those ideas into reality. BTW – I live in a building formerly owned, designed, developed and occupied by an architect – and the cost of transforming it to a liveable house was horrendous.

    Of course none of that piffle has the slightest connection with your photographs – which, as always, are awesome and inspirational, Ming.

    • If a building works in the tropics without air conditioning, I think that’s a major victory – my apartment for example has high ceilings and fans and airflow, so the hot air rises and goes out. We get by with fans 99% of the time and temperature is comfortable.

      Yes, they have elevators.

      Thankfully not so many constraints exist in watch design 😛

  6. Lovely shots, but in some cases I feel the 3:2 aspect ratio feels a bit cramped for this kind of interior work.

    The shot of the lounge with the planters and trees (#7?) – is the ‘garden’ the only divider between the interior and outside world? No glass, shutters, or other structural barrier to keep the elements out? What I thought might be glass panel seams turned out to be vines on closer inspection.

    I’m not thinking of temperature as much as I am precipitation – specifically driving rain. While I’ve spent time in Singapore and Australia’s Tropical north, I live up on the 53rd parallel, where double and triple-glazed windows, vestibules, and heavy insulation are the norm 🙂

    • Going wider and changing aspect ratios wouldn’t have been ideal, either – the whole perspective would have felt off, and less representative of the human-scale impression.

      The garden is the only divider, yes. I suppose the ‘indoors’ are also quite weather resistant…

  7. Beautiful photos and great balancing of interior and exterior light.
    This may be the stye now for architects and that’s fine but it isn’t a building that I would want to live or work in.

  8. I like the photos but the place is ugly. Beton brute is early 20th century.

  9. Am I missing some subtle difference between #8 and #9 or did you publish a duplicate by mistake?

  10. Hugh RIgley says:


  11. Hugh RIgley says:

    I guess this shows the difference between architecture and design. Thankfully their are designers, both exterior and interior. Architects left to their own devices what can one say… interesting, but not fun. It appears a graffiti artist dream and as aesthetic as an underground car park. Sorry, I need much education. Hopefully part ll shows it finished!

  12. Charles Nyst says:

    Nice light indeed. How is the inside temperature regulated? Just by wind blowing through the shutters?

  13. I have been in universities with spaces like this, and low budget public spaces like a sports auditorium. I have also worked industrial jobs in such spaces. My sensibilities in every instance have always been that the atmosphere is industrial, sparse, and with little human welcoming. Perhaps you or they will educate me as to what they thought they we’re thinking in this design.

  14. It’s a great concept, but all that unfinished concrete makes it look, well, unfinished, like they ran out of money.
    Did it strike you as kind of ‘institutional’?

    • Architects love unfinished concrete. What didn’t work so well is the unfinished concrete that isn’t of a super fine surface finish. The brickwork strikes me more as institutional (some odd associations with schools) than anything else.

      • I am generally OK with concrete, although I think it benefits from being finished nicely, but some of the panel/section edges look pretty bad. I must admit to also wondering whether more work was yet to be done, but then I noticed the fittings. Maybe there is another building in KL built for the materials experts, totally impractical but very plush!

        Still, I rather like these kinds of pictures, so I look forward to part II.

        • I think a large part of the problem with local buildings is the lack of expertise on the construction side that tends to result in things looking more unfinished than intended…

  15. Remarkable spaces illuminated exclusively by natural light. In fact all the light and color seems to flow in from the outside. Is the building in use? How are the acoustics? I’m looking forward to Part II. Thank you.

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