Mixed Use Forgets About the Users

Empire Damansara, seen from the Penchala Link. Photo from Indesignlive.
Empire Damansara, seen from the Penchala Link. Photo from Indesignlive.

Empire Damansara
By Ong&Ong


Review by salmonskinroll

In the last decade, the suburban town of Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, has rapidly turned into a mini metropolis. In 2013, Empire Damansara, designed by Singaporean-based firm Ong&Ong, hurriedly broke ground at Damansara Perdana. It is a mixed-use development encompassing a hotel, SOHO units, corporate offices, residences and a commercial hub.

It is located behind the 6 year-old ecosustainable and functional building PJ Trade Centre, designed by Seksan Designs and Kevin Mark Low, which successfully exists within the contextual landscape. And it’s certainly noticeable – local people immediately associate the name Empire Damansara with the cluster of brightly decorated towers along Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), a significant highway in Petaling Jaya.

The Empire Damansara development attempts to sell its exterior as bold and playful; exemplifying KL’s infatuation with this current architectural trend, but, hey, we’re Petaling Jaya!

“An eclectic clash of architectural styles separates the distinct programmes of the mixed-use development Empire Damansara,” according to Iliyas Ong, writing for Indesignlive Singapore in 2014.

An ambitious vision, especially an ‘eclectic’ one, comes with certain challenges. Although Empire Damansara does have an eclectic clash of architectural styles, in my opinion it does not differentiate the many individual programs within the mixed-use development. As a user, the development gives no particular focus for the human eye. There is no sense of hierarchy in the eclectic programs as to their distinctive design and function. It is merely a clash of different types of architectural language plastered together with a range of experimental façades, the bold colours merely cosmetic. Basically, it looks like the work of a schizophrenic.

Schizophrenic facades at Empire Damansara. Photo from Architicism.
Schizophrenic facades at Empire Damansara. Photo from Architicism.

Now, let us look solely at the commercial hub of Empire Damansara. As you enter the parking space, the recessed parking area functions to allow a smooth flow for pedestrian movement through the space, allowing it to be permeable. The permeability of the commercial hub is a good effort. It can be accessed from a few points: from the main road by entering shop fronts from the sidewalk when you’re on foot, and through a basement car park with multiple entry points.

Conversely, the accessibility from the parking space to the commercial hub is another issue. The central staircase from the commercial hub only goes down to the lower ground level; further below that is only accessible by one service/public lift. Just imagine waiting in a poorly-ventilated car park for one lift to go all the way down and up again. Discomfort is familiar here and it certainly can get worse, when the only lift malfunctions.

Let’s say you have finally made it up to the ground level the frustration does not end there. The user’s serial vision is confused as the commercial hub does not have any guides or familiar landmarks for the human eye.

Hard to find: Damansara Performing Arts Centre at Empire Damansara. Photo from Benz Auto Bahn.
Hard to find: Damansara Performing Arts Centre at Empire Damansara. Photo from Benz Auto Bahn.

Did you know there is a performing arts centre here?

A performing arts centre is supposed to be an accessible public space with many frontages to attract users and hint to its existence. Well, for Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC), most of us who are unlucky may go through a huge maze before finding it, due to its non-strategic location.

Having got up the lift to the ground level, the user will first walk into a linear commercial space with multiples courtyards that is perfect as a naturally ventilated space. Although it is hard to grasp why it was designed with recycled bricks from China to look like an American warehouse, I actually enjoy and appreciate the outdoor spaces, relaxing and breezy spots to enjoy the day.

Maybe it’s lucky there is only one lift, so it can be an easily-found meeting point in all the confusion. Last but not least, it seems that the development did not go through with the cellular network guys, because where’s my connection?!

salmonskinroll is one of The 2020s, a group of young writers at Critics Republic.


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