The original design of the Sultan Suleiman Mosque includes Moorish, Neo-Classical and Art Deco influences. Image: Badan Warisan Malaysia.
The 87-year old royal mosque, commissioned by Sultan Alaeddin Suleiman Shah receives a facelift, uncovering its original eclectic architectural accents.
Tell us a little bit about the history of the Mosque and its original design.
The mosque was built in 1932-1933 to accommodate the expanding population of Klang at that time. It was the largest concrete structure in the Federated Malay States (FMS) when it was completed. The Ruler of Selangor, Sultan Alaeddin Suleiman Shah had followed the project’s development closely. The architect, Leofric Kesteven who was attached to Selangor Public Works Department would report to the Sultan from time to time. The building’s contractor was United Engineers who appointed John Thomas Chester as the Reinforced Concrete Specialist, while sculptor Rodolfo Nolli was tasked to produce its unique wall ornaments.
Most of its original design is still intact. The major change seen today would be the extended prayer hall area built over its former gardens in the 1960s-1970s. The other major changes are in the compound and involve the perimeter wall and entrance “pintu gerbang”, as well as the new administrative building beside it.
Who initiated the conservation project and who were the parties involved?
The conservation project was initiated by Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) and was closely followed by the present Sultan of Selangor, DYMM Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.
While JAIS engaged Badan Warisan as conservation consultant, other consultants including Linea Architect, engineers Nordin Kidam & Hadi, electrical engineers Esha Engineering Consultants as well as mechanical engineers, Perunding KMN and quantity surveyors BEQS Consultants were also appointed. The main contractor was Syarikat Zakaria bin Mohd. and experts from the Balai Seni Visual Negara came on as specialist subcontractors to restore a bas-relief decoration within the mosque.
The project was managed by Jabatan Kerja Raya Negeri Selangor with the support of Jabatan Warisan Negara, as we are the authority responsible for buildings gazetted in the National Heritage Register.
When the project began, what was the state of the Mosque?
The mosque had been renovated rather extensively since the late 1960s. Some of the original features like the star finials have been replaced. Most of the interior walls were covered with new panelling. Some of the coloured glass panels were broken and had been replaced. Many of the bas-relief decorations were also hacked and then filled up, and they were all painted in white.
Additionally, the building’s exterior was painted over numerous times. The external domes, for example, were painted in different colours over the years – at times in black, then yellow, gold and so on. Over a period of 80 years, the external bush-hammered walls accumulated quite a thick layer of dirt, dust and grime.
Tell us a little bit about the process – how the team approached the restoration works.
The decision was to return the building to its Brutalist 1933 appearance as closely as possible. Site investigations were carried out to examine the original building. Old photos and newspaper articles were primary references in the restoration decisions and confirmed by on-site investigations. For the new glass roofs for example at the extended prayer hall area, and the Ablution Pavilion, minimal intervention was applied.
What were the biggest challenges in this project?
The major challenge faced by the contractors was in the cleaning of the external surface of this huge building. They had to learn how to handle the soda blasting machine so that the dirt and grime removal would not affect the original surfaces. They managed to master the technique midway.
What are the highlights of the many interventions/restorations?
Restoring the Ablution Pavilion back to its original stepped-pool appearance. It was all very exciting when the steps were uncovered. The uncovering of the amber-glass pattern in the marble floor of the mihrab was another great highlight. The restoration of the bas-relief to their original colours was also a tremendous change to the mood of the building’s interior.