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To complement a gallery of high-end designer labels, this retail mall has a glittering, jewel-like facade that's an eye-catching beacon on a busy streetscape

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Change is a constant in the fashion industry, with designers continually presenting new ideas and collections to keep attention focused on their labels. So, too, do the retail centres where such brands are displayed need to keep one step ahead of the competition.

Starhill Gallery on Bukit Bintang, one of Kuala Lumpur's busiest streets, has recently undergone an extensive makeover to realign the retail gallery with the exclusiveness of the luxury brands on show within. The gallery developer, Tan Sri Dato' Dr Francis Yeoh, commissioned architectural consultancy Sparch to design an eye-catching new facade that would raise the benchmark for mall design.

Eng Shinn Lau, Starhill Gallery special project manager, says the existing facade was a little dated and the building needed to be revitalised.

"We envisaged a glittering, multifaceted glass structure that would set the mall apart, just as the luxury products and brands within the gallery have an exclusivity."

Architect Stephen Pimbley of Sparch says the gallery's last refurbishment had provided a glass rotunda that provided an attractive threshold to the building, but there was scope for a much more distinctive facade.

"Retail centres constantly need to refresh their look. There is a lot of competition on this street and we wanted to reposition Starhill to take advantage of the huge footfall."

The architect says a key element of the design was the need for high visibility. While many malls in Kuala Lumpur tend to be dull, inward-looking boxes, this centre needed to engage firmly with the public realm and generate visual connections along the street.

"The facade needed to let people know what was going on inside – that this mall offers something quite different from the ubiquitous, quick-fix shopping mall facades of many of Starhill's neighbours. We also wanted to convey an element of surprise, a tantalising glimpse that would draw people in."

The team consequently designed a continuous shop front that wraps the existing building and a small entry pavilion in a crystalline skin of glass and stone. Pimbley says he was inspired by a Christian LaCroix exhibition of design for theatre and opera at the Singapore National Museum.

"There were many extraordinary drawings in the exhibition, of ancient Greek and Roman statues. The facade echoes the classical wet drapery on these statues – there is a synergy between these antiquities and the beautiful gowns on display within the gallery. And the fractured variation of solidity and transparency created by the glass and stone panels transforms the street facade of the building, giving it a new contemporary classical identity."

Pimbley says Sparch's lightweight steel, stone and glass facades are the first of their kind in Malaysia to embrace cutting-edge facade technology from the French engineering firm RFR – the team behind the Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.

"It is quite a complex geometry, but clipping the glass onto a prefabricated steel panel system minimised construction time."

Glass panels give a transparency to the lower levels, so passers-by can see into the LVMH pavilion and the stores that now line the entry. Reflective glass on higher levels helps to keep the sun out, and the solid stone panels provide a visual link to the main building and landscaping.

On the interior, a triple-height void, reminiscent of a rocky canyon, reinforces the grandeur of the jewel-like exterior.

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First published date: 15 March 2012

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Credit List

Project Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur
Developer YTL Starhill Global REITS Management Ltd
Architect Sparch; principal architect Stephen Pimbley; project architect Michael Gibert; with Wenhui Lim, Darmaganda, Kim-Lee Tan, Sevena Lee; local architect – A Mariadass Architect
Construction company, mechanical and electrical engineer Syarikat Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay Sdn Bhd
Cladding Flamed, brushed-finish Pearl Grey granite
Roofing Silver Kalzip roofing system
Facade design and construction CHS 80x16mm steel column; RHS 160x80mm steel transom; 80 x 80mm aluminium transom; structural silicone
Glazing system Clear tempered; grey and Arctic Snow PVB
Flooring Flamed, brushed-finish blue granite