Foster & Partners - Petronas University of Technology

Foster & Partners – Petronas University of Technology

Updated: February 4, 2014

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Foster & Partners Petronas University
image source: Foster & Partners

Foster & Partners Petronas University
image source: Foster & Partners

Foster & Partners Petronas University
image source: Foster & Partners

Foster & Partners and Petronas has won one of nine Aga Khan awards for architecture in the Islamic world with its University of Technology Petronas in Malaysia.

The awards, which have been instigated and sponsored by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, are presented every three years and have grown in prestige and profile since their inception 30 years ago. The aim of these rich awards is to identify and encourage building concepts that meet the needs and aspirations of Muslim communities.

I visited the university more than five years ago when it was not yet finished. But it was obvious even then that this was a powerful architectural statement. The canopy is as majestic as you can get: taller than the surrounding trees, they were elegantly supported by slender steel columns. Looking at the photos now, you can easily agree with Foster’s senior architect, David Nelson that it “fits discreetly on the site fitting into the contours of the site”. This is cool, crisp modern architecture, but infused with local cultural references and climatic context. Lord Foster himself said: “If you visit this building, you’ll see that it couldn’t be anywhere else. It is highly evocative of the culture.”

But the Aga Khan award goes also to the client. And this is the second one for Petronas: last time was for its Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, briefly the tallest building in the world. On the guided tour of the University during construction we were told that the building cost RM500 million; “a small investment to make this into a world class university”. I have my doubts.

For a start, it is largely an undergraduate facility. At a time when such a large percentage the young population goes on to university, the centres of excellence have been shifting to graduate schools and research institutes within universities. Universities of global standard are judged by the quality of their academic staff; these people make their reputation from the research and the publishing of ground breaking work. The best universities seek out the best students, and these students in turn look for the best teachers. But the fact is that this is a university that accepts students not on the sole basis of merit, but also on the precept of racial quotas.

Malaysia has been suffering from a bad case of the “edifice complex”. In the days of Tun Mahathir, there was a scramble to create “signature buildings” and “landmarks” to show off to the world Malaysia’s coming of age. The Petronas Towers and Putrajaya – the new administrative capital for the country are the two mega-projects bankrolled by Petronas, the state owned oil mining monopoly. But at the same time as the gleaming new edifices were going up, the political, cultural and social climate has been going down. Political dissent has been gradually clamped down, religious intolerance has been on the increase, the credibility of institutions like the police and judiciary has plummeted, and racial tension have been exacerbated, with children of different races largely going to different schools.

Architects should not be blind to the political and social realities of their milieu.

RM500 million is a lot for a small university for just over 6000 students. Petronas could have used their old building at Dayabumi in Kuala Lumpur, and then used that same amount of money to attract world class faculty and post graduate students.

Foster & Partners Petronas University
image source: Foster & Partners

Foster & Partners Petronas University
image source: Foster & Partners

Calvin says:

Petronas is ranked among Fortune Global 500′s largest corporations in the world and the least transparent among all the oil company. Sources to Petronas’ earnings can be found at Petronas Corporate Website. There is no information on how the Government has spent its revenue, dividends and taxes derived from Petronas over the last 33 years. It’s a milking cow for all the corrupt politicians.

I love my country, but does my country love me?

More on Petronas:
- Oil Watch, Malaysia net importer by 2010 – Jeffooi
- Make Petronas accountable to Parliament

More on Petronas University:
- Aga Khan win for Foster’s Petronas tech university
- Foster and Partners

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1 Comment

    February 10, 2008

    This Arctectural structure is goodlooking,its the best so far, it clearly indicates and shows serious organisation of these people.

    Well-done FOSTER & PARTNERS, You’re good.

    chitanda Samuzuza Rombado Rhoblo


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