What’s in a line? Where do you start in a straight line? There are two beginnings, two ends, and an endless temporal present.

At every infinite point, another infinite place. Infrastructure, now “infrastruktur” in Malay, was originally rendered as the tongue-twisting “asasusunan,” a fusion of the two root words of asas (‘basic’ or ‘original’) and susunan (‘arrangement’). Infrastructure tethers foundation to origin. Where we begin is where we are from.

Lines on a page. The past is a map.

Kuala Lumpur began as a mall. Or rather, as a trading point, the mall’s 19th-century prototype. In the 1850s, it was a small hamlet at the confluence of the Klang River and the Gombak River, with the port of Klang. But its fortunes turned when the tin mines of Ampang and Ulu Klang opened to its right. By 1880, the Selangor state capital had been moved from Klang to Kuala Lumpur. The town quickly became an important supply collection and dispersal point, supposedly the highest point that supplies could be brought by boat. To attempt to travel by land was at best, extremely uncomfortable, and at worst, physically perilous and malarial.

If the history of Singapore is written in statistics, then the history of Kuala Lumpur is drawn in lines. By 1882, Frank Swettenham was appointed the third British Resident of Selangor. Swettenham’s 1875 sketch notes his biases. The Gombak River, which leads north further up the state of Selangor, was erased from the picture; only the Klang River, which snakes its way to the port, out of the inland remains. This exclusion belies the territorial politics at play. Goods made inland would be brought by boat to Klang, which in turn was the point of access to the Straits of Malacca. The river valley was a chokepoint: whoever controlled the river valley therefore commanded the entirety of the Klang River basin, including where Kuala Lumpur stands today. Removing the Gombak River was an excision of noise: in Swettenham’s colonial logic of capital, geography is rendered in terms of power, not natural formation. Other points of interest on Swettenham’s map: Chinese Kapitan’s (Yap Ah Loy’s) house, market, gambling dens, mosque. Through the river, escape from sin, decay, and the reality of plantations, bringing materials made commodity to the world of the market. Modernity emerged out of the jungle.

However, this new town was structurally fragile. Successive floods and fires ravaged most of the buildings in the city centre: 1881 was an especially disastrous year, which started with a fire in January and ended with a flood on December 21. The fire began when an oil lamp fell in an opium shop, killing three people and leaving another 500 homeless, while the flood started when heavy rain caused the Klang River to overflow, destroying 92 buildings and the only bridge in Kuala Lumpur. As a result, dirt and disease were rampant, as were crises of homelessness.

But Kuala Lumpur could be engineered and architect-ed into possibility. In 1884, Swettenham instituted building regulations, which called for structures to be built in brick, stone, and tiles. Flimsy mud walls and attap thatch roofs – which were vulnerable to the elements could not aspire to permanence – were replaced with brick and tiles. Narrow streets, some only 12’ wide, were widened and shaded arcades now known as five-foot-ways were added. The messy agglomerations of housing units were ordered into regular lines. Kuala Lumpur, wrote Governor Frederick Weld, “is fast becoming the neatest and prettiest town… Rows of sufficiently regular, yet picturesque houses and shops… form the streets.”

Swettenham also initiated the construction of a series of government buildings, including the Government Offices (1894-7), now known as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. R. A. J. Bidwell, a young architect of twenty-four, prepared the drawings under C. E. Spooner, the head of the Public Works Department who instructed him to make a building of “Mahametan” style. The Government Offices were unlike any building ever seen in Malaya but mimicked the Indo-Saracenic style pioneered in Indian colonial buildings that marked India’s transition to direct rule as a Crown Colony. Ornamentally, it drew from the language of Egyptian, Moorish, and Mughal architecture, but its front elevation was solidly symmetrical, a nod to the British neo-classicism that dominated public buildings. Never mind that the Indo-Saracenic was seen to be a union of “European science” and “native art”, even though there was nothing native to Malaya about Egyptian, Moorish, or Mughal ornaments.

To the architects of the Public Works Department, a line directly connected its colonies in the East, roughly bisecting the Orient and the West. Within this vast space, styles could be borrowed and remixed across time and space. In this way, “Eastern” architecture could enter the teleology of British rule. As Thomas Metcalf has noted, the creation of the “Indo-Saracenic” was not an attempt to describe buildings, but rather, by “lumping these historic structures under a common label together with their own, the British endeavoured to lay claim to a direct line of descent from the Rajputs and Mughals to themselves.” The lines that make a map, the lines that connect across a map, the lines of drawing on a page. The Indo-Saracenic, like the architectures that follow, is a myth of origin. It’s just another beginning.

“History? What history? We are creating fiction, Yatim. This is fiction. History is fiction.”
“What about historical truth, Mano?”
“… You can screw around with history, lah!”
- Kee Tuan Chye, We Could **** You Mr. Birch (1995)

Lines drawn in an instant. The future is a simulator.

Nearly a century later, in 1972, a Brit would once again land on the shores of Kuala Lumpur and draw some lines. The radical architecture collective Archigram had been commissioned to design the Malaysia Pavilion at the Commonwealth Institute in London, and one of their members, Dennis Crompton, was surveying the young nation in a ten-day tour of the peninsula.

Like the Government Offices, authorities in Malaysia rejected the original approach of a more conventional design for the Malaysia Pavilion. The Commonwealth Institute, formerly the Imperial Institute, housed pavilions from former colonies of the British Empire, picturing the world for a British audience. The exhibits were constantly shifting with political developments, with updates to the Malaysian pavilion upon Sabah and Sarawak’s agreement to found the Federation of Malaysia and upon Singapore’s departure. James Gardner, the Institute’s go-to museum and exhibition designer, designed the early 1964 Malaysia Pavilion. Information was conveyed rather directly, with images and words illustrated on mounted panels, display models, and a kite hovering above it. However, by 1972, Malaysia’s international image as a modern nation had been eroded by two major events: the 1972 oil crisis and the 1969 sectarian violence that spread like wildfire through the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Then-Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, known as Bapak Pembangunan (‘the father of development’), deemed the old pavilion insufficient for Malaysia’s global aspirations.

Archigram’s pavilion was a remedy. Tun Abdul Razak understood that media built nations and thus galvanized a wide range of its state apparatus in service of the pavilion, including the Visual Production team from the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Malaysia High Commission of London. The production of an Instant was contingent on months of bureaucratic management. In return, Archigram’s Instant Malaysia would not merely be modern: it would be radical. Three Archigram members, Dennis Crompton, Ron Herron, and Ken Allinson, worked on the project. Instant Malaysia, completed in 1973, is one of the collective’s few built projects.

Instant Malaysia was maximalist. Painted a banana yellow, it towered over its “conventionally tasteful” neighbours, the Hong Kong and Brunei pavilions. A glowing red neon sign “MALAYSIA” welcomed visitors. The exhibition had two levels, which in earlier drawings, were meant to be brought together by a double-storey palm tree, as if in a satirical refashioning of Laugier’s primitive hut. The ground floor of the pavilion was made in the logic of the collage, bringing together disparate elements into the same space of the nation, a microcosm for the metaphor of the multi-ethnic Malaysia. The exhibition space was divided into six sections – “people”, “education”, “development”, “tourism”, “industry”, and “organized industry” – and showed texts, maps, charts, models, photographs, and the aforementioned trees, now reduced in size such that it sat within the box of the exhibition and rendered with more realism. Unlike the pleasing panels of the Gardner exhibit, Instant Malaysia married Archigram’s signature bold graphics with as many images as possible. It was an experience of everything-at-once, bringing together images, drawings, text that were “parts life-size, monster-size, micro-size, coloured, monochrome, photographic, drafted, sonic, illuminated, fabricated, ephemeral, solid, permanent.” Information and noise co-existed, made legible and circulated into a familiar graphic system. Archigram was the mediator that would “consolidate, transmit, filter, and catalyze a changeable flow of information, energy and images.”

Of particular note from the project archive are early drawings for the wall illustrations, likely drawn from Dennis Crompton’s travels in Malaysia. These, for unknown reasons, were never incorporated into the final exhibition. In a comic-like remake of Malaysia’s primary industries, commodity is cartoon. Timber logging, harvesting palm oil, rubber tapping, and tin mining are reduced to line and caption. In the drawing on tin, gravel pumps and water “whooooosh” in onomatopoeic orchestration, its Comic Sans-adjacent font belying the monotonous thud of arms spinning shovels and the crunch of metal-on-metal of moving vast amounts of sand. Perhaps these lines had made the nation too legible, too uncomplicated. Beneath each drawing lay a violence of unspoken resource extraction inherited from a British colonial economy.

The simulator on the second floor, however, was the clear protagonist of the exhibition – at least, according to the architects. “Rightly or wrongly, this particular piece of hardware is much more intriguing than the content of the exhibition as a whole,” wrote Archigram. The simulator was a roughly ovular capsule that fitted around fifteen people, its ceiling covered with a mirror. Inside the simulator, “in 12 minutes you experience the 90º atmosphere of the Malay jungle and the cool winds after the monsoon’,” with a three-track recording playing while images were projected onto the walls and reflected onto the mirrored ceiling. Crucially, the simulator had a climactic component, reproducing the range of Malaysia’s climate, “from cool sea breezes to humid heat and tropical storm.” Visitors in London thus stood in the middle of a platform, surrounded by a panorama of multiple screens, harkening back to turn-of-the-century cycloramic paintings picturing cities and war. The recurring motif of the simulator was the Malaysian flag, juxtaposing the icon with images of life in Malaysia – from airplanes, architecture, forestry, dams, mosques, people, scenery, shadow puppets, etc.

The simulator has largely been interpreted as an attempt to transport someone in London to Malaysia; that is, it is seen to be in mimicry of the tropics. However, a wider examination of Archigram’s work suggests that the simulator was less an attempt at imitation than an attempt to push the boundaries of space.

By the 1970s, Archigram had become less interested in physical structures than in a “subject’s relationship to audiovisual telecommunication networks.” While Archigram’s earlier projects involved physical movement within a network structure, their work began to emphasize the regulation of the movement of media information, such as “electronic data transmission, traffic control, and administration, radio-telephone tower, communication and news service relay station, inter-commercial closed-circuit television hook ups, public television and telstar rediffusion centre.” As David Greene, the group’s poet, wrote in reference to Archigram’s well known “Plug-In City”:

Plugging-in, however, describes an attitude, not a style, a way of thinking that shows a shift of interest from building to the device. A shift from aesthetics to the way portable hardware restructures our behaviour.

The simulator was a hardware prosthetic. Plugged in, it allowed “the extension of one medium into another and a corresponding enlargement of consciousness into a new spatial condition.” The acceleration of time and space in an age of modernism had become so fast as to shrink time-lags to virtually nothing: hardware was an instrument for temporal and spatial reduction. Being modern was not enough, Malaysia could be produced in a priori brevity, in an instant. Instant information, instant affect, instant sound, all brought to life through the simulator.

But the pavilion was ultimately a national project. The theatre of media was made to rewrite the software of a nation. Subsumed into this new political entity, everything would be remade in a national vocabulary. A stock-taking of projected images are as follows: Forests – flag – people – flag – architecture – flag. In a sketch of the simulator, Ron Herron writes a tell-tale note: “People – Jungle Thro’ Future.” A linearity was being built into the exhibition: people would process through the slow, muddy ages of the jungle, then through the ground floor of accelerated industrial movement, made possible by colonial power, and finally to the instant national simulator.

In an alternate geography, perhaps Instant Malaysia could have realized its utopian dreams. The namesake of Instant Malaysia, Peter Cook and Herron’s Instant City (1968-70), was meant to upend the dynamic between city and town, in a way that one could have imagined an alternate Instant Malaysia upending the dynamic between colonial centre and periphery. Imagined as a kit-of-parts transported on an airship, Instant City would bring the cultural attractions of a city to villages across Great Britain: and “the net that could be spread by Instant City were dynamic enough things might perhaps reverse: the sum of the provinces might become the exciting scene, with the old metropolis becoming a cultural as well as physical embarrassment.” But the net of Instant Malaysia was spun through the recycled tropes of colonial linearity. The fun graphics of Instant Malaysia take on a new sinister sneer once we remember it was meant to conceal violent racial riots.

Alas, the reality of the simulator did not quite match the imagination of Archigram. It was dysfunctional, prone to vandalism, and at one point had all its slides stolen from it. Its clunkiness was the only thing that allowed a safe distance between the total and totalitarian image. But it did set a precedent for “the value of a location or a place… as a function of its connectedness or disconnectedness to the groundless technics of electronic signal processing.” The obfuscation between groundlessness and placelessness would once again be seized by architects engaging with Malaysia in the tide of postmodernity.

Big, Fat line

“For practical purposes, borders have already disappeared because knowledge, capital, company activities, and consumer preferences ignore lines on a map.” – Mahathir Mohamad, 4th and 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia

“The combination of these two forces of change [creativity and innovation, and globalization] will eliminate the natural barriers of time and space.” – 21st Century Malaysia

In Malay and Indonesian, development is premised on building. Pembangunan (‘development’) is derived from bangunan (‘building’ or ‘structure’). Bangunan, in turn, is derived from bangun (‘wake up’, ‘stand up’, ‘get up’). The first recorded use of pembangunan I could find was in Al-Imam, a monthly magazine published in Singapore between July 1906-1908, in reference to the rise of Japanese ‘mankind’ (pembangunan umat Jepun). If development is dependent on building, then they are both central to the rise of a nation.

Wawasan 2020 was seeped in pembangunan. If Instant Malaysia was made to repair Malaysia’s image as a burgeoning nation in the eyes of international powers, then the 1990s heralded an era where Malaysia was determined not merely to impress them but to join their ranks. While development-as-building was not explicit in the nine strategic challenges laid out in Mahathir’s ‘The Way Forward,’ as it was in the Sarawak Manifesto in 1991 , it quickly became the definitive toolkit of the state to achieve the status of a ‘developed nation’ by 2020.

Kuala Lumpur was the crucible of these experiments. Now having acquired the catchy abbreviation ‘KL’ – half syllables, double-time – KL was imagined not merely as a meeting point between tin mines and a port but as a new centre of the world. To Mahathir, globalization has erased the geographic lines of a map: it allowed an opportunity for its rewriting in information.

The lines of KL and the net of Instant Malaysia would thus be replaced by the web. While net (jaring ) evoked the nets of fishermen, web had no equivalent word in Malay – it would be unprecedented. Mahathir imagined a “multicultural ‘web’ of mutually dependent international and Malaysian companies… [which] will extend beyond Malaysia’s borders… In short, all parties touched by this ‘web’ will benefit and are enriched through their contribution to it.” In another speech, he continues, “like a spider, [the web] will weave ever more intricate webs of relationships… such a web could be the new model of development for the Information Age.” In Mahathir’s vision, we would all be already entangled.

The web made new political subjectivities. “Web shapers” were the new agents for crafting this digital age, applicable to bureaucrats on an e-Government task force, enterprising private individuals, and even to companies. Discontent with merely being a conduit, being a web shapers implied influence. In this age – much like the Instant Malaysia simulator – technology would become an extension of man. In a telling corporate image published by the Asian Strategy Leadership Institute (ASLI), a man is placed in the middle of the page, arms raised, and legs slightly spread in the style of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. But he no longer exists as corporeal, his body transparent and rendered only in faint lines against an endless void. The brightest parts of the image – and its focus – is not on the subject but on the series of lines and light emanating out of and into the man. These lines are helpfully labelled, “information,” “domain,” “data transmission,” “compressed, compressed, compressed, compressed.” The light shimmers with such brilliance it rewrites the world around it, with the skip-forward and go-backwards buttons glitching into multiples like a time-lapse photograph.

If the web shaper was to be the conductor of an orchestra of information, then he would need “both the physical and the psychological space for creativity.” And “we are not just talking buildings,” Mahathir continued. Infrastructure – both physical and immaterial – pointed the way forward. More than physical structures made for travel, infrastructure promised scale, marrying the physical demands of a growing city with its aspirations for a digital age en masse. Self-sufficient structures would give way to formulaic interdependencies, where each project was both a node in a web and a web itself. Within this logic, infrastructure space becomes “repeatable phenomena engineered around logistics and the bottom line, with elaborate routines and schedules for organizing consumption.” In this sense, these logics are also “a kind of conjuring, a dramatic performance,” a formal and verbal rhetorical language that permeated all the actors on the stage. A litany of megaprojects was approved, among them the Petronas Twin Towers (1993-1999), and the unrealized KL Linear City (1994-).

The skyline of KL was emblematic of this new psychological space, with its crowning achievement of having not one but two of the tallest buildings in the world. Designed by Cesar Pelli, the former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, the Petronas Twin Towers (colloquially known as KLCC ) was paid for by oil profits. Clad in stainless steel, it glitters against the sky against the glare of the equatorial sun. Like the Government Offices, it would borrow elements outside Malaysia in a web of influence: the plan of the towers is based on the geometric motif of the Rub-el-Hizb, the Islamic Star, albeit with circles added on. The twin towers are minaret, office, skyscraper, and mall tightly coiled into two packages like a swiss roll. Mahathir famously compared them to what a “box is to a shorties,” a platform from which Malaysia may stand alongside global powers.

KL LinearCity (KLLC) would be the alter-ego of the Petronas Twin Towers. Touted to be the longest building in the world, LinearCity would be “the happiest place in Asia… Some day someone may beat the KLCC, but no one will beatAA the longest building in the world,” enthused one executive. It is easy to understand the allure of the skyscraper in the modern age – of compactness, of transcendence, of overcoming – but what are the aspirations of the linear ? Distributed in space, over the expanse of a river, in an instant, LinearCity would not only contain “the majesty and murderous stupidity” of the time, energy, and labour poured into its body, but also stand strong enough to reconcile the contradictions through its sheer confidence. If KLCC was an exclamation, KLLC was a manifesto. In the words of Manfredo Tafuri on the Le Corbusier’s linear 1930 Plan for Algiers:

“Absorb that multiplicity, reconcile the improbably through the certainty of the plan, offset organic and disorganic qualities by accentuating their interrelationship, demonstrate that the maximum level of programming of productivity coincides with the maximum level of the productivity of the spirit… More precisely, form assumes the task of rendering authentic and natural the unnatural universe of technological precision.”

LinearCity was an architecture of an age. To make the web a reality, we’d have to draw a big, fat line on the map.

Move along

Arata Isozaki: I was thinking about [the Metabolist] concept of time: time is linear and grows or progresses from the beginning to become a utopia in the end. It’s a linear progression with no… Rem: No deviation. - Project Japan, page 40.

The penultimate track on crossover thrash band Pilgrim’s album, Achtung! This is Not a Metal Band from the year 2000, is a 50-second interlude titled “The March on Ampang River.” “You’d have to be crazy not to be scared,” whispers the gruff voice of Tommy Lee Jones, sampling from the 1998 movie “Small Soldiers” where he plays a toy soldier named Chip Hazard who is brought to life by artificial intelligence, but not safety tested due to corporate deadlines. Anchored by a snare, an electronic keyboard plays the melody, beginning with five notes and with a variation as a response. In the regular time of a militaristic march, the song moves on, blind to the variation and reverts to uniformity, repeating the five notes at the beginning. The song ends with another sample from “Small Soldiers.” “It’s a small world after all,” Chip Hazard intones, as the march disintegrates into synthetic, glitchy noise.

LinearCity was troubled from the start, seemingly sustained by the heady cocktail of fantasy and promise of a pay-out. The project was initiated by David Chew Keat Soon, a dilettante who studied engineering at MIT, and the business tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan, the lordly founder of Berjaya Corporation and a known crony of Mahathir Mohamad. Chew and Tan were first aligned in 1991 when Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between them, was awarded a 28-year sewerage concession to overhaul Malaysia’s sewage disposal system.

LinearCity was to be their encore performance. It had rather unheroic origins for such a heroic space: dredging and cleaning the Klang River, which had accrued years of government neglect. On a 12km along the Klang River from Jalan Tun Razak to Puchong, and a small stretch of the Gombak River, Chew and Tan proposed to make a deal with the government. They would clean and fortify the muddy river to mitigate persistent floods, build parking lots, and build a monorail train system, also known as the People-mover Rapid Transit (PRT) system. In return, Pripadu Sdn Bhd, a joint-venture company owned by Chew and Tan and capitalized for RM2, would be awarded the rights to build around and above the Klang River. In the absence of space ripe for development in a city as crammed as central Kuala Lumpur, they would make space into property: a network of commercial and residential spaces would sit on top of the river itself. Where others saw air, they saw strata titles and the longest building in the world. The Klang River began as a trading hub; now, it too would be traded.

Huat Lim, a young architect who had just moved back to Kuala Lumpur, was appointed as the architect for the project. Fresh from a stint at Norman Foster’s office and his education at the Architectural Association, Huat saw the project as an opportunity to remake public space in Kuala Lumpur, so that the city’s “heart starts to beat again.” Rather than seeing the privatization of the riparian zone around the river as an irreversible infringement on public space, Huat believed that it was the only way to return the riverbank to the people as habitable space. In the logic of late capitalist Malaysia, it was easier to make a deal with the lesser devil of developers than to attempt to affect any change within the protected ranks of government. Years of neglect had made the Klang River acrid, muddy, and unsuitable to the liberal vision of a modern city-dweller taking a relaxing stroll along its bank. In the eyes of Wawasan, the river provided neither physical nor psychological space for the new Malaysian, never mind the 1,000+ families who lived in Kampung Pasir Lama, Kampung Kicap, and Brickfields and would have to be evicted for the project to continue.

LinearCity saw the return of a familiar figure in the making of Malaysia: Archigram. Huat, having taught with Peter Cook and Ron Herron of Archigram at the Bartlett in London, pulled his mentors in to work on the project. Herron Associates was even listed as a “Future Systems Consultant” in the original masterplan. Archigram’s ideas, anachronistic in the West by the 1990s, gained new relevance in a nation seeking to build information into its infrastructure. Working over bottles of white wine, they aimed to “achieve… scale in one quantum leap.”

In 1994, Huat, along with Cook and Herron, produced the first iteration of the LinearCity Masterplan for Pripadu. LinearCity touted itself as the “spine” of the city. KLCC would be “the Head”, Masjid Jamek and the historical area of the confluence would be “the Heart” while the surrounding old town areas would be “the Body,” and finally the industrial zones of Puchong and OUG would be “the Tail.” Instead of driving around town, the architects imagined that you would park your car in one of the 28,000 parking lots offered and ride the Monorail up and down the spine of the city. Instead of the metaphor of arteries and blood usually associated with highways, the spine – reminiscent of the language of Japanese Metabolists – carries information in electrical signals. Each firing of a neuron is an action potential.

Embedded from the Head to Tail was the potential of the LinearCity Information Highway. It looked toward the future, with a keen awareness of its own obsolescence: “The highway is permanent, the services transient and its usage is market led.” With cables running the length of the development and “switching gear servicing each building with branching connections to the surrounding city,” it would serve as case study and case-in-point for the line-as-web. One could live within the fantasy of LinearCity. The proposed (and later realized) National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) would contain fingerprint biometric data and digital currency on an in-built chip, all embedded in a thin piece of plastic. The MyKad, as it is now known, was imagined to be the one-stop access to LinearCity. Swipe in to ride the Monorail, to pay for your shopping at the mall, to withdraw money from the bank, to check into your office. Swipe out when you’re done.

It would take minimal architecture to contain this new way of living. Like its progenitor Instant City, LinearCity was a generic concept. In fact, in 1997, Huat would once again propose to build the same network of structures on Sungai Temiang, the main waterway in Seremban. Huat offered not buildings, but a range of “armatures, accessories, and components.” Suspended above the river with a series of Pringle-like transpar frames developed by Ove Arup, his proposed structures were so “fine, filigree, and non-threatening” that he imagined they could be blown away at any moment. Read without scale, they could almost be mistaken for telecommunication towers.

LinearCity took one step further than the simulator of Instant Malaysia. If the simulator of Instant Malaysia was meant to dissolve a user into a stream of information, then LinearCity wanted to wield it. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the proposed Hydrophonic Parks, one at Central Market near the confluence of the Klang and Gombak River , and the other at Puchong. Rather than cover up the river, “KL LinearCity will enhance the river’s prominence as a feature of the city.” More than a promenade to walk on, LinearCity would put the river to work, using “siphonic technology to draw energy derived from water.” Meanwhile, a station would control satellite and microwaves, with an “intelligent solar system” and light-sensitive cladding panels. In Huat’s telling of the story of LinearCity, this was the early days of sustainable architecture in Malaysia, coherent with the “environmental design” promulgated by Ken Yeang through the 1980s and 1990s. Yet this was not the gardens-in-the-sky proposed by Yeang, where nature and technology were brought together to offset one another. The hydrophonic park rendered environment as information, where air, water, invisible waves, and the sun were passed through a system of utility. Linear City took the dream of Instant Malaysia, scaled it up and adjusted it to the needs of a private corporation.

The building could operationalize information, and it aspired for its occupants, who would ideally be web shapers, to be able to do so as well. In another section, the report – sounding awfully like algorithmically-generated text – continues, “Occupants need to have the semblance of decision-making… this requires clarity and simplicity in environment-tempering. The concept should be responsive intelligence which allows an interaction between user and building and the degree of learning which is the essence of fuzzy logic control.” In the words of Deleuze, “controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.” Control would no longer be totalising, but would operate like a switch, drawing geographies of connection and disconnection. In Wawasan Malaysia, we would all be points of, agents of, and subject to control.

Like the ASLI image of the web shaper as Vitruvian man, information was the protagonist. Architecture would become just a frame, a window, a background. If the promise of the simulator was as a prosthetic to plug a user into a different world, LinearCity wanted to render invisible the interface between user, software, and hardware. Its architecture was one of reduction, until it would threaten to disappear. Dematerialized with light membrane walls, held together by tension rods on transpar spans, and represented in the briefest lines in drawing, it was imagined as an impermanent system. Perhaps even the end of architecture itself.

A perspectival collage – one of two produced in this document – suggests a bias toward the horizon rather than the interior of the building. A pillar and a mural cut off the perspective within the building. The view outside the floor-to-ceiling glass walls is the focus of the image: beyond, dense vegetation gives way to a view of other buildings in KL. LinearCity itself is a promenade made for looking outward, a platform from which to absorb the city. By reducing the foreground, the horizon becomes ripe for picturing: a yellow helicopter, a protruding helipad, jaunty circles of colour in the sky. Curiously, an oval with a gradient from orange to yellow to white occupies the far right of the picture. It hovers between the inside and outside, standing outside perspectival space.

The tail of a snake eats itself [97]

When lines grow from drawing to space, frictions emerge.

Huat, Cook, and Herron’s vision of LinearCity was eventually passed over. In Huat’s telling of the fable of Linear City, the greed of developers led to an endless cycle of unfulfilled consumption, and the project increasingly became about maximizing plot ratio and built-up area and being the longest building in the world. The already complicated development took on additional layers – hotels, boat rides that referenced Macao referencing Venice. Huat eventually left the project.

Under this new direction, LinearCity materialized as building. Headed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava, the thin lines of LinearCity hardened into solid walls, metal rails, and glass walls so heavily tinted it was nearly opaque. The 28,000 parking lots in the original proposition became 40,000. A theme song was developed. Chief among these new additions were GigaWorld, a bloated 2.4km long “unique urban commercial and tourism centre.” Colloquially termed “the Egg,” GigaWorld would be “a monumental urban landmark symbolizing in one great gesture the ties of man to nature.” In other words, it was a mall.

The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis was the death knell of the project. With Berjaya’s coffers emptied, the government asked to step in to complete the RM 2.2 billion monorail project while Vincent Tan would be free to pursue Linear City, as reported in the Wall Street Journal by economist KS Jomo. In late 1998, Vincent Tan sued KS Jomo for an amount of RM 250 million on account of defamation. The case was dropped only after a decade.

Hegemonic projects “require and reproduce their own outsides.” Like other megaprojects, shells lie in its wake. Three PPRs (Program Perumahan Rakyat, a low-cost government housing project ), the underutilized Monorail, and supposedly, a few shophouses in Brickfields that I have yet to be able to identify. When Linear City was shelved, more than 1,000 families who agreed to move from the riverbank area were left in limbo: they were promised medium-cost housing in Bukit Jalil, but by 2002 found the same plot of land occupied by a high-rise apartment.

The end of the line

“If the end might be predicted, or indeed had arrived, then the future was to be bereft of all but repetition.” – Anthony Vidler, Histories of the Immediate Present, 194

We began from a mall and a grid. We ended with the failed promise of a web, and a mall.

Yet, the grid has never truly disappeared. The grid is what allows perspectival drawings of linear city, and the infinite column of the simulator of Instant Malaysia. The past is not forgotten, merely reconstituted.

The aspirations of colonial officers, of Instant Malaysia, of LinearCity, all wished to step outside time. Whether it was in the overcoming of nature, the limits of the body, or of elements itself, the promise of utopia is in transcendence. Yet in an ironic twist, “the specificity of these articulations and collaborations also limits the spread and play of scale-making projects, promising them only a tentative moment in a particular history.” Putting to paper, drawing on a map, or rendering in a digital drawing necessarily confines the universality of utopia to particularity. It would be far better for a project to exist in noise, in perpetuity, in delay.

The River of Life is the latest megaproject touted to “rejuvenate” the Klang River. With a price tag of RM4.4 billion, like its predecessors, it has been repeatedly pushed. These dreams, constantly delayed, are always just out of reach.