Wisma Central Exterior
“Hidden in plain sight”. Photo: Lyn Ong.

It’s easy to look past Wisma Central when you’re on Jalan Ampang. With its dated architecture and muted façade, the 1980’s architecture is almost hidden in plain sight as tourists and shoppers stride by. When your neighbours are KLCC, Avenue K and the soon-to-be Four Seasons Hotel, how does a humble building like Wisma Central compete in the concrete jungle?

After the announcement that the first Four Seasons in Kuala Lumpur would be built next to Wisma Central, there have been rumours of the almost 40 year old building being demolished. Yet, if you head to Wisma Central on a weekday lunchtime, you’re likely to find it’s bustling. Dotted with stationary shops, tailors and vape shops, it’s a 1980’s throwback that still draws people for its range of services and cheap eats.

Wisma Central Postboxes
Wisma Central is one of the few buildings in KL where postboxes remain on the upper floors rather than the ground floor.

To get a real sense of the life behind the forgotten infrastructure, we got a personal tour of the place’s nooks and crannies from Ben Fadzlee, who works with Citylab Studio. Citylab Studio is an architecture firm based in Wisma Central, whose team of designers, builders and creators have been working hand in hand with Wisma Central’s building management to bring in a breath of fresh air for the old mall.

An old karaoke hall is set for renovation.
An old karaoke hall is set for renovation into a food court.

Citylab Studio first took an office here because of the low rent. However, they were approached by the building’s management in 2013 to talk about the physical works that can be done to improve the building. The team kicked off the project by repainting the exteriors and then working their way inside to improve the building’s lighting and security.

Most strikingly, they commissioned Noemy Zainal to design an extensive mural on the 2nd floor ceiling. To get a flow of KL-ites walking in through the doors, Citylab Studio recently started hosting regular art markets and converted the ping pong court on the 4th floor into an exhibition space.

Wisma Central ceiling mural
Wisma Central’s ceiling mural by Noemy Zainal.

The team are currently in the process of getting approval from DBKL to create a zebra crossing at the front entrance linking Wisma Sentral to Avenue K, in the hopes it will drive more traffic to the mall. For now, you can see hints of their work in Citylab’s Prototype Gallery, which hosts curated local art content such as 3D printed models, handmade artwork and fashion accessories.

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As well as the longstanding office tenants, newer creative businesses have also moved in, taking advantage of the central but overlooked location. Some familiar names who also call Wisma Central home include Projek Rabak, local publishers from Ipoh who produce books and zines; Sejahtera.Co, a local clothing company; and last but not least, lauded Malaysian designer Ezzati Amira. “Wisma Central could be a centralised incubator for small businesses. I think that’s the way to go in the future,” says Ben.

Tahnas Muruku is a popular stall in Wisma Central.
Tah-Tas Muruku is a popular stall in Wisma Central.

As for the talk about demolishing Wisma Central, Ben isn’t worried. “For the building to be demolished, the management would have to get at least 70% approval out of all the lot owners.” The building has about 350 owners and majority of them are uncontactable so it’s safe to say Wisma Central is safe for the next couple of years. “This is one of the oldest buildings on Jalan Ampang. You just can’t find this sort of building anymore”, he says. We would definitely agree.

SIX SPOTS TO FIND IN WISMA CENTRAL

Tenka Daiichi Ramen Japanese Noodle Restaurant

This popular Japanese restaurant, tucked behind the main concourse of the ground floor, serves up generous portions of ramen noodles.

Suite 1.29, Ground Floor, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL 

Prototype Gallery

Filled with curated Malaysian made goods, Prototype Gallery has something for everyone, from apparel to books and 3D printed models.

Lot 3.01D, 2nd Floor, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL. 

Projek Rabak

Originated from Ipoh, Projek Rabak is the place to go to discover locally made art, and we mean all types. They are more popularly known for their local zines, magazines and literature.

Lot 3.39, 2nd Floor, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL.

Adonis & Dash Costume Shop

A one-stop-shop for costumes, makeup and accessories for your next themed party.

Lot 2.06, 1st Floor, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL.

Thai Syok Authentic Thai Street Food

With vibrant graffiti and colourful interiors, eating at Thai Syok will do just thing if you’re missing Bangkok and its glorious streetfood.

Lot 0.10, Basement Level,  Wisma Central Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL. 

Tah-Tas Muruku

A stall located on the ground floor, Tah-Tas Muruku (originating from Ipoh) allows you to select and mix your own choice of muruku to munch on the go.

Ground Level Concourse,  Wisma Central Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL.

Photos by Lyn Ong

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