KUALA LUMPUR, July 3 — When is an industrial space not an industrial space? When it is also home to a specialty coffee bar, a couple of events halls, a shared workspace for entrepreneurs and creatives, and now a pocket park. Welcome to APW, the refurbished premises of Art Printing Works, a 63-year-old commercial printing plant in Bangsar that spans 70,000 square feet.
Already a favourite stop for local hipsters in love with its raw industrial and retro design, APW now aims to launch what is possibly the first pocket park in Bangsar. The pocket park — basically a smaller park within the confines of an urban and commercial area — is the brainchild of Ee Soon Wei, APW’s chief executive officer.
He says, “Malaysia does very well with interior spaces but we tend to forget about the experience of the exterior before we walk into a building. I realised this was perhaps something the private sector needs to pick up, rather than just wait for the public sector.”
According to Ee, APW’s relationship with Think City, a community-based urban regeneration body that aims to create more sustainable and liveable cities, was absolutely crucial to the project. He explains, “Think City helped us immensely in our efforts in urban ‘greening’. We had wanted to do it ourselves initially then we found out it wasn’t cheap at all.”
In fact, there are many infrastructural issues that needs to be resolved; building a park, even a pocket park, isn’t as straightforward as planting a few trees. The foundation must be built properly and the layout will influence the flow of the park. The latter ultimately determines whether the users of the park will enjoy it or not.
To ensure a successful execution, APW hired Kyle E. and Jun Ong of POW Ideas, an architectural design firm based at Uppercase, the shared workspace within APW’s own premises. E. shares, “The project started as soon as we joined Uppercase. The area used to be a dumpster for the printing company. It’s a tiny triangular area, not prominent, especially to people at street level.”
The duo are also designing a few interior lots for Paper Plates, APW’s upcoming “food street”, as well as handling the design of the parking lot across the road. But for now, they’re fully focused on adding finishing touches to the pocket park which will launch officially in July.
“We see the park as a user, rather than a designer,” says Ong. “We ask ourselves what would we like to see in the park, if we were the ones using it, which we are, being tenants at Uppercase. Honestly, we’re basically becoming their in-house architects!”
The concept here is to add value to the negative spaces in between the larger buildings — Uppercase, Pulp, Paper Plates and the two events halls, Bookmark and Bindery — that will, in turn, inherently increase the overall value of the entire space.
“Low maintenance but high impact is what we’re looking for,” says E. “As such, we created toilets using only bricks so that they are cheap but also functional and robust. We used terraces as a solution for the odd slope we encountered; this has the added benefit of creating seats for families to gather.”
Some compromises were necessary, as with all collaborative projects. For example, the brief called for building a stage that is flexible and can be used for events, performances, etc. Ong recalls, “Originally the space was supposed to be grey, relatively safe, but Soon Wei felt it lacked the wow factor and wanted something more.”
The designers decided to inject some personality into the space via the use of colour — a bright red — and the use of rubber mat material, which is good for outdoor use and kids-friendly too.
“In the beginning, we had many renditions — larger than life ones — from water pavilions to angular slopes for skateboarding,” says Ee. “We decided to dress it down, partly for cost efficiency but also to leave more room for the space to grow organically.”
Serendipitously, Ong had just finished displaying a light installation titled Bolt at iLight Marina Bay 2016, Asia’s leading sustainable light festival in Singapore. Ee shares, “Originally a property developer wanted to install it on their grounds. However, the developer wanted to put their brand on the sculpture which would have ruined it, frankly. We were lucky to get it for our space — it fits the spirit of this new project.”
Inspired by lightning, Ong created Bolt as a homage to the natural phenomenon’s ethereal form and visceral behaviour. The installation is made of an intricate network of LED tubes on steel legs that display a series of curated lighting patterns at a selected time every night.
Ong explains, “Bolt mimics lightning, yes, but it also allows people to experience direct connections, an emotional ‘spark’ if you will, that is becoming rarer and rarer today where everyone is only connected digitally.”
At the moment, the plan is to showcase Bolt in the pocket park for a few months, before cycling it out with another work, making the space a showcase for public art. One can imagine in a year or two, when all the plants and trees mature, the entire pocket park will be quite a sight to behold. Before that happens, however, it is already destined to become a favourite gathering place for APW visitors.
According to E., the idea of parks, especially urban parks, in Malaysia is very new. He says, “We find the weather hot, yet we keep cutting down trees instead of planting more. So urban parks, pocket parks like this, can be a form of education to the public on the value of trees. A pocket park may not be a full-sized park or even a full-sized urban park, but it’s a start. Having it inside a private land isn’t counter-intuitive when it’s often more accessible than the public ones.”
His partner Ong agrees, adding, “We grew up as urban kids; we aren’t drawn to giant parks. A smaller place, to be honest, with a pub or bar at its edge, will be more our kind of thing! The thrill for us comes from having a hand in creating the first pocket park in Bangsar. It’s less common than you think; in researching this, we googled ‘parks in factories’ and only found one — the Condesa pocket park in Mexico.”
Ee believes in giving creative people like E. and Ong the freedom to express their ideas. He says, “That’s even if we go over the budget slightly. That’s the cost of pushing boundaries. For example, the red stage area Kyle and Jun came up with: some will like it, some won’t, but it will be a talking point, for sure.”
Given Ee’s faith in and support of creative Malaysians, it’s no surprise that APW Bangsar is one of only two spaces in Malaysia (the other is the National Art Gallery) chosen by the Japan Foundation for their South-east Asian galleries to be held during the first quarter of 2017.
It’s an affirmation of APW as the must-visit destination for everything hip and happening in Bangsar but if you’re a regular, you already know that. In fact, you are probably there now, sipping on a delicious cuppa at Pulp or coming up with new ideas in the shared workspace Uppercase or enjoying the greenery in its newly-minted Pocket Park.
APW Bangsar Pocket Park
For more information, visit www.apw.my