What’s in an Act? Are we waiting for the dome of the Old FMS Survey Office to collapse?


When rapid development took over our cities between the 1970s and 1990s, we blamed the lack of proper legislation for our failure to protect our historic enclaves. The overwhelming pain every time a bulldozer struck the charming buildings our forefathers built… such heartache could never be restored. It took at least two decades to get a national heritage act into motion. The National Heritage Act 2005 (Act 645) provides for the preservation and conservation of our National Heritage, natural heritage, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, underwater cultural heritage, treasure trove, etc. We now have a National Heritage Department, headed by a Heritage Commissioner to carry out the powers and functions assigned to him/her under this Act.

Over 40 buildings/sites in Kuala Lumpur alone have been included under Jabatan Warisan Negara’s heritage list. Around 30 are of National Heritage status, which are buildings of significant value to the entire nation, including the Old FMS Survey Office that sits at the junction of Jalan Tun Perak-Jalan Raja (gazetted in 2012).

Designed by FMS Government Architect Arthur Benison Hubback, this Mughal-Eclectic styled building forms part of Kuala Lumpur’s old civic centre. It is one of KL’s earliest reinforced concrete structures, completed in 1911 by engineer turned contractor Dunstan Alfred Aeria, a Penang-Eurasian. Here was where the Survey Department of FMS operated, handling all matters related to mapping and land delineation, eventually taken over by the Sessions & Magistrate Courts in the 1980s.

The ground portion of the Old FMS Survey Office's tower, circa 1950s-1960s. Source: National Archives UK

Its two 80 feet high towers remain prominent albeit the LRT line obstruction, so much so that one can’t help but notice that one of its dome structure now resembles a squashed onion. It is obvious that the base of its original pinnacle is collapsing within the dome - hoarding has been put up between the arches on the ground floor. Water penetration is affecting the entire structure within. Structural movement caused by vibrations from the adjacent road traffic and LRT trains are among matters to be wary of.

The pinnacle of this said dome was first seen tilting late 2016, and so the top portion was hastily removed and sealed by 2017 as a safety measure. Four years have passed by since, unfortunately due action and responsibilities are not evident. The building is ailing, but it seems that no doctor wants to attend to it, and sadly, it does not have money for medicine.

Much has been said about the Old FMS Survey Office by relevant organisations in the past such as Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia, ICOMOS MALAYSIA, Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur, Jabatan Warisan Negara, conservators, etc. Still, it seems that nothing has been done to ‘arrest’ the deteriorating process and destruction of this 110-year-old building. We look back at our legal papers and ponder, what good is an Act if no action is taken? Section 42 of the National Heritage Act 2005 requires owners to ensure that their heritage site remains in a good state. If the owner is proven to neglect his listed property, the Heritage Commissioner may give him a two weeks' notice of intention to carry out necessary repair works – all cost and expense reasonably incurred to be reimbursed by the owner. The situation for the Old FMS Survey Office however is not so straightforward as it is a government property.

In the meantime, this heritage building and public safety remain threatened by the fear of the dome collapsing on its own. We humbly appeal to those responsible, either as custodian or owner, to attend to immediate remedy, otherwise we may lose this building and it would be costlier to restore. In spite of the current pandemic, we should still continue to sustain our century old heritage.

The Old FMS Survey Office. Yellow highlights point to elements that have been removed during the war and lost over time. Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia 20010041991.

Statement prepared by Kuala Lumpur Heritage Review Group, ICOMOS MALAYSIA. Download their Kuala Lumpur Heritage Agenda document here


Past news links related to the condition of the Old FMS Survey Office: 12.02.2017 Makeover for KL Landmarks

27.03.2017 Historical Buildings in Sad State of Disrepair

28.03.2017 Nazri: Application for RM150mil to restore colonial building yet to be approved

11.07.2017 Broken pieces of history

18.11.2019 Experts urge restoration of KL's decaying historic buildings

03.02.2020 KL's Iconic Buildings get Facelift

17.02.2020 These Iconic Buildings in KL will be Getting a Makeover because their Roofs may Collapse