Friday, March 18, 2011

Palace of Culture's Interiors - Istana Budaya Part 1

It's easy to interchange Budaya and Bupaya. I do, quite often. But the Bupaya that I know is the Bagan Temple along the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar; beautifully shaped like a proud golden pineapple. It is one of my favorite sites in Myanmar (Burma). On the other hand, Malaysia's Istana Budaya is its Palace of Culture.

Founded in 1999, this istana ("palace") is the Malaysian capital's main venue for theatrical shows - musical theatre, operetta, classical concerts, operas. In fact, while I was checking out the place, I found tarpaulins of their upcoming and previous shows: "West Side Story", Magikal Che Det, Arirang - Korean Week, Samsara, etc. Three streets can be used to locate Istana Budaya: Jalan Tun Razak in front; Jalan Kuantan to its right side; and Jalan Beserah at the back (facing Lake Titiwangsa). To its left side is KL's National Art Gallery (circa 1958) which I didn't know during my two visits in Titiwangsa. Now I do. ;->

The theatrical arena is part of a cultural complex measuring 54,400 square meter that began construction in 1995 and completed 1998 - built to the tune of 210 million ringgit ($69.09 million or a whooping PhP3 billion). Had it been done in the Philippines, it would have only cost PhP50 million pesos, and the rest would have gone to the pockets of the mayor, the middlemen, and the contractors. Wanna bet? LOL

The Main Theater Hall - Panggung Sari - has a unique design of royal boxes traditional Malay windows. It can accommodate 1,412 people at a time. It is considered to be among the Top 10 Most Sophisticated Theaters in the World, and said to be at par with London's Royal Albert Hall! Istana Budaya is home of the National Theater Company and the National Symphony Orchestra.


The building is designed by local architect, Muhammad Kamar Ya'akub. The inspiration for the design is based on a traditional moon kite in flight. The turquoise folds on the roof and the intricate design of the foyer are just two of the interesting features of the building. Istana Budaya’s architecture has intrigued experts and academics.

The main building takes the shape of the 'sirih junjung', a traditional arrangement or a present made of betel leaves used during Malay weddings and welcoming ceremonies. As in a traditional Malay house, the building is divided into three areas:

§ The "serambi" (lobby and foyer)

§ The "rumah ibu" (main house) as the auditorium

§ The "rumah dapur" (kitchen) as the stage and rehearsal hall.

The interior was constructed using local resources such as Langkawi’s marble and high-quality tropical wood for the doors crafted by hand to shape flowers and leaf motifs. The verdant carpets in the entrance hall and lobby feature cempaka flower and the beringin tree, inspired by Malaysia’s traditional opera, Mak Yong.

In the auditorium, there are royal boxes on each side, patterned after the windows of a Malay house. The entrance to the theatre, too, replicates a palace’s main hall, or the Balairong Seri and is said to be modelled after one in Melaka.

The theatre lobby on the third floor extends the influence of Malay culture, taking the shape of the rebana ubi or traditional drum. Its 1,412 people capacity includes 797 in the stalls on the first floor, 312 in the grand circle on the second floor and 303 people in the upper circle. The orchestra pit, when it is not in use, can take in 98 people.

While there seems to be a large number of stairs, the disabled can take heart. Istana Budaya has wheelchair facilities, including a ramp into the foyer, a lift with easy-to-reach buttons and an area designated for the handicapped. Restrooms for the disabled are also found at both the stalls and grand circle areas. Additionally, there is also a costume gallery featuring clothes from Malay traditional theatre. The costumes are from Bangsawan, Mak Yong, Ajat Bebunuh, Layang Emas and Bambarayon performances, among others.

(Acknowledgement: Wikipedia for the architectural facts)

Panggung Sari Theater Hall

During my visit, they were fielding an Architectural and Interior Design Exhibit at the lobby. Photographs of neo-classical and modern designs were on display, some of them are featured below.

There wasn't any performance during my visit, but finding the place was nothing short of a pleasant discovery. I didn't plan on visiting Istana Budaya because I thought it was too far from Lake Titiwangsa. Little did I know that my 30-minute walk would eventually take me there. Guards were eyeing me as I navigated the premises in solitary splendor. They knew I was a tourist. After the interiors, I checked out the front lawn. It was as carefully planned as its interiors.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


In a few days, I will be taking my annual March/April long haul trip that will take me to a minimum of a dozen new places in Asia, covering 3 countries. Yes, it's not too inexpensive considering this involves 7 plane rides. We will be posting our daily blow-by-blow account, an undertaking that's truly tiring but more enjoyable than post-trip blogging. We are praying for a calamity-free travel. To those who are traveling soon, safe travels!


Trotter said...

Hi Eye! It looks an interesting place; and the exhibition is amazing!!

A dozen places in three countries with seven flights involved; it looks we are going to have a great trip in the horizon... Enjoy!

OK; I know that contemporary art doesn’t take unanimous approval... But some pieces are worth seeing. Check it at Blogtrotter Two, enjoy and have a superb weekend!!

eye in the sky said...

I actually like contemporary art too.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Very interesting information with lovely photos.

Wish you safe travel.

eye in the sky said...

@ Joseph:

Thank you. I like it when photos carry stories because they mean more.