For the last 50 years, designs for company headquarters have been dominated by thick slices of modernism in steel and glass, from SOM’s iconic Lever House in Manhattan to Kohn Pedersen Fox’s glittering Samsung HQ in Seoul. The brief for such projects remains the same today — to formulate a structure that can come to symbolize an organization’s collective pride and prosperity — but is there an alternative way to convey this signal of corporate power in architectural terms?
Working in collaboration, Malaysian-based studio Archicentre and Bangladeshi firm SHATOTTO have completed what is surely one of their most notable projects to date, the Setia Corporate Headquarters in Shah Alam, west of the capital Kuala Lumpur. The development marks a seminal moment for the two firms, partly due to the significance of its client — S P Setia is “Malaysia’s Leading Property Developer,” whose projects include the development of Battersea Power Station in London — and the sheer scale of the project. The building is up to 130 feet tall at its highest point and is set within an expansive four-acre site on the edge of the city.
This ambitious design possesses some of the characteristics seen in those aforementioned projects by SOM and KPF: two primary blocks of sleek steel and glass house the company’s vast office spaces, harking back to the International Style. The interlocking volumes are wrapped with double-glazed curtain walls and fitted with an extensive system of louvers helping to minimize solar heat gain. The similarities to this building’s corporate counterparts end there, though: these glazed structures are accompanied by a plethora of other elements — both externally and internally — that sets this complex apart.
The building’s standout feature is its soaring concrete canopy held up by a series of towering columns that extend some 130 feet out of a reflecting pool at the base of the structure. This roof, which the architects call a “parasol in the sky,” appears exceptionally thin in relation to its monumental supporting elements with razor-sharp edges akin to SANAA’s signature roofs — but on a gargantuan scale. The roof is punctured by a huge oculus through which rain feeds the pool beneath, acting as a symbol of the region’s reverence for rain and the company’s environmental ethos.
While this architectural set-piece steals the show at the front of the building, there are innumerable features hidden inside that further reinforce S P Setia’s image as a high-end, quality-conscious brand. The perfectly circular oculus in the concrete canopy is echoed in the lobby, a cool, minimalist environment clad with steel panels and sliding metal doors that reveal timber-wrapped meeting rooms. Seating for visitors and carefully considered planting are placed upon a central platform that appears to levitate a few inches above the floor, a further reference to the wafer-thin concrete canopy that hovers above the building.
The workspaces themselves are extraordinary spaces that blend a natural material palette with a highly polished finish; timber ceiling panels, exposed concrete columns, gleaming stone floors, and marble desktops are surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glazing, in a layout that blends the aesthetics of a futuristic control room with that of a luxury showroom. This layout has been designed as much for S P Setia’s clients as for its staff: the triple-height space exudes an atmosphere of sophistication, which the company undoubtedly hopes will translate into a perception of corporate quality for each potential customer that enters.
Perhaps the most significant aspects of Setia’s Headquarters, though, are its green credentials. The architects incorporated a raft of features pertaining to sustainability, including photovoltaic cells, green roofs, and an intricate rainwater collection system for use in toilet flushing and irrigation for planting across the site. Furthermore, the building is outfitted with water-efficient appliances, energy-efficient elevators, and low-impact systems for air conditioning and humidity control.
Setia Corporate Headquarters represents a classic example of commercial architecture as a symbol of prosperity, but its forest of soaring concrete columns provides a markedly more textured aesthetic than the steel-and-glass edifices populating the genre. That fact, together with a host of sustainable features inside and outside the complex, illustrates why Archicentre and SHATOTTO’s project should be regarded as a positive new precedent for commercial architecture in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia.