Petronas Towers

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
10.7 million square feet / 994,000 square meters

The Petronas Towers, the central element of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre development, are a modern expression of Malaysia’s culture, history, and climate, and symbols of its economic growth and hopes for the future. The twin towers rise from a mixed-use base of cultural, commercial, and public spaces set in a large park in the center of the city. Until 2004, they were the world’s tallest buildings.

To create a uniquely Malaysian design, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects drew from Islamic culture, Kuala Lumpur’s climate and light, and Malaysian craft and design. The plan of the towers is generated from two overlapping squares that form an 8-pointed star, a pattern frequently found in Islamic design. As the buildings rise, they step back six times, and at each setback, the walls tip outward slightly, adding complexity reminiscent of traditional Malaysian architecture. The towers are clad in panels of glass and stainless steel that softly reflect sunlight.

Between the two towers is a powerful, figural void. To activate this space — the center of the composition — a two-story bridge was added at the 41st and 42nd floors, structured by angled brackets that shape the space and accentuate the vertical thrust of the towers. This sky lobby connects the buildings and contains spaces shared by both, including elevator lobbies, a conference center, and a prayer room.

Inside, the project emphasizes local materials and patterns. The walls of the lobbies are finished in light-colored Malaysian woods set in a stainless steel grid, and the marble floor pattern is derived from a pandan weaving pattern. A continuous wood screen shades the lobbies. In the shopping areas, arcades and canopies at street level evoke the five-foot way found in traditional Malaysian shop houses.

Although designed and built before sustainability was a common design priority, the towers’ design conserves energy through attention to climate and location. Shading devices are built into the façade at every story to take advantage of Malaysia’s high sun angle, a traditional practice in tropical architecture. In addition, laminated glass was used to reflect radiation away from the interiors and minimize heat gain, thus reducing the use of air-conditioning.