The Star Online, 3 June 2007
The vast and therapeutic Sentul Park, a significant part of the Sentul West development in Kuala Lumpur, is one fine example of why there should be more such spaces in the city.
IMAGINE you are a developer who has inherited an under-utilised golf course. You plan several blocks of swanky high-rise apartments but find you have 14ha of land to spare.
Do you squeeze in a few more blocks of condos? Or do you create a lush landscaped park?
A shining example of the proverbial “road less taken” can be seen today at Sentul Park, part of the Sentul West development in Kuala Lumpur by YTL Land & Development Bhd. Its mix of open grassy spaces and jungle-like nooks with evocative names like South Gardens, Central Lake, East Fields and West Fields certainly creates an oasis of calm amidst the concrete jungle that surrounds it.
So why did YTL choose to go down this road?
In the 1990s, developers were crazy about golf-course-themed residential projects.
Yet, a survey conducted in 2003 showed that, amazingly, only 6% of prospective buyers wanted homes by a golf course. A whopping 53% preferred “country-resort-garden-botanic park” living. In other words, good social and environmental sense made sound ringgit and sen too.
Sentul Park’s principal designer, the renowned landscape architect Sek San (who declines to have his picture taken), says the idea of a park surrounding the condo units is like creating “outdoor rooms that are an extension of each home”.
And urban kids who would otherwise not know what ginger plants or tadpoles in ponds look and feel like can “discover it for themselves” here.
As we walk into the park from the adjacent KLPAC (Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre), it’s clear that Ng really means what he says about creating “outdoor rooms”. There are garden “sofa sets” made of pre-shaped wire mesh located in strategic spots for you to sit down and take in the scenery!
“This is tropical monsoon furniture for the outdoors,” says Sek San. “Just one kick, and it’s all dry.” (Which is more than can be said for most local park furniture which is often designed for dry temperate weather.)
Sleek chairs and origami-like flamingos, both made from sheet metal, provide artistic conversation starters. And not only can we sit on the chairs, we can even spin ourselves silly in them.
The traditional Malay wooden wakaf or shelter is modernised into an unobtrusive glass and steel structure. “The idea is not to glorify an object or building. Nature is the big thing here,” explains Sek San, whose name in Cantonese is a homonym of “stone and mountains”.
Indeed, there is even a little Tom Sawyer-like jetty (no, why don’t we call it the Tanjung Karang fishing village jetty) where kids can dangle their feet just above a pond amidst luxuriant canopies of greenery.
Creating a forest in the city
A camping ground (thoughtfully equipped with bathrooms nearby) and another shelter, inspired by Taman Negara’s wildlife observation “hides”, also grace this forested part of Sentul Park.
“Parents can let the kids camp out for the night and go back to the condo the next morning,” says Sek San. Security is not an issue as it’s a private gated park with security officers roaming the grounds - some on horseback. The only wildlife here, apart from unruly teenagers, will be domestic cats and dogs.
“All Malaysian (urban) parks nowadays don’t allow dogs. But this park is dog-friendly,” says Sek San, whose gregarious golden retriever runs alongside us, before taking a dip in the pond to cool off.
His concept is to tread lightly on Mother Nature - literally. He has carefully provided metal grating walkways to protect the native undergrowth, prevent soil compression and to allow light and water to recharge the earth.
However, it’s not truly deep jungle and, as a result, this corner of the park does have its mosquitoes. Then again, some thinning out of undergrowth plus cultivation of insect-repelling plants might clear the air, so to speak.
Sek San has kept many existing acacia and casuarina trees, leftover from the days when this place was a golf club, and planted a delectable array of new ones, including mighty tropical hardwoods such as meranti, cengal, West Indian mahogany and teak.
And of course, the towering Sandoricum koetjape, the very Sentol tree that gave this area its name. When the trees mature, a magnificent six-storeys high leafy canopy will blossom over the park.