Malaysian Timber in Applications

Wei Ling Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Wei-Ling Gallery occupies the top three floors of CSL Associates office in Brickfields, in Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

In 2004, a fire razed the building and gutted this old colonial period shop lot. When architect Jimmy Lim of CSL Associates restored his office, the upper floors that were used to archive drawings and documents were left empty. Wei Ling, who was then running her Townhouse Gallery nearby, prompted her dad Jimmy Lim to turn it into an art gallery.

Under his able hands, Jimmy Lim had creatively morphed it into an airy gallery space with the addition of just a few platforms connected by stairs and bridges, using mainly one material: timber, the signature material which is the essence of Jimmy Lim’s architectural style.

The double-volumed space is laid with square plywood floor “tiles”, several of which are covered in tempered glass to provide visual connection with the floor below as well as to reveal the construction of both the new and the old charred timber floors. The charred timbers are meant to showcase timber’s slow-burning attribute, enabling better predictability for any rescue operations.

Two plywood platforms on timber joists straddle the gallery space at both ends. They are connected by staircases and narrow walkways bracketed off the walls. The timber balustrades, topped with counters, provide ready surfaces to place one’s drink or hors d’oeuvres during art viewings.

To minimise cost, the ceiling is sheathed with sheets of 4’ x 8’ plywood and installed in a staggered fashion for interesting visual effect as well as to accommodate concealed lighting. Track lights are used to illuminate the paintings on the walls. The whole space – with the rawness of the natural timber finish, exposed nuts and bolts in the construction joints, glass-cased charred timber flooring, minimally dressed walls – is meant to provide an honest but warm and unintimidating gallery for beautiful art pieces to be showcased and appreciated.

This approach to timber detailing, i.e., the deliberate exposure of the connections, joints, bolts and nuts, is reminiscent of the nuts-and-berries or the Sydney School style of the 1960s. This partly reflects the influence of Jimmy Lim’s architectural training at the University of New South Wales, Australia. The Architect’s love for timber and innate passion for maintaining colonial structures are evident in the Wei-Ling Gallery, which exudes character and elegance.

While most modern galleries made of brick and stone are cold and unwelcoming, Wei-Ling Gallery’s timber features exude warmth and cosiness, encouraging visitors to linger. More importantly, its construction points to wood as a material capable of being turned into an art piece in itself, creating a renewed interest in pushing timber at the forefront of interior design that is authentically and uniquely Malaysian.

Since its opening in 2005, the Wei-Ling Gallery has become a popular exhibition space in the Kuala Lumpur art scene.