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CHRONOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY OF
ARTHUR CHARLES ALFRED NORMAN
Article published in the Journal of Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society,
Vol. LXX Part 1 June 1997 pg. 21-29
DR. A. GHAFAR AHMAD
Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Kuala Lumpur
Arthur Charles Alfred Norman, a senior government architect of the Public Works Department (PWD) in Malaya between 1883 and 1903, may not be well known to most Malaysians but his notable buildings in Kuala Lumpur, particularly near Merdeka Square such as the majestic Sultan Abdul Samad Building (1894-97), St. Mary's Church (1894), Selangor Club Building (1890), JKR 92 Memorial Library and Museum, formerly known as the Government Printing Office (1907-09); and others including Victoria Institution (1894) and Carcosa (1897) are significant to many including tourists. It is important to know not only the history of these buildings but the architect who designed them. This is because the buildings have historical and architectural values in which some of them, under the Antiquities Act of 1976, are given protection and encouragement to be conserved and preserved. Some of A.C.A. Norman's buildings have become important landmarks of Kuala Lumpur.
Like most of the British colonial buildings, A.C.A. Norman's buildings are essentially hybrids. Moorish influence, Tudor, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic are examples of architectural styles introduced by many British architects including A.C.A. Norman. As it was common practice in the PWD in those days, architects were responsible for the design of building plans and elevations (even though they were assisted and supervised by engineers), and thus much of the credit for the design of the buildings was given to A.C.A. Norman. For example, in the design of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it is likely that there were others including Charles Edwin Spooner as the State Engineer and Director of the PWD; and those who worked under A.C.A. Norman such as R.A.J. Bidwell and A.B. Hubback who had contributed their design ideas, suggestions and even carried out the detail drawings. Whilst many periodicals and books have described his buildings, it is the main purpose of this article to highlight the chronology of his biography. This article is based upon various accounts collected from books, periodicals and information from the British Architectural Library and the Royal Institute of British Architects, London.
Church (St. Mary's Church) $ 11,500
Govt. Offices (1884) $ 33,000
Govt. Offices $152,000
Gaol (Pudu Gaol) $320,000
Market $ 48,000
Police Offices $ 9,750
Residency $ 34,000
Victoria Institution $ 16,000
Carcosa $ 25,000
On 6 July 1896, the Council of the R.I.B.A. confirmed Norman's nomination to become a Fellow.
On 18 September, Norman's nomination as a Fellow of the R.I.B.A. was approved. He signed a Declaration Statement in the presence of architect A.B. Hubback.
1897 The Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur was completed. It was the largest building to be built at that time, stretching 400 feet along Jalan Raja with a central clock tower of 135 feet in height.
1901 Submitted a list of buildings erected by the PWD in his time in support of his application for promotion to the Resident H.C. Belfield but was unsuccessful.
1903 On the grounds of inefficiency, Norman was compulsorily retired at the age of 45.
1904 He left for England and worked with Boulton and Paul Ltd. in Norwich until 1907.
1908 He returned to Plymouth, England.
1928 At the age of 70, Norman was elected as the President of Devon Architectural Society.
1944 On 17 October, Norman died in England at the age of 86.
Much of A.C.A. Norman's early architectural experience was received from his father, besides working as a surveyor and building inspector in Plymouth, England. This helped him in gaining confidence in professional practice before leaving for Malaya in 1883.
It is believed that the design of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which is of the Moorish architectural style, was very much influenced by the State Engineer Charles Edwin Spooner who had working experience in Ceylon. It was Spooner who suggested that Norman and Bidwell should change the early elevations of the Building from Classic Renaissance to the adaptations of Mahometan style. However, Norman's other buildings in Kuala Lumpur such as the St. Mary's Church, Selangor Club Building and the JKR 92 Memorial Library and Museum have architectural styles which are similar to that of his homeland England.
Norman successfully designed his buildings with adaptations to climatic conditions, local building materials and building details. The use of high ceilings, verandahs, wide overhangs and canopies, big windows and louvered panels are some examples of common architectural features which appeared in his buildings. In addition, he used building materials including bricks, roof clay tiles, timber and metal products which were available locally.
Even though Norman's buildings represent a relatively small part of the Malaysian building heritage, their characters and styles have to some extent influenced other new buildings especially commercial buildings, offices and houses. For building conservation, it is important that not only historic buildings should be preserved and conserved but all historical facts about the buildings including the architects should be well documented.
Butcher, J.G., (1979), The British in Malaya 1880-1941, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.
Candidate's Separate Statement, the Royal Institute of British Architects, 30 March, 1896.
Davies, P., (1987), Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India 1660-1947, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.
Dickie, M., "Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, Jalan Raja", Majalah Akitek, March and April 1986.
Gullick, J.M., "The Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad", JMBRAS 65, Part 1, June 1992.
Hesketh, R.F., (1986), ed., Architecture of the British Empire, London: Thomas Telford Ltd.
Proposer's Separate Statement, the Royal Institute of British Architects, 28 March, 1896.
Tate, M.D.J., (1987), Kuala Lumpur in Postcards 1900-1930: From the Collections of Major David Ng and Steven Tan, Petaling Jaya: Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd.
Vlatseas, S., (1990), A History of Malaysian Architecture, Singapore: Longman Singapore Publishers Pte. Ltd.
Yeang, K., (1992), The Architecture of Malaysia, Amsterdam: The Pepin Press.