Historical Kampung Attap Building Turned Creative Hub

Not long ago I found a hidden gem in Kampung Attap with my friends.

It is a 4 story building called Zhongshan which is full of cafes, bookstores, craft stores and more.

But what’s interesting is that all of these stores have an artistic touch, almost like a concept.

It is as if all the artists come together in one space and you can visit them like a museum.

Unlike its older design, there was an extremely young crowd in the space, so it’s obviously a trendy, hipster hangout.

I later found out that Zhongshan was actually a creative hub, and managers only accepted like-minded creations to join their space.

Curious about this process and the story behind the building, I contacted Liza Ho, half of the husband and wife duo behind Zhongshan management.

He doesn’t want to give up his first home

Zhongshan was built in the 1950s, making it around 70 years old now.

Zhongshan in 2016, before becoming a creative hub / Image credits: Zhongshan

Rob Tan, Liza’s husband actually lived in Zhongshan when he was a kid with his parents and maternal grandparents, he shared with The Edge.

His parents gradually bought the other units in the building and rented them out to families.

It was a first home for many of them, but they would leave after a while.

Small businesses were also set up in the building, but they also moved.

When Rob returned from Australia, Zhongshan became a hostel for foreign workers, which was not what he had in mind for the building.

He got offers from people who wanted to buy Zhongshan, demolish and build something else, and even turn it into a KTV cum mess.

However, not wanting to give up their first home so easily, Rob and Liza decided to restore the building and come up with a concept.

They received a grant from Think City worth RM200K, which covered one-fifth of their restoration costs.

Liza used to work at the Valentine Willie Fine Art Gallery in Bangsar, but when it closed she started doing pop-up exhibitions.

One day, she realized that she could use Zhongshan’s space to set up her gallery, and realized that other artists like her were looking for a small space that they could share together.

Thus was born the idea of ​​transforming the 70-year-old building into a creative center.

Birds of the same feather flock together

As news of the building and its prices spread, more and more companies and curators occupied the spaces.

Currently, they have 25 small businesses and organizations that share the Zhongshan building.

Although they insist on welcoming only like-minded people to share this space with them, they do not have specific criteria for selecting them.

Since Liza and Rob are committed to building a tight-knit community that can contribute to Zhongshan’s vibrancy, these are the people they seek out the most.

Liza added, “We will do everything we can to keep the rent affordable for the community. We know how difficult it is to be in the arts.

She herself runs The Back Room in Zhongshan, which is a space for art exhibitions, projects, discussions and workshops.

The Back Room / Image credits: Chow Sook Mei

It wasn’t that long ago that I inquired about the new extension they built which was a courtyard and individual studio spaces.

The yard is approximately 2000 square feet, hence the rental is 5500 RM while the studio spaces are 230 square feet, which costs 1500 RM to rent.

The last two times I had been there was in July and September there had always been a crowd and heavy traffic in their stores.

I was curious as to whether they were planning on starting to increase their rental costs, as they are becoming more and more popular.

But Liza thinks the building is more than a capital gain for them.

“Our income comes from renting to tenants and that is enough for us. We have always viewed this as a profit and not as a profit maximization. “

Inside Zhongshan

Visiting Zhongshan can be like a maze.

There are shops behind the shops behind the shops so if you have a whole day doing nothing this is definitely the place to explore.

So far I have been to Tommy Le Baker, Ana Tomy, Naiise, PiuPiuPiu and The Back Room – a bakery, stationery, souvenir shop, coffee stand and Liza’s art exhibit.

Tommy Le Baker and PiuPiuPiu / Image credits: Lee Jo-Dee

They may look like regular KL cafes and hip stores elsewhere.

But when they were all congregated in Zhongshan, I felt their cheerleader effect on me.

Before MCO, the building frequently held events and pop-ups every month.

Some of these events include film screenings, book clubs, lectures, live music, art exhibitions and more.

They have also hosted flash tattoo pop-ups as well as social businesses like Penan Bags, The Lost Towel Project, and Eloma Shoes.

Although MCO stopped these events and pop-ups for a while, they still pursued them practically like hosting chats and book clubs through live Instagram.

For many, Zhongshan may just be another building, but Liza and Rob’s intentions can clearly be seen and felt by those who venture there.

Beyond the building itself, Liza has more creative dreams and hopes that Kampung Attap will someday become an arts district.

  • You can read more about Zhongshan here.

Featured Image Credit: Liza Ho, Co-Founder of Zhongshan Building

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Jothi Venkat

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