I’m in a taxi that’s barreling down the freeway to KLIA, and will get to the airport really early and have lots of time to explore and take pictures, or die a fiery death. Could go either way. (How fast is 140 km/h? Must remember to check if I survive.)

On my last night in Malaysia, my hosts and a couple other conference speakers– we were from Venezuela, Turkey, South Korea, and the U.S.; we could have been the setup to a joke involving a bar, a one-legged parrot, and a hilarious misunderstanding over the word for “hand lotion”– drove up to Kuala Lumpur to have dinner at the Patronas Twin Towers.


KL, as its called, has plenty of interesting architecture and monuments, but they’re all literally dwarfed by Patronas. It’s one of the tallest buildings in Asia, and views of it command premium prices in the condos nearby (and a few have plummeted in value after a bigger project closer to the Towers has blocked their view). I saw pictures of it when it first opened, and thought it looked interesting but overdesigned and a little gimmicky– Cesar Pelli’s attempt to create a South Asian vernacular postmodernism. It’s certainly distinctly Asian, but it’s anything but a gimmick. It’s masterful.


From a distance, its lit in a way that gives it complete dominance over the skyline. Other buildings aren’t dark by any means, but they can’t come close to Petronas.


It’s bright, certainly, but that’s not what draws you in: the lighting is varied and complicated, a mix of lights that illuminate the tower, accentuate certain details, and enhance the shadows.

We parked in the mall beside the tower, and headed to a park with a huge fountain (the synchronized water show kind, invented by a Stanford product design grad) and a good view of the tower.


Fortunately, for once i was not the only person in my group with a camera and a tendency to take vast numbers of pictures.


Up close, the towers look like something on Pandora: they don’t so much reflect the light as glow, almost as if they were phosphorescent.


Looking at them, I was reminded of jellyfish or a bright ship’s wake. At the same time, it’s not just a glow: you can still see an amazing amount of detail, thanks to the judicious way the lights are set, and the presence of shadows in just the right places.