SAHARA Highlights: BM Iversen, Architect of Malaya

by Said Al Mahrouqi, Guest SAHARA Editor | Sep 20, 2022

Berthel Michael Iversen (1906–1976) was a Danish architect active in Malaysia, then known as Malaya. Little known outside of South East Asia, for decades he was one of the most important architects in the region, and had offices in Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. His business partner was Henk Van Sitteren, and together they ran Iversen, Van Sitteren and Partners. Iversen did scores of cinemas for the Shaw Brothers. His other projects included the Perak Turf Club, the Loke Yew Building, and the Federal Building.

He had two children, Per Iversen and Ruth Iversen Rollitt. Rollitt inherited her father’s papers when he died in 1976, and she relied on them for the monograph she wrote about his life and work, Iversen: Architect of Ipoh and Modern Malaya (Areca Books, 2015), reviewed in JSAH 78, September, 2019. Having prepared hundreds of photographs and drawings for her book, Rollitt donated them to SAHARA with the designation of ‘Any Use’ which means that they will reach the widest audience, which is her goal.

Student researcher Said Al Mahrouqi uploaded them and entered the corresponding data. He is from a small town in Northeastern Oman and is a third-year interior design student at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. His internship with SAHARA is paid for by a university initiative that encourages undergraduate research, UCARE.

Many people contribute travel photographs to SAHARA, but it is also an ideal home for office archival collections, as with the Iversen photographs and drawings.

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Unless noted otherwise, all projects are by B.M. Iversen.

multistory building with curved balconies at corner of street
Loke Yew Building, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1951. Photograph by Dell Upton, December 14, 2014. Located in the old city center of Kuala Lumpur, it’s one of the most famous landmarks in the federal capital and one of the first tall buildings in the city.

sketch of three figures at a construction site
Chinese Women at Work on Building Site, Ipoh, Malaysia, 1960s. Drawing by Iversen’s son Per Iversen. Both father and son documented that many of the Chinese construction workers were women.

tall building with round windows and flags adorning the facade
KL Federal House, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1950s. It was the main public building housing the federation government’s offices, namely, the headquarters of the Health Department, Radio Malaya, and the Federation Establishment office. Federal House was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Institute of Architects of Malaya.

black and white photograph of desk, chair, and table lamp
The Iversen family house, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1955. Iversen brought his favorite furniture from the Ipoh house back to his house in Denmark.

Jubilee Park Entrance building, Ipoh, Malaysia, 1939. J.A. Russell owned the early amusement park (Jubilee Park) and then he sold it to the Shaw Brothers. It had grown into a modern entertainment complex occupying a four-acre site at the corner of Crown Street and Brewster Road.

white building adorned with movie posters
Capitol Cinema, Ipoh, Malaysia, 1939. The Capitol Cinema is one of the movie theaters that Iversen designed for the Shaw brothers.

white streamline modern building
Lam Look Ing Building, Ipoh, Malaysia, 1932. The building contained multiple components, including the Celestial Hotel.

white multi-level building with brown gable roof
Johannes van der Noordan House, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, 1939. Photograph by Gareth Richards, 2011. Cameron Highlands was the favorite convalescing station for the European community due to its cool weather.

white streamline modern building on hill with tropical plants
The White House, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, 1940. Photograph by Gareth Richards, 2011. The original client was C.F. Smith.

red brick building with tall white vertical glass windows
Veterinary Research Institute, Ipoh, Malaysia, 1953. Iversen also designed multiple houses in the neighborhood.

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

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