With the same first names, similar hairstyles, simplistic fashion sense, and discreet personas, it’s no wonder Shin Tseng and Shin Chang of the illustrious REXKL get mistaken for brothers almost all the time.
“Yes, we’re The Shins and we’re also a band,” jokes Shin Tseng, who explains that both their surnames have different Chinese pronunciations. However, they don’t mind the comparison much if it means their presence brings the REXKL name to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
A historical landmark that has been around since the ‘40s, The Rex – as it was formerly known – was the spot where KL-ites frequented as a bustling trading hub. It then became an iconic cinema which screened blockbuster Hollywood films like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, before eventually facing a reputational decline when it turned into a questionable backpacker hostel and migrant housing complex.
Surviving two major fires, the building never seemed to want to say farewell to its heydays. Breathing new life into its surrounding areas, the revamped and aesthetically pleasing REXKL of today strives to be more iconic than ever as a contemporary multi-space institution hosting events, markets, F&B establishments, and even an art space.
Being the two out of seven partners who co-founded REXKL in late 2018, Shin Tseng and Shin Chang inconspicuously became the faces of the establishment’s reincarnation.
“Out of the seven they are actually four architects in total. The other two are Ng Sek San and Kamil Merican, who are also the early investors, and most importantly the mentors and advisors to REXKL, lending their experiences from the Kong Heng development in Ipoh,” says Shin Tseng.
Running as a social startup towards a creative urban development, Shin Tseng and Shin Chang had to roll their sleeves up to remodel REXKL from scratch, splitting tasks from design and build, marketing, F&B operations, to retail and event management.
Malacca-born Shin Tseng recounts his childhood surrounded by heritage buildings, but it was only after spending time studying and working abroad in London, Hong Kong, Melbourne, and then the United States, he eventually realised the boundless potential Malaysia had to offer.
“Growing up, Wawasan 2020 was all about taking the old and making new narratives out of it for the nation. That was the reason I got into architecture and the vision of building a new country,” reflects Shin Tseng.
Shin Chang on the other hand studied architecture in the University of Melbourne, but attributes his current perspective to his father who worked as a contractor.
“He is the reason I got into architecture. I grew up in the Jalan Raja Laut area, and similar to these times, the economy back then wasn’t so great. My father started a kopitiam and used to bring me to the area every night,” says Shin Chang.
“It was then I realised that KL constantly needs new ideas and change to stay relevant, or else people would easily tire of the same old thing.”
Shin Tseng and Shin Chang run their private design firms, Urban Agenda Design and Mentah Matter, respectively, but come together to work on REXKL projects. Both have also been dabbling in the F&B sector with their individual ventures.
Clearly, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the synergy and experience between their two areas of focus is perhaps the secret behind REXKL’s recipe of success.
Despite the pandemic related challenges, the duo still managed to keep the momentum going and introduced two new additions to REXKL.
The first is the floor to ceiling 6,000 sqft spanning, maze- like bookstore, BookXcess, launched in May 2021 as part of REXKL’s second rejuvenation phase.
While there was always a food court on the ground floor of REXKL, the rebranding of it to The Back Ground early this year, is a community driven initiative in creating an all-day dining marketplace that seeks to curate a wholesome foodie experience for everyone.
Among the exciting F&B establishments one can find upon their visit to The Back Ground, is Flaah Flaah Flaaah Bakery, Phil’s Pizza, Pastalah, Barbacoa (barbequed meals), Lauk Pauk (plant-based Malaysian warung), Hey Peach by Parklife (fruit and vegetable based) Ticklish Ribs & ‘Wiches (pork ribs), Fake Bro Real Pork (roast pork), Stellar (coffee roasters), PURO (natural wines) and The REX bar, which offers artisanal crafts beers, tuak on tap, and a variety of cocktails.
“We foresee REXKL as our first and constantly evolving project for the next 10 years,” says Shin Tseng.
Next on their agenda is to revitalise the neglected alley behind Chocha in Petaling Street that leads all the way up to Central Market. They plan to work with the community for more on-ground activations, more green spaces, and eventually clean- up the entire part of town.
While many attribute REXKL as the catalyst of Petaling Street’s recent transformation that’s seeing more restaurants and bars popping up in the area, Shin Tseng and Shin Chang remain modest in their views.
“One of the greatest things working on REXKL is that it made us think about Petaling Street as a whole and how it has so much potential to keep growing,” Shin Chang shares.
“There is movement and people are starting to see the charm behind old buildings and the rich history our country holds.”
Read full story in Prestige Malaysia’s June 2021 issue on Magzter.
Styling: Nigel Lee
Photography: Mickey Wong @ New Storyboards Photography
Makeup artist: Eranthe Loo
Hair styling: Ckay Liow
(Main image: Shin Tseng (left) Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic (silver); shirt and pants by Brunello Cucineli. Shin Chang (right) Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic (rose gold); shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna, pants by MSGM)
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