Heritage conservation, Penang-style

Here’s how not to carry out heritage conservation in Penang, says Lim Mah Mui.

Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP
23 July 2014
By Lim Mah Hui

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Saya telah diminta oleh beberapa NGO membangkit beberapa perkara tentang warisan. Saya minta izin membahas dalam Bahasa Inggeris

Last month, I raised questions on two heritage buildings that were threatened by demolition and disfigurement. One was Soonstead and the other at Jalan Evergreen. I hope the Council has taken note and will do whatever is necessary to preserve the integrity of these heritage buildings.

Today, I have been asked to enquire about another Category 2 building that has been torn down recently to make way for Tropicana. This is 218 Macalister Road.

Who gave permission for this building to be torn down? Why was permission granted for a Category 2 building to be torn down? If it is being dismantled to be rebuilt, where are the materials kept and where will it be rebuilt? At the same site or a different site altogether? If the latter, why?

Conservation is not simply about keeping a building intact. It is about preserving the architectural, cultural and historical context intact. It must be done holistically.

George Town, being a world heritage city, should be a model for what to do to conserve heritage and beauty. Instead, it has become a model of what NOT to do in conservation. When I bring my foreign tourist friends to Penang, they invariably ask why there are so many beautiful buildings surrounded by massive modern structures that destroy the original beauty of the heritage buildings. There is simply no harmony between the two.

Let me illustrate with a few examples. See images in this .pdf file

  1. The first picture is of Hardwicke overshadowed by Northam Towers.
  2. The second is Homestead, dwarfed by a shiny towering box behind it.
  3. The same can be said for Metropole, illegally demolished in 1993, rebuilt as a travesty to conservation, unrecognisable from the original buildings and mocked at by all who treasure our heritage. Its only saving grace was that it galvanised the entire conservation movement and forced the setting up of the BCAC – Building Conservation Advisory Council – 17 professional and civil society bodies – which then went on to draft guidelines that were later used to form the 1997 MPPP Guidelines.
  4. The fourth is Setia Residence literally squatting on top of what used to be Manu residence.
  5. Then we have Gurney Paragon with its octopus like tentacles wrapping and suffocating what used to be a chapel and now called St Jo. And we are told that Gurney Paragon won an award for conserving the building.
  6. Runnymede – used as residence by Stamford Raffles – will now be diminished by huge towers surrounding it.

The above should serve as stark examples of what one should avoid doing in the name of conservation. I hope the Council will start taking conservation seriously and not continue to allow such disfigurement of heritage buildings.

Dr Lim Mah Hui is the civil society rep serving as councillor with the MPPP.

2 replies on “Heritage conservation, Penang-style”

Thank you, Anil, for keeping us so well informed of these goings on andthank you, Mr. Lim for speaking out. This is just the tip of the iceberg as the wonders of Penang circa 1980 are pretty much gone. What is left is the concrete block of the orient. Really so sad.

Leave a Reply