Let’s Talk Heritage: Relocate and save but risk losing its authenticity? Or keep in-situ and risk losing it altogether?

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“Salinger House” Paroi, Negeri Sembilan. (2019)

The fundamental guiding principle in the most established of heritage charters, such as those championed by the International Committee of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), is the belief that locating a heritage building or structure from its original setting to a new site destroys its authenticity.

While there does not seem to be much discourse on this issue in Malaysia, expansive plaudits and acclamation have been forthcoming from established leaders in the Malaysian heritage arena for some recent projects which saw heritage buildings being relocated to new sites.

These include the so-named Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit a.k.a. “Rumah Degil”, was moved (2018) a distance of around two (2) km, and now sits snug between Balai Seni Negara’s main gallery building and its administrative annex block in Kuala Lumpur; and the “Salinger House” originally located in Bangi, Selangor (built 1985-1992), and which is in the last stages of being reconstructed in its new home near Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. This is a result of the house being sold a few years ago to its current owners after the land on which it was originally located was sold separately for redevelopment. Then there is the case of the century old Kampong Teluk Memali mosque being moved (2017) from the banks of the Perak River near Kampong Gajah to a new housing development in greater Ipoh, Perak. In 2004, the “Alma Baker house”, a two-storey (part brick and part timber) building masonry and timber house was dismantled in Batu Gajah, Perak, and reassembled in Setiu, Terengganu around 2010. And over 20 years ago Badan Warisan moved the Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman a much further distance, over 300km, from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur.

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Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit a.k.a. “Rumah Degil”,  in front of  Balai Seni Negara’s main gallery building, Kuala Lumpur. (2019)

Add to this list the many other heritage buildings, too many to name, which have been “saved” because they have been relocated. It is perhaps timely for the many professionals and preservationists who fight to protect and safeguard our heritage resources to get together to discuss this issue. Should relocation be eschewed except in exceptional circumstances such as when there is no other option for saving the structure, and if not relocated, it will cease to exist? Should one wholeheartedly embrace this practice and promote adapting and relocating an existing building to meet changing economic and social needs in today’s society or is the cultural heritage significance of a building wholly bound to its original setting?

Mind you, the costs and risks of relocating a heritage building should not be underrated. Past experience has shown that this is an expensive exercise and that great care and much planning has to be put into place to ensure that the fabric of the building will not be damaged, and the new context within which the structure is moved is one which will offer as good, if not better, opportunity for the cultural heritage significance of the structure to be enhanced.

Badan Warisan would be very interested to hear from our readers on what could or should be the way forward. Please email lensa@badanwarisan.org.my if you would like to participate in a round-table discussion on this.

Elizabeth Cardosa
President of Badan Warisan Malaysia

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