12 October 2018
Over the Malaysia Day holidays in mid-September 2018, the Ampang Park Shopping Complex in Kuala Lumpur was demolished. When we came back to work after the holidays, all we saw where the building had once stood were several earth movers shifting rubble.
Over the past couple of years, following the news that this complex was going to make way for the MRT (no doubt, part of the city’s sorely needed transportation infrastructure development), there were many expressions of regret and a lot of nostalgia making the rounds both in social media as well as main stream media. It was obvious that Ampang Park Shopping Complex held great memories for many who grew up in KL in the 1970s, 80s. And, if one were to go by the comments on the demolition, it even holds a place in the hearts and minds of those who have lived in KL in the 1990s and early 2000s.
This overwhelming sentiment demonstrates that this building was so much a part of the heritage of our city. It certainly validates the inclusion of this shopping complex in Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia’s (PAM) publication, “Guide to Kuala Lumpur Notable Buildings” (1976) which listed 71 structures built between the 1880s and 1974 which PAM deemed to be of architectural merit and historical importance.
A quick survey of the list shows that over half the structures listed were built by the late 1930s and would for most part be considered to be “heritage”; credit must be given to the forward-looking authors, that the remaining 32 are modern buildings, constructed in the two decades post-Merdeka.
About a dozen, eight of which are from the latter group, have been replaced by other, bigger, higher density developments. Some, such as the AIA Building on Jalan Ampang with its original distinctive diamond-shaped sunscreen of iodised aluminium, have been substantially changed to be unrecognisable. A few are vacant and their futures unknown to us while several others have had major developments in their immediate vicinity with later-day high-rise blocks substantially extending their floor space.
For the most part, religious and education-related buildings have remained extant, although there have been a couple which have been demolished and new, larger, grander structures built to replace them. Some others, like the old hospital at Tanglin, were demolished and replicas built, looking almost alike, but using new materials; which begs the question why they were demolished in the first place.
Many of those from the list which remain have in one way or another been changed, upgraded, updated, refurbished to meet new uses and current building standards and accessibility, some for the better, with the jury still out for others.
It is, however, a sad testament to KL’s architectural history that today, the buildings considered by PAM as iconic, deserving to be preserved as part of the architectural heritage of Kuala Lumpur, and which contributed to our national architectural identity, are no longer with us.
As we come towards the end of 2018, perhaps it is time to take another look at this list of notable buildings of Kuala Lumpur, to hopefully take stock of what remains, and to extend this list to include others built since the mid-1970s. With a more comprehensive inventory of notable buildings for the city, Badan Warisan Malaysia would hope that these will in the future be acknowledged and “protected” by the owners, statutory authorities and KLites, as an integral part of the architectural, historical and cultural character of our city.
President of Badan Warisan Malaysia
Turtle Tales: Talk & Exhibition at Badan Warisan Malaysia is in conjunction with World Turtle Day! The exhibition will be on going for 1 month from 13 May to 13 June 2017 whereas the talk will be on 21 May 2017.
About the Exhibition
This month long exhibition features paintings and drawings from the book ‘ I love Sea Turtles’, a collaboration between sisters Yi Xuan, 15, the writer of the book and Yu Jing, 11, the illustrator of the book.
The paintings and book were created after the sister’s witnessed the sea turtles laying eggs, which then ignited the sister’s passion and dedication in helping to save these sea creatures. The sisters will be at Badan Warisan Malaysia on 21 May to share their experiences and talk about their adventure and future projects.
About the Talk
The talk will take place on 21 May 2017, given by the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. The talk will feature a presentation of the different species of sea turtles found in Malaysia, their conservation status, feeding habits and threats that they face.
Audiences will also get to know TCS, their objectives, the research, conservation, education and awareness programmes that have been conduct.
The talk will also focus on the two critically endangered species of fresh water turtles in Malaysia that TCS is focused on.
The talk focuses on how architecture can contribute towards the creation of an ‘imagined community’ called ‘Malaysian’ through a discourse of multiculturalism and democracy as the main reference points of design. Historically, the call for a national architectural identity was received with great interest by Malay architects who produced many traditional revivalist buildings and also by non-Malay architects with emphasis on climate and local materials. Neither of the two extremes had taken multi-culturalism and democracy into their design approaches and discourses. What we find are either simplistically interpreted post-modern attempts and at the other extreme we find literalist modernism products with a number of architects engaging in regionalism using climate and material in a more daring manner.
Although the regionalist in Malaysia has a better edge in terms of a more creative and meaningful design, their approach would be most inspiring if the aspects of multi-culturalism and democracy were integrated. Many architects either seemed too frightened of political backlash or they are uncertain how these two aspects can be used in architecture. I will concentrate on these two aspects of multi-culturalism and democracy in my criticism of housing, mosques and administrative buildings in Malaysia by reinterpreting the rituals and values within a more inclusive view of politics and society and the early modernist framework of design.
About the Speaker
Professor Dr Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi is a prolific writer in architecture, politics, social issues, religious matters and education. Prof Dr. Mohamad Tajuddin was educated in the USA at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee where he obtained his Masters and Bachelor of Science in Architecture.
He was Professor of Architecture at UTM for 10 years and now at UCSI University. Professor Tajuddin has authored and published 40 books to date on architecture concerning Islam, the mosque, housing, community building and planning of administrative centres. He was a columnist for several years with the Utusan Malaysia and with The Star. Prof Tajuddin is also responsible for writing hundreds of articles in architecture for the encyclopedia of architecture published by the national publication.
He has written many articles in the media concerning various issues of architecture, democracy, multi-culturalism and education. He is also frequently interviewed by online media news like malaysiakini and Freemalaysiatoday on national political and social issues.
The roof repair works at no.58 Rope Walk or Jalan Pintal Tali in Penang is in plain sight for all to see. And I am rather proud of the end result because of how it will contribute to the critical discussion on appropriate conservation approaches, choices and forms of interpretation being offered to shophouse owners in Penang.
When I decided to repair the roof of my grandfather’s shophouse, I applied the principles of replacing like for like in respect of the heritage fabric and of maintaining the layers of history as found. What you see today is exactly the way it was when the Control of Rent Act was promulgated after World War II. There have been no material changes since then as the implementation of rent control literally discouraged all owners of tenanted buildings from spending money on maintaining their properties.
The contractor who installed the roof chose to create two cemented strips as permanent hard bases in the direction of the roof slope. A worker needing to replace a broken tile or adjust a displaced tile could lay a timber plank transversely across the roof on top of the cement strips and use it as a working platform without endangering the tiles. For all I know, it could have been my grandfather’s suggestion for he was an innovative and yet practical man who had come to Malaya from China as a young boy and who eventually developed the town of Lunas in Kedah.
And I also recall very vividly, when I was growing up, witnessing my father’s contractors securing the end tiles at the fascia of shophouses with cement, as was the case with many shophouses in town. Lime was otherwise freely used in other works like plastering of walls and mortar for brickwork.
The simple exercise of repairing a roof has thrown up several positives. One, it has allowed me to step back in time to “converse” with my grandfather and to personalize the architectural and social history of the place. And for me this is one of the most meaningful reasons for conservation because there is a story to tell, of making the past come alive in the present.
Two, it invites us to question whether our city fathers should continue to promote the purist, prescriptive, Eurocentric conservation approach or whether we should be leaning more towards what is being offered by the Hoi An Protocols 2005, a UNESCO document which I contributed to. The Protocols contain the following points:-
- In Asia, the structuralist analytical approach towards assessing significance and maintaining authenticity that is characteristic of Western conservation practice needs to be nuanced by the metaphysical concepts which prefigure the construction of space throughout the Asia region. It should also be tempered by the region’s time-honoured traditions of practice.
- Conservation practitioners should not over-emphasize the authenticity of the materials or physical substance of a resource to the extent that they overlook other equally or even more important dimensions of authenticity.
In terms of authenticity, the Nara Document on Authenticity 1994, Clause 11, states:-
All judgements about values attributed to cultural properties as well as the credibility of related information sources may differ from culture to culture, and even within the same culture. It is thus not possible to base judgements of values and authenticity within fixed criteria. On the contrary, the respect due to all cultures requires that heritage properties must be considered and judged within the cultural contexts to which they belong.
As a corollary to the ideals and principles stated in the Document, Herb Stovel (deceased), one of its authors, suggested that respect for cultural and heritage diversity requires conscious efforts to avoid imposing mechanistic formulae or standardized procedures in attempting to define or determine the authenticity of particular monuments and sites.
Last but not least, I am reminded of earlier efforts by Badan Warisan to formulate conservation principles that reflect Malaysian values based on the premises mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. It appears timely for us to revisit the material in our archives and to embark on a project to deliver what we once called the Stonor Principles, named after the location of our present heritage centre. China has its China Principles. Australia created the Burra Charter. The conservation of Malaysian heritage should be guided by local observations, experiences, traditions and wisdom.
Laurence Loh, Badan Warisan Malaysia
Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers. I love them, such great tools. It’s become so easy to become an authority on any subject nowadays; anyone can be an expert on anything. With Melaka and George Town’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it’s like, suddenly, everyone is a conservation architect/expert. I have found, in my limited experience of being involved in a handful of international award winning restoration projects, that when the project team endeavours to consider a range of conservation approaches which are based not only on the multitude of documents outlining principles and standards which we should aspire towards, but also on collective experiences and practices, that the outcome is “right” and stands up to the test of time.
Let’s consider the debate of lime vs cement. Experts will loudly chant the mantra “lime good, cement bad”. Nothing wrong with that in many instances, but then, not always right. Add in another mantra – “replace like for like”. Then what happens when the heritage fabric is not lime? Do we replace with lime and then we can easily put a tick against the “right” box? Or should we instead acknowledge that conservation is possibly more complex and there are probably several other issues which affect the authenticity of the place? I will desist from going on….Just to say thought that I liken this to walking a tightrope between what is the more accepted standard – a somewhat prescriptive “Western” conservation approach – and our (Asia’s) longer traditions of cultural practice and context.
So, next time, before jumping on whichever band wagon catches your fancy, guns blazing, shooting off your “expert” opinion, you may want to #getyourfactsright. It could save you a little embarrassment.
Elizabeth Cardosa, Badan Warisan Malaysia