Conservation of Heritage Buildings in Malaysia

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Malaysia is a country located in South East Asia, strategically located between Thailand and Singapore, that is famous and attractive of its historical background and colourful culture. Although Malaysia is a young nation which only independence in the year of 1957, Malaysia has a great diversity of heritage buildings from the era of Sultanate and colonial period (Goh, 2015). Many people from around the world are impressed and attracted because of the heritage buildings in Malaysia, either colonial period and post independent period. People might wonder why are heritage buildings attractive and why are many tourists interested and look forward to visit heritage buildings. This is because heritage buildings are part of human creation in the past, which is able to produce icons for a country, local identity, reflect cultural values and background, it is also able to contribute to the tourism industry (Hasbollah, 2015).

Hence, these make Malaysia becomes a big mixology pot of different cultures from different countries after been through colonial period and post independent period. Besides earning from the tourism industry, these heritage buildings represent a source of memory, historical incident and even a commemorative event happened in Malaysia in the past, which has to be conserved to represent the colourful background of Malaysia. Conserve is to save or protect a tangible or intangible item, it can be used on many things, such as conserve money, conserve energy and so on (Vocabulary, 2019).

This essay is going to talk about conservation on heritage buildings which is located in Malaysia, case studies and discussions in this essay will be focused in heritage buildings which were built during colonial period of Malaysia. Building conservation is also known as architectural conservation, it is a process which material, historical and design durability of mankind’s built architectural history is prolonged to last longer and to be able to sustain difficult conditions or to be kept sustainable (IEREK, 2017). Therefore, to maintain and remain heritage buildings in Malaysia, proper building conservations have to be applied on them.

Case Study of Heritage Buildings in Malaysia

Since heritage buildings in Malaysia are very iconic and they represent Malaysia colourful culture and history, they are able to attract many tourists from all around the world, that benefits Malaysia by bringing income from the foreigners, government of Malaysia is doing well in heritage building conservation. For example, the Porta de Santiago Gateway and St Paul’s Church, both of these heritage buildings are located in Malacca, Malaysia. They were built during the Dutch and Portuguese colonial legacy, in year 1511 and year 1590 for the church (Rashid, 2016).

The Porta de Santiago Gateway is part of the A Famosa Fortress, which is one of the oldest partially extant European buildings in Malaysia, built by the Portuguese for defensive purpose (M. Izani, 2010). However, the British instructed the fortress to be destroyed in year 1975, ending up the only evidence left today is a gate to access the fortress which is known as Porta de Santiago (M. Izani, 2010). Meanwhile, it has been listed in the Unesco’s world heritage list, so Malaysia government put efforts in preserving the Porta de Santiago Gateway. Since many tourists from around the world are attracted by the Porta de Santiago Gateway thanks to the Unesco, preservation and conservation have to be made towards the historical building. In year 2003, walls and foundations of another fortress which is connected to the Porta de Santiago Gateway were discovered during piling works for the Dataran Pahlawan Melaka Megamall project (Izani M. 2010). The Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage felt that this new discovery is important and allocated more than RM12 million to excavate and do research of this new founding (Izani M, 2010). Hence, a bastion which had been discovered and also part of the Porta de Santiago Gateway is known as Middleburgh, has been successfully reconstructed in year 2009 (Izani M., 2010).

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Relating to the example of Porta de Santiago Gateway, preservation and restoration are applied to the historical buildings as conservation treatments, which is to maintain the original condition and appearance of the buildings. On the other hand, Middleburgh remained unknown until it was discovered during a shopping complex project. It was believed that it was destroyed during the British colonial, hence the conservation treatments that was applied on Middleburgh is reconstruction, which is to return the remains to a known earlier state, and introducing new materials during the construction to provide long life span to the historical buildings. Before entering the reconstruction phase, data collection and verification, observation are very important to reconstruct the Middleburgh. Besides that, 3D modelling is also required to bring back the original appearance of the buildings before entering reconstruction phase.

Case Studies of Heritage Buildings Issues in Malaysia

Although Porta de Santiago Gateway in Malacca is being conserved well until now, there are several cases that shows more several heritage buildings were demolished nowadays especially in busy city area. For example, one of the most recent and uproar demolishment is the demolishment of the Pudu Jail located in Jalan Hang Tuah, Kuala Lumpur. Pudu Jail is also known as Pudu Prison, Penjara Pudu, and sometimes written as Pudoh Gaol, it was a historic prison located at the heart of Kuala Lumpur (Tye, 2016).

Pudu Jail was built by the British in year 1895, which is the period under British colonial, at the cost of $138, 000 Straits Dollars, the material for the construction of the prison was shipped from India and cast iron from the Great Britain (Tye, 2016). Hangings and canings were carried in the Pudu jail as well, one of the famous executions was the notorious gangster, Wong Swee Chin, known as Botak Chin (Tye, 2016). What makes the Pudu Jail interesting is not only it has been standing in Malaysia for over than 100 years, the form of the prison building itself is in the form of a “stick man with outstretched arms”, represented by the four wings diagonally joined to a main trunk (Tye, 2016). The prison stopped operating in year 1996 and becoming a landmark in Kuala Lumpur (The Star, 2010).

However, it was partially demolished in year 2010 and fully demolished in year 2012. It was demolished to ease the traffic congestion of the area especially the Pudu Jail is located in the golden triangle in Kuala Lumpur, but it actually makes no difference (Ruban, 2016). The venue for Pudu Jail has now replaced by Bukit Bintang City Centre, which is going to be a commercial and residential hub in Kuala Lumpur. Several pedestrians were interviewed about the demolishment of Pudu Jail and turns out all of them are disappointed with the decision of demolishing the heritage building.

“Enough with these developments, Kuala Lumpur is packed with buildings, shopping complexes and such, so let’s not destroy whatever is left of our heritage” said one of an interviewed pedestrian (The Star, 2010).

Besides that, one of a heritage building which served as a school was demolished as well. The Bukit Bintang Girls’ School, which is known as BBGS was opened in year 1893 (British colonial period) with Miss Betty Langlands, the founder of BBGS, it is known as the oldest school in Kuala Lumpur (BBGS, 2019). However, it was closed in year 2000 and demolished in year 2001 as the site was used to build a shopping mall, which is known as Pavillion. Although many ex-BBGS students were against the demolishment and even put down their signatures in petition for the developers to reconsider their decision to demolish the heritage building, the result disappointed them (Arkib, 2001).

After understanding examples of heritage building demolishment, they show that developers of Malaysia are demolishing the heritage buildings because of the value of the land and they intend to earn more by building modern buildings like high rise residential buildings or commercial buildings that makes Kuala Lumpur looks like a prosperous and busy city. It is good to develop a city especially the capital of the country, but we have to remain and protect some heritage buildings that makes Malaysia unique. “We are still too focused on looking at physical development or redevelopment as the measure of progress”, said Ahmad Najib Ariffin, one of the chairmen of the Malaysian Institute of Architects’ Heritage Conservation Committee (Aris, 2018). Reckless demolition of historical buildings will alter the capital city’s identity which is very important to Malaysia, a young, unique country with interesting historical background (Aris, 2018). Hence, it is necessary and important to undertake a proper research before decide to demolish heritage buildings and Malaysians should raise their awareness of the importance of conserving heritage buildings.

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