19 March 2013
Heritage Preservation efforts growing
By Subhadra Devan | firstname.lastname@example.org
INITIATIVES: Malaysians are shoring up the work of conserving and preserving
heritage sites on our own volition
THERE's a new heritage drive in town, powered by people from all walks of life. From
simple I-love-my-hometown websites, to non-governmental heritage societies, and heritage advocacy groups, heritage
seems to be on a front burner.
It's a volatile subject, given the threads of our current civilisation. Built and
other tangible heritage is wrapped around our cultural, arts, and other intangible environment.
But topical discussions are sooner or later sullied by "whose heritage, whose
history, whose culture", even regarding Lembah Bujang in Kedah, and the more recent Unesco (United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) world heritage site of Lenggong Valley in Hulu Perak.
The newest "people's movement for heritage preservation of Kuala Lumpur" is RakanKL,
which started in September 2012. Come January 2013, this group of friends have a blog, and an active Facebook
discussion community with over 1,000 members.
The volunteers have mapped out heritage routes, and many Malaysians have joined in
the RakanKL guided walks, conducted in three languages, around Pudu, Petaling Street, among other city areas. It's
a growing interest in heritage preservation, with event participants helping to document the sights and sounds of
It reminds me of the 2008 "Khazanah Brickfields" Heritage Education programme, run
by Badan Warisan Malaysia (BWM), which involved moer than 60 children, aged between 10 and 16 from schools
including SJK (C) St Theresa and SMK Vivekananda.
These earnest children produced 3 issues of Brickfields Kita, replete with their
own photographic skills in a DiGi Amazing Malaysians initiative.
RakanKL's interest may have arisen from the proposed development of a 100-storey
Menara Warisan, set in the midst of the historic landmarks of Chin Woo Stadium, Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara,
as well as the construction of the MRT line which poses potential damage to heritage buildings on Jalan
This groundswell in KL heritage preservation seems like a slow tsunami, one wave
of which came from a project to develop the Art Deco-style 1920 Coliseum Theatre in 2005.
Public opinion then helped sway the authorities concerned to keep the cinema building
as a living heritage site, continuing its original function of almost a century.
But voices went unheeded when it came to the destruction of historic buildings
like the 1920s Bok House. As a leading advocate of heritage preservation, BWM's executive director Elizabeth
Cardosa was incensed by that destruction.
"Badan Warisan Malaysia had high hopes for the protection of our historic built
environment when the National Heritage Act 2005 (NHA) -- gazetted on Dec 31, 2005 -- was effected on March 1, 2006.
Finally, there appeared to be a force of law which would champion the nation's heritage cause," she
"This event has set a precedent for all local authorities in Peninsular Malaysia --
what if they all decide that expediency is central to the decision to protect or to demolish and redevelop our
heritage buildings and sites in the country?"
An earlier wave came when the Pasar Besar KL, commonly called Central Market, was
turned into an arts hub in 1986. Seen as a successful adaptive reuse of a historical building, Central Market
(Pasar Seni) now houses Malaysian traditional handicraft and serves as a commercial cultural centre.
The Art Deco building, until the 1980s, was a bustling wet market with vendors of all
produce. The building and the shophouses north and south of it were to make way for more development under the then
Urban Development Authority. That it wasn't demolished was mainly because of the effort of The Malaysian Heritage
Society, the precursor to BWM.
While BWM has expanded its heritage conservation work to Malacca and Penang,
Malaysians all over the country are shoring up the work of conserving and preserving local heritage sites on their
The lovely town of Taiping and its heritage is vaunted by the Taiping Heritage
Society, started in 2006, and its own townfolk including Tony Ng Chuan Aik who has set up his website,
A Taiping native, now living in Klang, Ng says: "It's my personal site. I've created
it partly to promote my dear hometown of Taiping. Years ago, I found that people seldom knew about Taiping, let
alone its history."
Sabah boasts a citizen-run Sabah Heritage Society, as does Perak. The
non-governmental Perak Heritage Society, based in Ipoh and up since 2003, holds guided heritage walks, talks and
other events, all run by its volunteers.
Its most recent event was the UM-NUS Joint Studio Programme Exhibition, in February.
The exhibition showcased the results of two studies in Perak: Returning Taiping and Familiar Spaces Untold Stories:
Encounters with Ipoh. These were done by architectural students and lecturers of the National University of
Singapore and the University of Malaya, on Taiping, in 2010, and in Ipoh last year. The PHS has also embarked on a
Documenting Perak Heritage project.
Such people advocacy set-ups seem marginal compared with the heritage conservation
and preservation of Penang's George Town, a real Pearl Of The Orient in this arena.
Part 2 tomorrow: The Penang experience
Source: New Straits Times