Archive for August, 2010

Where Have All Our Buildings Gone?

Text and Photos by Lau Sook Mei

Where have all our buildings gone?
Long time passing…
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?…
so goes the song…

What’s happening to Ipoh ? Is the city undergoing the long-awaited renewal?

For the past two months, Ipoh has seen a spat of demolitions involving mostly pre-war shophouses. This happens despite Jabatan Warisan Negara’s (National Heritage Department) intention to nominate Ipoh/Kinta Valley as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In view of these rampant demolitions how would Ipoh/Kinta Valley be branded? What outstanding universal value has it got?

No. 18, 20, 22, Jalan Bijih Timah, Old Town. Don't they have character? But alas, now you see them... you don't...

Currently, the state government is actively trying to promote Ipoh’s tourist attractions, especially the historic buildings in the vicinity of Panglima Street in Old Town. The buzz is about preserving the “Panglima Core”. That’s commendable. But, is the state government aware that other parts of Old Town is under siege? Let’s hope that the Ipoh Master Plan 2020 has addressed this situation.

No. 45 and 47, Jalan Bandar Timah, Old Town. Renovation or demolition? Where to draw the line?

In order to appreciate the heritage and the aesthetic value of the city of Ipoh, one must understand its historical background.

In less than three decades, Ipoh has become the most important town in the Kinta Valley, the world’s largest tin ore producer in the first half of the 20th century. The tin rush in the Kinta Valley saw the establishment of British tin mining companies and overseas banks. An influx of Chinese immigrants worked the tin mines, a few of them eventually became towkays: Yau Tet Shin, Leong Sin Nam, Eu Tong Sen, Lam Looking, Foong Seong, and many more. They gave their “sweat and blood” to develop Ipoh, building hundreds of shophouses in Old Town and then New Town, as well as theatres, schools and mansions. As a result, Ipoh flourished and became “The City That Tin Built”.

While Ipoh’s development is not without the vital roles played by Malay aristocrats, colonial administrators and the workers, these pre-war shophouses are the legacies of the millionaires who financed and built the city. As such, these old buildings are of immense cultural value and historical significance. Yet, they are allowed to be pulled down indiscriminately without any consideration to preserving the streetscape. At the rate the buildings are going, given another ten years there will be nothing left to show off Kinta Valley’s tin-mining heritage. Let’s not forget: once gone, that’s forever.

No. 84, Jalan Sultan Yussuf, Old Town.

To quote Tan Sri Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid, President of Badan Warisan Malaysia:

“Our physical legacies remain fragile and highly vulnerable, especially within the context of economic market forces and real estate development. We are fighting against time to protect our built heritage. We need to have a clear understanding of what is meant by heritage. We need a clear system for designating our heritage buildings and sites, a system which provides clarity on the criteria applied when making listing decisions so that improved information about the statutory list of buildings will show clearly why a property has been listed, and its features of significance, and through this, to understand why a property is not listed.
We need to have fiscal incentives to spur and encourage owners and developers of heritage buildings and conservation areas to undertake conservation and revitalisation programmes, and to stimulate conservation and restoration activities. We need to have greater stakeholder participation in the protection and enhancement of their heritage neighbourhoods which means that we need to ‘build’ a nationwide cultural map, documenting our heritage from local significance, to those at national, and even international, that is world heritage, significance.
We need greater public participation, through a holistic and inclusive historical approach in the creation of a National Heritage Policy and in the establishing of the heritage register.”

No. 48 and 50, Jalan Raja Ekram, New Town - site of the only "twins" in Ipoh.

We, in Ipoh, are indeed fighting for time. Demolitions and improper renovations are the result of a lack of legislation, enforcement and co-ordination among different departments in the Dewan Bandaraya Ipoh (DBI). It also shows a lack of awareness, understanding and appreciation towards pre-war architecture by various quarters. It is time that DBI emulates Majlis Perbandaran Taiping with stricter legislation and enforcement on built heritage besides having its own heritage conservation unit.

If, indeed, the state government is serious about nominating Ipoh/Kinta Valley for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, efforts would have to be made with regard to preservation and conservation to strengthen the sense of identity through the association with history and development. We need to be in touch with the past as well as the future. Conservation is economically and socially beneficial to various stakeholders, communities and governments and their agencies. It is timely to encourage adaptive re-use of old buildings so that they can be retained for businesses, tourism and education purposes. The experience of Chinatown in Singapore as well as Nagore Street and Stewart Lane in Penang, show that preservation and conservation (read heritage) pay. Much could be gotten out of these pre-war buildings if they were not threatened with demolition.

No. 2-22, Jalan Chung On Siew. Is the demolition scale getting larger?

PHS is definitely not against development. Honestly, we care about our past. Pre-war buildings give us an identity of place. If Ipoh cannot retain its built heritage, it will have no historical reference. And there will be nothing uniquely Ipoh, and no tourists would want to see a provincial city with a wealth of architecture replaced by faceless buildings.



Documentary on “The Malayan Emergency”

This two hour special refers to an important chapter in the history of Malaya. The Malayan Emergency was a guerilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army from 1948 to 1960. Strikes and moments of unrest occurred while Malaya’s economy was on the mend after the World War II. On 16 June 1948, three estate managers were killed in Sungai Siput and this incident sparked off the Emergency resulting in the British colonial administrators declaring a state of emergency which lasted until 1960. If you want to know more about the story, do catch it on Astro.

Date of first airing : 15th Aug 2010, Sunday
Time : 8pm – 10pm
Channel :  History Channel – Astro 555

For more details, please log on to

Or go to YouTube for a promo at

There will be 20 airings in all. For subsequent air-time please check your Astroview.  We hope that you will have a better understanding about what transpired during the Emergency era after watching the documentary.


Training Builders for Heritage Conservation

Text by Law Siak Hong
Photos by Lau Sook Mei

After initial contact through our committee member Charlie Choong, we finally met Ar Tan Seong Yeow and his students at UTAR Kampar. Our expectations were met; the future of building conservation has gone up one notch!

From left: Ar Tan, his students, Mohd Taib and Hong (partly hidden).

To formalize this first contact between PHS and the Engineering Faculty of UTAR, Ar Tan introduced the undergraduate course in Construction Management. The course emphasizes basic skills useful to the industry, which includes quantity surveying, technical design and hands-on skills development.

Scale model of Kampung Kepayang.

Four final-year students presented their project on the proposed rehabilitation of Kampong Kepayang, a one-street town straddling the main trunk road 9km south of Ipoh . They used well-designed storyboards, scale models and a slide show, which they took turns to comment, in English, with commendable communication skills. They proposed strengthening the existing buildings by shoring the foundation, as well as repairing the walls by ‘preferred practices’ – adopting strictly conservation guidelines. Their project involves designating adjacent land for housing and recreation, and revamping this heritage town for tourism, to benefit this small community.

Soon Juinn Yann briefing us on the project.

Chang Kok Yung...

Abandoned and left dilapidated because of vehicular traffic and air and noise pollution, Kampong Kepayang is also the subject of an art film by Hayati Mokhtar, which premiered in Singapore in July this year. With such interest, a recent announcement of the proposed demolition of the entire row on the west of the main road seems ill-considered. Would the government investigate the proposed re-alignment of the main road to save this heritage town?

Koid Chin Hooi...

...and Lee Haw Han. Well done, guys! Keep it up!

We feel encouraged that UTAR produces quality students with practical skills for building conservation. Now, if only local councils can be persuaded to compel all adaptive re-use (no mere renovation) of old buildings to employ the services of these well-trained graduates, who are surely an asset to the building industry and our efforts in building conservation.

Chilling out in the cafeteria with Ar Tan before we left.


A New Landmark for Gopeng?

Text by Law Siak Hong
Photos by Lau Sook Mei

Broken bridge.

There ain’t no use in crying over spilt milk, and you can’t flog a dead horse. Being philosophical makes bearable the disappointments and the hurt. The pipeline bridge, this landmark in Gopeng is now a thing of the past. Why is it not saved as promised by the authorities and the owner? Heritage is such: once gone, you can never have it back!

Part of the demolished pipeline lying on the ground.

There once were six steel pipelines supplying water to tin mines in Gopeng. But on 24 July, only 30m of the last one was saved ‘for display’ near the pipeline bridge across the main trunk road. Well, better than nothing, but is that enough to restore some pride to the saddened people of Gopeng?

What's left of the pipeline for "display".

We must not take things for granted. With the last pipeline demolished, Jabatan Warisan Negara’s nomination of Ipoh/Kinta Valley as a site for UNESCO World Heritage List has been compromised.

UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination involves “branding”. For the  Kinta Valley , it is probably best positioned as “the world’s industrial heritage of tin mining in Malaysia”. Gopeng is a pioneer tin-mining town in Kinta, and it has a history of innovative tin-mining and a century-old community of multi-ethnic mining labourers and rubber estate workers. Successful listing impinges on our tin-mining heritage being-well-preserved and sustainably managed.

As such, this landmark is more relevant than ever. The argument that the pipeline poses danger to road users speaks of cowardice and ignorance. That no one will pay to insure the pipeline reflects the authority’s lack of understanding for the significance of the iconic pipeline in world history. Cost cannot be a factor in the conservation of our heritage.

Across the road: concrete support pillars for the pipeline.

Interchange for the pipelines.

Mostly overlooked, but just to the west of the pipeline bridge are some abandoned concrete encasements. Like little castles on strategic higher ground, it is a perfect children’s playground for hide-and-seek. This place is ideal for an outdoor museum on tin mining, making education fun for young and old.

Concrete encasement.

Haven for hide-and-seek with the mosque in the background.

An outdoor museum here would be compensation of sorts. Let’s just hope that the Kampar District Office has not planned to wipe out this unique historical place as well. The PHS is ever willing to assist in professional planning of this exciting place for heritage sake.

For more information,please visit the following links:


(2)our blog: Death Knell for Gopeng Pipelines

(3)more about the giant Gopeng Pipeline


Perak Heritage Society

Persatuan Warisan Perak
(Reg. No. 1254) was registered with the Registrar of Societies in August, 2003.

Office and Postal Address:
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30300 IPOH, Perak, Malaysia.
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