Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong
It was an architectural evening unlike any other Ipoh has witnessed. And as Casey enthused, “Thanks to PHS – it was a talk of quality, especially for Ipoh.”
Obviously, Julian Davison’s reputation has pulled in the crowd. In less than one week, through an e-flyer blitz and friendly links in the internet, with thanks to our friends, 60 persons found their way to the talk. It was full-house. While there were some who registeredfor the talk but failed to show up, there were others who turned up on the off chance and were happy to take their places. Among the guests were academics from Polytechnic Ungku Omar and University of Malaya, who droveup from KL just for the talk. It was such a pity we could not afford to have it videotaped professionally. Will anyone volunteer for future talks?
Without a doubt, Julian enlightened the crowd. For over an hour, Julian held his audience captive, taking them through an abridged history of the Straits shophouses. PHS Committee Member Jaki Mamat was among the audience. He filed this report.
“It was a fantastic talk by Julian.
“He traced the historical development of the Singapore shophouses to the Chinese style imported from main land China. Chinese immigrants had brought their lifestyle and business practices to Singapore since early nineteenth century. The business activities and the lifestyle of the business community shaped the layout of shophouses; people lived above their shops. The Chinese influences are clearly seen in layout, facade and material use. Other Chinese elements characterised the shophouses, such as the design elements of covered walkway (our five-foot-way), courtyard (air well), ornaments and architectural elements like columns, windows, doors, etc.
“In the British Straits Settlement of Singapore, shophouses began to evolve. The grid system of the Raffles Town Plan systematically catered to urban issues of sanitation and civic order like sewerage, criminality, cleanliness, traffic flow, etc. The British introduced technology and expertise which impacted the size and scale of shophouses. During this time, façades evolved, as designs took on the whole spectrum of European styles: Classic, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance, Tudor, and modernist Art Deco.
“Julian also compared shophouses in the Malay Peninsula to those in Singapore. Examples from Penang, Melaka, Batu Pahat, Muar, Johor Bahru and Ipoh were discussed: how their features reflected our own cultural value. The use of numerous contemporary photographs was especially effective; it captured his audience and helped greatly their understanding of his talk.”
We must thank Sekeping Kong Heng for venue sponsorship. The talk was the first ever held in its gallery. The atmosphere was just right, although a friend of PHS thought it looked like a Secret Society gathering! Thanks go to the various individuals who made further donations to PHS for an event they enjoyed.
To those who would like to gain an in-depth understanding of our shophouses, contact the PHS now and sign up for a series of field studies, a programme of Documenting Perak Heritage. We will bring Julian back to lead us and coach us in a systematic understanding of our shophouses. Moreover, we will also study non-shophouse buildings, of which Ipoh has aplenty. The programme begins as soon as we have the numbers. A small course fee will be involved. After all, we have to cover the expenses of bringing Julian to Ipoh for your enlightenment and education.