Posts Tagged 'Buildings'


By Law Siak Hong
Conference and Workshop: Industrial Heritage at Stake
22nd– 24th October 2015, Sawahlunto, West Sumatra


City Cultural Centre: the conference venue

A confession: before the invitation to speak at the conference, I had never heard of Sawahlunto. So, google I did. I learned quickly that it is in West Sumatra, not far from Padang, and it is already tentatively listed as UNESCO world heritage for its authentic historical urban landscape and the industrial heritage of coal mining. For universal significance, they fall in with Criteria (ii) and (iv). It also boasts a contented community: it has the second lowest poverty rate among cities in Indonesia. The people are steeped in cultural history, homegrown and yet well-adjusted to contemporary sensibilities.


The Wayang Kulit Festival Sawahlunto 2015 was on and we caught some of the action after the evening conference session.

Built not only along hairpin roads hugging the hillside, houses and other buildings also line the river banks. Bridges link the various parcels of land, which are shored up by concrete embankments, engineered to impede erosion. Workers quarters are provided by the mining company and they exist now as kampongs in the city. Most of the historical institutional and commercial buildings, relatively small in size, date from early 20th century. Then, there is the viaduct for rail and road, and the triple silos fed by a conveyor belt riding on a tall, skeletal steel structure. They are huge, yet they melt into the landscape confidently. Get up close and you will realize the power of these industrial structures.


Kota Sawahlunto, bridge over the town’s river


Kota Sawalunto, homes on the slopes


Kota Sawahlunto street scene


Kota Sawahlunto triple silos and conveyor belt structure and vip tent for Wayang Kulit Festival.


Former mayor Pak Amran Nur addressing the conference

Started in 1887, coal mining ceased in 2000. People left and the district went into decline. Along came Mayor Bapak Amran Nur (2003-2013), now Director of Indonesian Heritage Trust. Pondering on his hometown’s fate, he began to restructure its economy and effectively eradicated poverty and improved welfare through healthcare and education. To prevent land degradation, he donated rubber and cocoa seeds, even fertilizer, to the people for cultivation and long term income. Small and exotic museums were set up, indigenous performing arts were developed, and tourist spots were generated. In a few years, he turned this beautiful verdant Minangkabau valley into a tourist destination. Already, tourism contributes one-third of the city’s income. But what is the sustainable number of tourists for this constricted valley? If the UNESCO inscription happens, more hotels and eateries will be needed. How would its cultural identity and that all-important “sense of place” survive under the pressure of tourism development?

With the theme of Industrial Heritage at Stake, Sawahlunto is a choice host for this Pansumnet Gathering. The conference attracted over 70 participants from Pansumnet and speakers from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Bandung and Jakarta (Java), and, of course, Sumatra. Led by our president, Mohd Taib Mohamed, the delegation of seven from the Perak Heritage Society arrived in thick smog, which registered an API of 1000, way above the health hazard level of 150! Despite that, clearly, each of us took home memories and knowledge beyond our expectations.


Group caption: While sessions were held indoor, walking to and fro the hotel and the conference venue took us to the street.

Through this encounter with Sumatra, my understanding of its cultural and industrial heritage made a quantum leap. Deeply rooted in culture, Sumatrans are warm and friendly; smiles are everywhere. In Sawahlunto, even boys and young men cruising by on motorbike would greet me with a respectful “pak”.

Sawahlunto awaits a new designation as world heritage. Go visit soon.


Gathering of heritage lovers.

Postscript: PANSUMNET is the acronym for Pan-Sumatra Network for Heritage Conservation. Our heartfelt thanks to: Sawahlunto Municipality, Pansumnet and Heritage Hands-On, joint organisers of Pansumnet Gathering 2015; the convener, Hasti Tarekat; the deputy mayor of Sawahlunto, and all the participants. A special mention: Pak Asdian of SEMEN PADANG, for his warm hospitality and the privilege of witnessing the SP Journalist Award at Basko Hotel in Padang.


Post conference site visit: in Padang, a special treat awaited. Built by the Dutch in 1905, SEMEN PADANG is the oldest cement plant in Southeast Asia. As technology advanced and plants were built, the old one was abandoned. University groups were invited to study the site and plan adaptive re-use, to turn them into public facilities.

PHS delegation to Sawahlunto



University Programmes and PHS

Over the years, as the flag bearer for Perak heritage, PHS has cultivated a network of supportive and creative individuals. While we have also assisted many researchers, both local and foreign, we tend to maintain an extended friendship with teachers from institutions of higher learning. They explore our resources in different ways, but invariably our cooperation has produced impressive results. The recent visits from teams of architects and future architects remind us it’s time we acknowledge their faith in us.

Teaching and writing are the key elements in the career of the UCSI University lecturer, Teoh Chee Keong. In the past decade or so, he has written a book and a weekly column in a national Sunday newspaper on subjects close to his heart: community, architecture and heritage. He is a tireless campaigner for building conservation. Apart from exposing his architecture students to Perak’s heritage, Chee Keong has also conducted summer projects in Taiping and Ipoh for visiting Taiwanese students. Chee Keong is Taiping born-and-bred, and there is extra satisfaction in his contribution.

UCSI students studying Waller Court

Students braved the heat of the afternoon to look at the commemorative plaque at the obelisk marking Waller Court.

This year, for the studio design programme of third-year architecture students, Chee Keong has chosen a neglected part of the green lung of Ipoh, the D R Seenivasagam Park, as a building site for a hypothetical cultural complex: a performing arts centre which includes a hostel for actors and production crew. Unfortunately, due to the scope of the study, blocks of the adjacent Waller Court could not be considered for the hostel. Nevertheless, the upshot is that PHS may host an exhibition of the best submissions in mid-year. That is surely something to look forward to.

As highlighted in a previous blog, Waller Court represents an outstanding example of the architectural heritage of historic public housing. Last year, students of construction management from the Faculty of Green Technology, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) in Kampar investigated its exceptional construction. Sam Tan, their supervising lecturer believes that Waller Court is an important piece of Ipoh’s architectural heritage. Not surprisingly, its strategic location has attracted redevelopment schemes. But as Sam suggested, it would do us good to learn about ‘the value of the community and its intangible contribution to the fabric of the city; the true cost of destruction must be addressed’. By the way, last month Sam had also helped us draw up the last conventional lime kilns in Bercham. 

The team who worked on the Royal English School.

The team in front of Rumah Tetamu.

In January, through the efforts of the staunch PHS supporter Casey Ng, a measured drawing tutor of Taylor’s University, Izwan Nor Azhar came to us. He and his colleagues eventually assigned two buildings in Batu Gajah to their student project. The buildings are The Royal English School, built 1916 as a residence and Rumah Tetamu, a rest house by the golf course, which has seen better days. Of the latter, we learn that demolition – rather than conservation – is in order. We wonder if the interest shown by Taylor’s University could avert its doom. The Royal English School building fares much better. As the last remaining historic residence in Batu Gajah, it will be restored, and a sympathetic new annex added to make its adaptive re-use a sustainable venture. 

The most ambitious student programme that PHS has ever worked with is the University of Malaya–National University of Singapore (UM–NUS) Joint Studio Project in 2012. The study, after a similar one on Taiping in 2010, resulted in an excellent book which was launched in Ipoh early in 2013. That was celebrated with ‘Celebrating Perak’s Built Heritage’, an exhibition which combined both studies. The book is the first thorough study of Ipoh’s urban fabric in the inner-city area for 50 years.

The book, Encounters with Ipoh: Familiar Spaces Untold Stories is now available through PHS. Returning Taiping, a study by the same UM–NUS programme, is also available. Both titles are sold at RM90 per book. For PHS members, the discount price is RM80. Place your order by emailing and

Model and old shophouse by Sam Tan’s students.

Thoroughly modern architectural wonders

To highlight the plight of modern buildings under siege in Ipoh, Law Siak Hong sought the help of architects. Here are his reflections on two public housing sites and the issues of their preservation.


Modern architecture was the physical manifestation of a broad social and philosophical movement that forever changed the course of human history.”

– David N. Fixler


We must be concerned. While we concentrate on preserving pre-war buildings, are we neglecting the outstanding buildings of modern architecture?

Over the past decade, conservationists have been advancing “green” solutions for buildings under pressure for urban renewal. Instead of demolition for redevelopment modern buildings are getting preserved. There are sound economic and cultural reasons for this. For one, technologically, it is cheaper than demolish and build anew. Even post-war council flats in London of modern “Brutalist”, a particularly nasty style, have been upgraded, with its spaces adapted and reconfigured.

Modern buildings began to appear in the Kinta Valley around 1930s. You may be surprised, but built in 1931 the Lam Looking Bazaar is the earliest example of International Style in all Malaysia (Chen Voon Fee). It is a pity that its intrinsic architectural value has been compromised through inappropriate renovation. Meanwhile, the treasures of Ipoh’s modern heritage – cinemas, schools, institutional buildings, and the legacy of public housing from 1950s and 1960s – remain a time bomb. It has to be said: the remarkable modern cinemas and institutional buildings in Ipoh were mostly designed by B M Iversen, the prolific Danish architect. As the architect in the Public Works Department (now JKR) Frank Cowie’s significant contribution to our historic urban landscape must be noted.

Public Housing

As an indicator of progressive town planning, housing is also an important marker for community history. When attap huts, timber sheds, shophouses and bungalows were the norm, the earliest housing estate popped up in Falim, built by Foo Nyit Tse in 1920s (Ho Tak Ming). Built back to back with the shophouses on the main road, each single storey linked house had a small garden, like the early 1900s shophouses on Ipoh’s “lawyers Row” or Hale Street (now Jalan Tun Sambanthan). Then, in 1936, B M Iversen designed for towkay Loke Wan Yat double storey terraced houses and a row of shophouses in Fair Park, previously known as Piccadilly; sadly, in 2009, careless demolition had caused the Art Deco shophouses to topple, killing two men in a passing car.

World War Two came and building activity ceased. In the post-war period, as “architectural development gathered a new momentum”, the progressive Ipoh Town Board had published its first building by-laws in 1954 to “bring about greater control over unauthorized building activities” (Ipoh: The Town that Tin Built). Around this time, to meet the demand for suburban houses, large housing estates emerged: Housing Trust and Canning Garden, while Sungei Rokam was an experimental low-cost housing for a Malay settlement by the Sungai Pinji. As urbanisation and demand for low-cost housing in the city rose, Ipoh Town Councillor Waller came to the rescue. One after the other, two public housing schemes of merit: Waller Court and “Sungei Pari Towers” (now, Sungai Pari Tower) were built, cheaply but well. Perhaps, they could become popular city flats or town houses and with some commercial uses. But then, what about the plight of the displaced low-income dwellers?

Waller Court

While Waller Court emptied out in dilapidation, plans are afoot for its renewal. The City Council (MBI) has announced that it will be adapted and maintained for mixed-uses, while legitimate tenants would be invited back into the improved units (TheStar: 25 February 2012; 6 December 2012).

Waller Court. Photo from The Star

An obelisk and a commemoration plaque mark the entrance. The project site was opened in August 1960 by the Mentri Besar of Perak, Dato Shaari bin Shafiee. Named after E. G. Waller, chairman of the Ipoh Town Council from 1959 to 1962, it was completed by the Public Works Department in 19 months, and ceremoniously opened by Mrs Waller in May of 1962, presided over by D. R. Seenivasagam, Ipoh Town Councillor, Federal Member of Parliament and a champion of the under-privileged.

Open space, trees and an outdoor badminton court – a good environment for living.

Note the simple folded plate roof of the car park.

Compact units mean that each tenant has had to add lightweight enclosure for useful space.

Small traders continue to live in such “heritage social housing”.

For elderly residents, gardening is therapeutic but negotiating the stairs may be problematic.

Laid out on a gentle curve, Waller Court comprises 536 units in seventeen Blocks of four storey flats. Staggered blocks form T-annexes. It sits on a long strip of land over 1500m long and 30m wide. The blocks are linked at all levels by covered walkways and foot bridges. One can leave their flat to go to the shops on the ground level without getting wet, theoretically. On the ground level covered spaces flow into adjacent lawns, a car park or a play area.

The structure is reinforced concrete, with cross walls of 4-1/2” reinforced concrete load-bearing wall throughout. As the first social housing project for Ipoh it deserves its place as an important architectural heritage of the city. It borders the D. R. Seenivasagam Park, the green lung of Ipoh. By any measure, it is prime location. Should they remain low-cost housing?

Residents build and adapt to their needs and convenience.

As low-cost housing, building maintenance is practically absent. Repairs are desperately needed. There are shortcomings in its design. It does not grow with the family. To keep the rain off the balcony kitchenette, a hood is needed. That is what almost all tenants have built to maximise this limited space. That’s one clue to its improvement. Here is a chance to make good something which did not work. But until the Council’s plans are put on view for public feedback, nothing more can be said.

Sungai Pari Tower: seen here with its outstanding dish-shell roof and silo-like water tower.

Sungai Pari Tower (originally Sungei Pari Towers)

By 1962, another low-cost housing scheme, an eighteen storey high rise was in the planning stage. This is the Sungai Pari Tower, located by the Pari River and west of Ipoh Railway Station. However, only 15 floors were built, in deference to a height restriction on buildings in Ipoh at the time.

Five blocks of low-rise flats are sited next to the football field.

Almost 50 years later, the Sungai Pari Tower is still the most impressive high-rise in Ipoh. It is the only building in Malaysia which features a dish roof, paying homage to Le Corbusier, a master architect of the 20th Century. The tower dominates a vast area of (several) acres with two groups of four-storey blocks. Like the Waller Court, these blocks are linked by foot bridges and walkways, enclosing open space and play area where children can play safely, supervised, if only from a distance. The sense of place and neighbourhood is apparent. The construction took a little more than three years. Two marble plaques mark the Laying of the foundation stone in November 1963 by the Minister of the Interior, Dato Dr Ismail bin Dato Abdul Rahman, and its official opening by the Minister of Local Government and Housing, Khaw Kai Boh, in February 1966.

A scenic beauty: Pari River, Buntong Village, with the Kledang Range in the background.

Views of the tower framed by mature trees along the drive way and flowering shrubs.

A view of the tower and the grouping of 4-storey walk up flats.

“The construction of Sungai Pari Towers is of high quality for its time and low-income constituency, with exposed concrete work far above anything currently achievable today in Malaysia except in those few cases of special high-end projects in Kuala Lumpur and usually designed by famous “international” architects” (DA Booth). This reinforced concrete structure and its iconic roof is physically sound (engineer anonymous) and “technically and architecturally, it would be fairly easy to renovate and upgrade this iconic structure, at great cost savings of perhaps 30-50% of demolition and new construction” (DA Booth).

Impressive patterns and shapes: hollow blocks enclose the balcony; ventilation blocks let in light and airiness to circulation space; east and west walls are windowless.

The curved concrete shell-roof harkens to the avant-garde design of “La Corbusier”.

In his open letter to the Mayor of Ipoh, Booth further suggested, “Any creative renovation could find ways to enlarge and expand units horizontally, or to absorb and re-purpose redundant access corridors… and expand vertically too, with duplex units with interior stairs or double height interior spaces, or both. There are so many fine examples worldwide of this kind of high-rise residential planning.”

Views of the park; children of the neighbourliness; a residential vehicle for a small trader; a view of the flats through a doorway; an old Volkswagen parked outside the tower.

With a spectacular view of the hills which frame the Kinta Valley, it could be re-configured for higher end housing while retaining its historic qualities. However, with open spaces and flowering trees, and more than a football field, the site is “vacant land” waiting to be packed with more housing blocks, or worse, redevelopment to a high-end market. Something has to come up to increase the density of occupation. May they be low-rise flats!

Kinta Heights

This building is not under threat. Nevertheless, it deserves a mention because of its dominant presence in Old Town. It stands on the plot of land which had Ipoh’s second market. Since late 1960s, for three decades, this twenty-storey tower has stood as the tallest building in Ipoh. Outside the fence of Kinta Heights are several blocks of four storey council flats. It is enough to note here that “Disneyfication” has caused it and the adjacent low-rise council flats to be painted in ill-matched colour schemes. This superficial cosmetic treatment is disappointing when maintenance and upgrade are sorely missing.

Kinta Heights: photo credit: before (UM-NUS students, 2012) and after (LSH) “Disneyfication”. Photo above shows the corner shophouse which was in the process of demolition.

The case for preservation by the revisionist approach

The collapse of tin price in 1985 practically wiped out the tin-mining industry and Ipoh sank into a long depression. In the aftermath, capital flight meant Ipoh’s money got invested in KL, Singapore and overseas. There are signs of change. Capital is repatriated. That means more and more building owners face a decision: to re-build or not to re-build. Our historic urban landscape is challenged; it has come under the pressure of renewal and re-development.

The goal of preservation will increasingly become to create dialogues that heighten the perception of the original, while acknowledging and acting upon its inevitability.” – DNF

The task of conserving and enhancing modern buildings is complex so why do we need to preserve modern buildings while older buildings are falling like cards?

The meaning of heritage of the modern movement

Modernism is part of history, and it is “constantly revisited for the refreshment of ideas” (DNF). In practice, Building conservation is a modernist concept. Intervention by modification is one way to save a building reduced to being “obsolete” in order to make it a part of our city’s heritage again. It can create a whole new meaning and leave open the potential for future modifications. This revisionist approach has been acknowledged in a May 2005 memorandum by UNESCO, “World Heritage and Contemporary Architecture – Managing the Historic Urban Landscape”. We need to “manage growth and change in historic precincts through precise and sensitive, but contemporary, methods of intervention.” (DNF)

Buildings are our cultural heritage, but embodied within our buildings are the stories of their occupancies, lives lived and collective memories are linked. Big or small, illustrious or partisan, our lives shape our buildings.

Think: easier said than done?

The legacy of modernism should be documented, classified and treated in the same manner as the architecture of any historic period.” – DNF

Obviously, there are overriding political reasons for the proposed re-development of Sungai Pari Tower. Its location at one of the entrances to the Emergency village of Buntong harkens back to darker days. As the city expanded, this area has become desirable for its magnificent views of the mountains and its proximity to the colonial heritage core from the Ipoh Railway Station to the Kinta River.

“… The quality of the original architecture may be augmented through using the existing buildings as structural armatures upon which to build new experiences, introducing elements of scale and texture that will reinvigorate and make contemporary works that might otherwise seem to have exhausted their useful lives… The process (of intervention) becomes one of weaving the modifications into the original in such a way that a continuum is created that both reveals the past and leaves open possibilities for the future.”- DNF

This is precisely the thinking that is needed in the preservation of Sungai Pari Tower. Consider it a springboard to creating a contemporary building out of a historical and notable modern building for public housing. The notion of imposing the values of constants must accommodate the inevitability of change. This change will allow intervention. In the larger scheme, the urban renewal for this “classic high-rise” reflects the significant part of our shared cultural legacy. Preserving the Tower is the better choice, but we need to think out of the box for the most appropriate solution.

What now?

With modern architecture, we would focus on the idea of the building, where this idea was important in giving meaning to the original work.” – DNF

What does council flats mean to Ipoh and how will money spent on repairs and renovations benefit the people? This is the problem that the Municipality of Ipoh (MBI) has been struggling with. While inner city zones may have high land value, pushing public housing out to the fringe is the wrong solution for the “under-privileged”. Density of occupancy in inner city has to increase. At the same time, better designed buildings can help to alleviate inefficient use of space. Shall we hope that it is not at the cost of harmony and a under- privileged community squeezed and emptied out? The city is not for only the very rich but shared with all strata of society.

The author wishes to acknowledge the comments from architects Sam Tan and Ken Yeh on the draft of this article.

D. A. Booth, Architect
Open letter to Datuk Bandar Ipoh Datuk Roshidi Hashim
January 27, 2013

David N. Fixler, AIA
Preserving Modern Architecture – and the future of preservation (essay)

Ipoh Municipal Council, L. H. C. Jennings (editor)
IPOH: The Town that Tin Built
Phoenix Communications Limited, 1962

Abdur-Razzaq Lubis and Khoo Salma Nasution
Kinta Valley: pioneering Malaysia’s modern development
Perak Academy, 2005

Ho Tak Ming
IPOH When Tin Was King
Perak Academy, 2010

Chen Voon Fee (editor)
Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, Landmarks of Perak
RNP Publication, 2007

More than an Annual General Meeting

By Law Siak Hong

The meeting room for the AGM

Because of the Annual General Meeting (AGM), the nearly-completed shophouse No.24 on Panglima Lane got a last minute clean-up for the occasion. The different levels built into the interior were adapted to our needs. In this flowing space, the AGM felt like a minor cultural event.

What a difference professionals made to the quality of our lives. Our gratitude to Nick, for hanging the photographs and making cosy the setting for our AGM; and to Zemang, for setting up the video installation and perfecting the synchronisation. The video installation was the conversation piece. The photographs were much appreciated, even though they had to be viewed in available light. The high tea by Pakeeza Restaurant was more than satisfying; most of us had multiple servings.

Despite our effort to inject interest in this annual gathering for members, the AGM, again, did not get a quorum; it was concluded in the presence of observers and invited guests who out-numbered our members two to one. I hope more members will come to the AGM next year to form the new Management Committee. For the absentees, read below what you have missed.

Hayati Mokhtar:  Video Installation:  “No.55, Main Road”

From ground to the level of the video installation

About the video maker: Hayati Mokhtar studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design (B.A Hons) and Goldsmiths’ College, University of London (M.A). She lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She utilizes the moving image in examining places and landscapes. Her video installations have been shown in Malaysia and internationally.

The video installation with bio-data of Hayati Mokhtar

About the video: Shot in full HD, “No.55, Main Road” infers the address of a century-old shophouse in Kampong Kepayang which is the home of 87-year-old “Uncle” Chang Ching. Consisting of one main road, the trunk road between Simpang Pulai and Gopeng, south of Ipoh, the fate of this virtual ghost town is sealed by the dominating, fast and incessant flow of traffic which besieges the shophouses. Hayati observes, “The sound of traffic is there, always.” The three-channel 17-minute video appears on three LED screens, played continuously, with a sound track of passing traffic and two of Uncle Chang Ching’s favourite classic Mandarin pop songs. The video portrays Uncle and invokes the historical cultural landscapes of the tin mining towns of Perak. Of her work, Hayati writes:

“The truth is bleak: soon, the town that one sees now may not exist at all. The District Council considers these two rows of old shophouses structurally unstable and therefore unsafe both for inhabitants and passers-by. In 2010, when the video was made, they have been marked for demolition, under Section 83 of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974. The overriding motivation behind this move is: the trunk road needs to be widened again. There is a chance that one row will be saved on the side opposite Uncle’s shophouse, given the presence of the mosque at the end of the row. And the Malay village and orchards near the Raia River will be spared. But the coherence of Kampung Kepayang, built up over more than a century, will be gone. Some of the townsfolk are resigned to the loss of this place; others don’t really care. As for Uncle Chang Ching, who has lived here for 50 years, he is determined to stay put and live out what remain of his days.

“The work is spread across three screens: one shows a long tracking-shot across the fronts of shophouses; the centre screen is a static shot of Uncle’s living room, open to the road; the third screen reveals details of this living room, and of spaces to the rear of it that are glimpsed down a passage. By reading horizontally across the screens, one image can broaden the understanding of another – and there is a sense of concurrency as well as sequence, forming a diffuse narrative. For instance: in one screen, notices telling the occupants to quit their building are posted; this contrasts with, in another screen, the air of long-standing permanence in the ordered clutter of Uncle’s possessions and photographs – treasured souvenirs and left-over stock of valves and resistors from the days he ran a radio and TV repair business.

“Uncle’s stubborn attachment to his home and the town so familiar to him is an act of resistance to the dictates of a short-sighted bureaucracy that is acting to facilitate supposed progress. In shophouse No.55 joss-sticks are lit while a kettle boils; the key is in its usual place by the back door. Yet, what remains of the next shophouse is only a facade. Further down the street there are more abandoned buildings: strangely beautiful and melancholy structures that are littered with remnants of belongings, photographs and altars – and with staircases that persist simply as a pattern running up a wall. Each of them invites us to construct an imagined past although some of them offer more clues than others.

“Less pervasively, less overbearingly, there are the reflections of the traffic. Flickers of light are cast on the scene by passing cars and lorries as they hurtle along the road that cuts through this one-street town.

“This work emerges from my preoccupation with the ‘hold’ that places can have over us – be it a hometown or a house. Perhaps, this is because they epitomize our desire for a sense of belonging and continuity as we are forced to reconcile with a modernity that appears not to accommodate such needs. ‘No.55, Main Road’ focuses upon the transition, the process during which ‘a place becomes a space’. But here we see in juxtaposition both the persistence of the personal realm, the daily ritual and its fragility up against the ungovernable forces of the outside world, and indeed, up against neighbouring shop-lots that have already succumbed to dereliction.”

Looking down to the video installation from the upper level

We have good news for you: Hayati’s next video installation on the Falim House is a work in progress. I heard that it will involve twenty-eight screens. Falim House should have been a “national heritage”. For its relevance to Perak, PHS will do its best to bring the world premiere of this work of art to Ipoh. To do that, PHS will need your volunteer power and financial support. What a challenge that will be.

Alan Ng:  Photographs:  The Falim House

The servery on the ground level with Alan Ng’s photographs hung in the space of the old shelvings

About the photographer: Born and bred in the sleepy yet famous tin mining town of Sungei Lembing, Pahang, Alan Ng spent much of his childhood roaming the nearby forest, fishing in the river, improvising toys and inventing games. From this outdoor pastime, he developed a love for heritage and old things, and an enduring passion for photography. His love for nature and jungle trekking remains, and the rainforest is a recurrent theme in his photographs.

He works exclusively in black-and-white photography, with a Hasselblad. Over the years, his pursuit of photography has also helped him make a living: he prints off traditional silver gelatin glass plates and negatives, often for artists and professionals such as Soraya Talismail and Raja Zainol Ihsan Shah, custodian of Sultan Ismail’s collection of photographs.

His photographs have been exhibited at Sutra House, Kuala Lumpur. He has also helped curate various group exhibitions, notably “Never-ending Peace and Love”.

A pair of photographs with religious subjects

He never quite embraced the digital revolution. Instead, he daydreams and follows the dictates of his own rhythm to produce beautiful monochromatic prints of evocative, memorable images to fill the void in a world given to instantaneous and often throw-away colour imagery.

About the photographs: Alan Ng is a poet. Through his lens and by his hands, images become stunningly beautiful photographs, printed on silver gelatin fine art paper. His photo-prints are archival; they will last a hundred years, and in optimal condition, a hundred more.

Three photographs in a row

Alan explored the Falim House. Looking into every nook and corner in every room, taking pleasure in the rich textures presented by the abandoned objects and relying on available light, he composed selectively. He saw objects with layers of dirt and vines creeping into the building. He says, “It was as if they wanted to talk to me.”

With these photographs, Alan has preserved for posterity the melancholy Falim House in evocative and, definitely, saddening images.

Photographs on upper level outside the meeting room

Celebrating Perak’s Built Heritage

Tutorial – 08/07/2012

Welcome to Ipoh, the much anticipated UM-NUS Joint Studio Programme Exhibition!

In consideration to Perak Heritage and PHS, for the first time, the exhibition in Ipoh combines the results of two separate studies in Perak:


Despite general perceptions of traditional rivalry, Taiping and Ipoh are related, and they share a common heritage, which shows up in our shophouses. Based on urban studies in Taiping (2010) and Ipoh (2012), the exhibition consists of images of the towns, plans and drawings as well as eight architectural models of selected shophouses.

If you love heritage, you cannot afford to miss this exhibition. Mark this down:

Dates: 26 February to 10 March

Hours: 12:30 to 4:30 daily, closed on Monday

Venue: Gallery Lim Ko Pi, walk through the kopitiam to the gallery upstairs.

See you there!

For more information on the exhibition, see/click here for links to the flyer and the poster.

Top : Heri Walk; Bottom left: Ipoh Padang; Bottom right: Inside the old Ipoh Post and Telegraph Office

Drawing Charcoal Shop – 04/07/2012

Drawing tailor’s shophouse – 04/04/2012

A Ground-breaking NEW BOOK on Ipoh’s Heritage

Now, a new book based on the study on Ipoh will be launched at the opening of the exhibition on 24 Febraury. Not to worry, you can buy it at the exhibition when it is open to the public. Also on sale is a quality PHS souvenir T-shirt. A discount on the RRP (Recommended Retail Price) of both items is offered to members and students. Check them out at the sales counter.

Encounters with Ipoh: the process

Early in 2012, lecturers from both the National University of Singapore and the University of Malaya came to recce in Ipoh. Assisted by the PHS, meticulous planning began.

Over two weeks in June-July 2012, twenty students with their lecturers converged in Ipoh and practically took over Sekeping Kong Heng – their home and study centre. Each evening, a sharing-critique session would push the students deeper into understanding their subject. They covered the streets on foot, putting up with the heat and the sun. They measured shophouses; some had to overcome their fear of height while they were hoisted up in a “cherry picker” to measure the roof. They made friends with the hospitable occupants of the shophouses and the friendly Ipohites.

After field work in Ipoh, they re-grouped in Singapore for studio work. Supervised by their lecturers, the resultant exhibition was first exhibited in the NUS Museum.

As a testimonial of the students’ scholarship and dedication, as they share with readers their experience of Ipoh’s heritage streetscape, the resultant book is a ground-breaking work on Ipoh’s heritage.

Critique on urban studies

Critique panel in focus

Desperately Seeking Volunteers!

We appeal to all, especially old friends of PHS, members and past members to volunteer at the exhibition.

Two sessions a day: 12:30-2:30 p.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Simple duties: welcoming all visitors and minding the sales. Volunteers will receiving briefing on the exhibition.

Two volunteers are required for each session. Volunteers can choose to do as many sessions are they like and they may take on both sessions on the same day.

Volunteers who do more than three sessions and who are not a PHS member or a student will qualify for a discount on the book and the T-shirt.

To volunteer, please contact Hong: 0175061875 or by email:

Calling all volunteers – show that “we care about our past”!

Work at night

The Untold Story of Leong Kan

Text by Law Siak Hong
Photographs by Lau Sook Mei

Leong Kan (left) and wife, Kok Sou. (Photo courtesy of Shunde Association, Ipoh)

Like many early settlers who left their legacies in old Malaya, the story of Leong Kan (1890-1940) is one of rags-to-riches. While not so many people in Ipoh know of him now, mention the landmark buildings that Leong Kan built and you may strike them by surprise. The buildings of, and associated with Leong Kan are as follows.

1. His residence at No.19, Jalan Bendahara, now the Grand Park Hotel. Built, 1928.

2. Shophouses Nos. 1-17, Jalan Bendahara. Built, 1937. No. 17 was Leong Kan’s office; his name is inscribed on the shop front.

3. The Tong Ngah (Oriental) Hotel at No. 17, 19 & 21, Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri (Clare Street); now an electrical shop. Built, 1928.  Interestingly, when the hotel opened for business its rooftop restaurant served “dim sum”. Both the hotel and the restaurant were operated by Leong Kan.

4. Singapore Cold Storage at Nos. 1, 3 & 5, Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri (Clare Street). Built by contract by Leong Kan, it is now a McDonald’s hamburger outlet. Built, 1928.


Early days

One of the last towkays of Ipoh, Leong Kan @ Leong Yik Meng hailed from Shunde, Guangdong Province. Together with his wife, they had arrived in Malaya penniless. They first settled in the town of Tanjung Rambutan in 1910, where they eked out a living working as labourers in a tin mine. He must have been quite special, rising through the ranks to become a palong contractor. Hard work pays. Impressed with his determination for success, his British employers gave him a sizeable piece of land – that was the turning point in his life.

There is scant recorded history of Leong Kan. As he was an elder and a pioneer of the Perak Shun Tak Wui Kuan, the Shunde (in putonghua; in Cantonese as when it was registered, Shun Tak) clan association, we can begin to piece together his achievements. History is supplemented with memories of his son, who was a 3-year-old toddler when Leong Kan died just before World War Two. His portrait hangs prominently in his clan association, with his wife’s below his.


With the wealth accrued from tin mining, he became a developer in Ipoh, the bustling centre of the tin-rich Kinta Valley. It is a measure of his business acumens, that in 1928, he built not only a large mansion for his family but also two commercial buildings.

He expanded his tin mining business to Malim Nawar. In early 1930s, he started the Leong Kan Hydraulic Mines in Kampong Gedang, Bidor. Water was supplied through pipes measuring 24-inches in diameter. With a business partner, Leong Kan ventured into sawmills. They founded the Kong Soon Cheong Sawmill in Kampar. Later, he was to own another sawmill in Pasir Puteh, Ipoh.

There is a Chinese saying about not forgetting your past and origin. Naturally, like other towkays, Leong Kan invested in real estate and land in China and Hong Kong.

The house that Leong Kan built

Leong Kan's name inscribed on the gate pillar (left); the wrought-iron garden gate.

Completed in 1928, the stylish mansion sits on 3¾ acres of land in what would have been the edge of town. It is a symmetrical double-storey brick building roofed with Marseilles tiles. With a depth more than twice its width, it featured a fountain in the fore court outside the car porch. It had eleven rooms and a vast covered deck.

Attractive caustic tiles.

Like most houses belonging to the affluent Chinese of the time, the ground floor is paved with caustic tiles. A wooden staircase opens out to a spacious hall with a timber floor, flanked by spacious bedrooms. A smaller staircase leads to a covered deck as well as an annex which provided accommodation for Leong Kan’s extended family. The wooden floor of the deck and the old ceiling fan have survived the ravage of time. The servants’ quarters are located at the back of the annex.

Wooden windows framing patterned tinted glass.

The covered deck (left); The gold fish tank. For CK Leong, this is a blast from the past.

A man of the community

Shunde Association, Ipoh. (Photo courtesy of Shunde Association, Ipoh)

Leong Kan was a pillar of his family, a successful businessman, a philanthropist as well as a community leader in the Shunde clan. His position in Shunde clan was sealed when he generously donated towards the acquisition of clan premises in Jalan Masjid and figured prominently in the consolidation of his association. He was President of the association for thirteen years until his demise.

A firm believer in education, Leong Kan had donated to schools, notably the St Michael’s Institution, Ipoh and Tat Choi Primary School, Tanjung Rambutan. He also contributed to the Futt Yeh Miu, a Chinese temple in Tanjung Rambutan.

Reminiscing the family

The entire household during a family wedding group portrait with the mansion in the background, c 1940. Seated: 10th from the left is Leong Kan and 8th, his wife. Seated on the ground: 6th from left is CK Leong. (Photo courtesy of CK Leong)

Leong Kan did not forget his roots. When he prospered, he brought his brothers and sisters and their families from China to live in his large mansion. Due to the enormity of the house, dinner time was announced by the ringing of the bell, and four tables would be set upon.

Leong Kan had a son and a daughter. His son, CK recalls his family tradition: for every new arrival in the extended family, a maid would be engaged to look after the new-born. The ladies of the house frequently engaged in lengthy mahjong sessions. For schooling children, a chauffeur would send them to and pick them up from school. After school, a tutor came to the house to give extra lessons.

CK remembers the quinine trees in the garden. One of his favourite games was target shooting at the hanging fruits with tin cans. He relishes this with pride, for he was an excellent shot.

Leong Kan died in 1940. Soon after his death, the good life ended when  Malaya came under Japanese Occupation. Rice was in shortage; food was scarce. The garden was dug up for the planting of sweet potatoes to supplement their diet.

In 1951, the mansion was sold. The entire family moved into their shophouses next to the mansion. It may indeed be his vision that the family may not live together in the mansion after his death that he had the shophouses built for them.

Shophouses Nos. 1-17 taken from another angle; the mansion is on the far left.

Every building tells a story

Most of the buildings associated with this remarkable self-made man no longer belong to the family. But as Leong Kan’s legacy, they deserve preservation. Despite many changes of occupancy, his mansion has remained quite authentic. It belongs to a glorious past, a time when family life and contribution to society ruled the day. As for the other buildings, while their facades remain, renovations have obliterated the original interiors.

* Based on interviews with C K Leong and family by Lau Sook Mei.


Advancing Panglima Lane

Text and photography by Lau Sook Mei

About a month ago, three shophouses on Panglima Lane partially collapsed, and a fourth structurally compromised. According to Mr Loh, one of the few residents of Panglima Lane, it began with a noise which was dismissed as fallen roof tiles, a common occurrence at the derelict century-old townhouses. A thunderous crash followed. He rushed out, only to find that Nos. 22, 25 and 27 had fallen. It was horrifying, and understandably so – his home is at No.23, next to No.25.

Window frame and other debris on the passageway. The yellow food stall is in front of No. 25.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. It was late at night and no one was in the passage. While No.22 and No.27 were vacant, the terrified tenants in No.25 packed up early in the morning and left.

What is left of Nos.25 and 27 (left) and No. 22.

Despite the fact that the shophouses are quite dilapidated, and some derelict, many people have found this passage beautiful, brimming with old-world charm and nostalgia. Panglima Lane, better known as Yi Lai Hong among locals, or ‘concubine lane’, is the gem of Ipoh. It attracts tourists, artists, photographers and filmmakers from far and wide. In fact, the authorities have been trying to revitalize the photogenic lane but efforts had fizzled out. This is because the owners have not surfaced to be engaged in this plan. Recently, though, ownership has changed hands. This is critical.  The new owner has new ideas, and he has the skills to involve the other owners into an influential body for the rehabilitation of the lane.

The charming ambience in the Lane, at dusk.

Taking Panglima Lane for granted and leaving it to rot is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Just before the collapse, the State Government and the City Council, MBI had earmarked Panglima Lane as one of the ten best attractions in Ipoh. However, it is baffling that there are no plans to preserve the buildings and to stop the rot. Instead, a contract has been awarded to upgrade the area by paving the street in granite and concealing the storm water drains. This is ill-advised. Now, since the incident, the plan has been rescinded.

Out of bounds.

Immediately after the incident, Local Government Committee chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon gave a fourteen-day notice to the owners of seven shophouses in Panglima Lane which are deemed life-threatening. It was a matter of dealing with the threat or risk having the offending buildings demolished by MBI. Can’t blame the government, for derelict buildings in Ipoh and their threats to public safety have been very much in the news lately.

Manual clean-up by City Council. Photo courtesy Law Siak Hong.

The owners, who are the prime stakeholders, found themselves in a quandary: to demolish or to restore? Let us look at it this way. If you have a property, is it not your responsibility to keep it well-maintained for your tenant? Why should the government channel tax-payers’ money for the maintenance of your property and increase its property value while you collect rent? It does not make sense. But, if the government were to declare your property intrinsic to tourism, let’s say, in Panglima Lane, then some form of governmental funding or incentives should be given. For benefits to the public, and income-generating tourism economy, that’s fair.

In fact, the government had funded various works on private properties for example, painting works within Little India, Ipoh; some restoration work on Rumah Besar Raja Bilah, Papan; and Sitiawan Settlement Museum, Sitiawan, to name a few. The main purpose was to spruce up the heritage sites for tourism.

Buildings rebuilt in Old Town.

However, is it not the joint-responsibility of the government and owners to ensure that derelict buildings do not pose a danger to the public? Should all such buildings be demolished? No, not until all options have been exhausted. Not when we believe that all dilapidated buildings could be rehabilitated. Resorting to indiscriminate demolitions is taking the easy way out. Demolition is not the solution. Should that be allowed to happen, there will be very little left for people’s collective memory and that sense of place. Ipoh could well end up losing at least sixty old shophouses. In their place, in all likelihood, will be new ugly buildings – there are plenty of recent examples. Just imagine, if the seven “dangerous” shophouses in Panglima Lane are demolished, what is left for the place to retain its charms and ambience?

Prominent cracks on the wall (left); an exposed column caused by the continuous pecking of pigeons.

There are problems in Yi Lai Hong. Engineers must come and assess them. One such problem is drainage. It seems that the street has sunk, probably because water has seeped through the original brick-lined drains and into the foundation rather than being carried away by the drains. The street might have been a reclaimed swamp beside the Kinta River. The drains seem unable to carry away the surface water. Wrong paint has also aggravated water problems, preventing the evaporation of ground water rising into the building fabric and causing water damage.

Cracks, too, have appeared on the buildings for some time, possibly caused by the sinking. Conservationists have suggested immediate shoring up of affected buildings to prevent further collapse or there would be no original buildings left!

Fielding questions from the press: Datuk Dr Mah, under the red lantern (above). Photo courtesy Iris Cheng; Ipoh Mayor, Dato Roshidi Hashim.

In the rehabilitation of a city’s old quarters, community involvement is critical, and this is the case with Panglima Lane. Because of the untimely depletion of its heritage buildings, an ad-hoc committee of affected owners has got together to discuss ways to ‘bring back the glory’ and put in efforts to jointly ‘re-develop the site’. They have met with the authorities: MBI, JKR (Public Works Department) and the State government. The latest is that the State may provide some financial help. Nothing concrete has been decided although the situation is optimistic.

Panglima Lane before the collapse.

Undeniably, Panglima Lane is worth saving. It is unique in Ipoh, being the only pedestrian-only street in the City. Behind every door are timeless stories which tell a social history epitomizing a past era, a time ‘when tin was king’. This must be cherished, relished and carried into the future as our shared heritage.

For related stories on Panglima Lane, please go to When Bricks Came Tumbling Down and Immortalizing Panglima Lane.





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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