Posts Tagged 'Ipoh'

Women at Work in Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School

Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong


The main building of the Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School, built circa 1930. The principal’s office sits above the porch.

For almost half a century, the mural has lived quietly in the corridor outside the principal’s office, which was, and still is the place students and teachers do not choose to linger.
It was Wai Chun, my Sixth Form schoolmate in ACS Ipoh who told me about the mural. I was intrigued and asked to see it. A couple of years went by. When she finally took me to her old school, I was stunned by her ‘masterpiece’. What a ‘hidden’ treasure! However, I was alarmed to see that the panels had suffered some water damage and electrical conduits and fixtures had run over one of them. Assured of help from me, the intrepid Wai Chun began to mastermind the restoration of this MGS mural in which she had an indelible hand.


The mural is located outside the principal’s office, seen here in the back wall, during restoration.

Volunteers are critical. They are recruited from among old school friends, but scheduling work sessions to suit them is tough because they live either in KL, Penang or overseas. Support from the school administration for the project has to be sought. Paint and materials must be acquired. The restoration work needs direction and some conservation expertise. Problems abound, but perseverance pays off. The path is set when the school principal Datin Mungit Kaur orders the intrusive electrical fixtures removed; thus, the mural reclaims the wall. The rest, as they say, is history.


Wai Chun and Siak Hong taking note of the unwelcomed intrusions on the mural.

Back then, under the guidance of art mistress, Mrs Vivian Chong, eleven girls had pencilled their design and coloured it with wall-paint. Wai Chun has kept a black-and-white photograph of the time: girls in shorts, standing on stools stacked precariously on classroom furniture. This time, however, to repair and refresh this extraordinary artwork, a couple of steel scaffolding has been employed; no longer light and stealth, the older and heavier volunteers prefer to work on a steady platform.


Working from the scaffolding

Occupations of Women’, as it was titled, was conceived as a triptych, three panels depicting women at work: manual workers, vocational workers and professionals. Each panel measures 7-feet wide by 5-feet tall. At first sight, the images appear like mosaic. However, upon scrutiny, you would see they are composed of little ‘tiles’, painted in a full spectrum of colours, laid on a pale pink background resembling stonework.


Manual workers. The petrol brand of Caltex was new to the Malaysian market then.


Vocational workers. The year which dates the work is disguised as the car’s registration number.


Professionals. This is the panel which Wai Chun designed.

The figures are girlish, but why not? The women are Asian; they have black hair and their skin tone in shades of light brown. But why styled it like mosaic? Mosaic evokes the venerated decorative art of western antiquities. Painting the mosaic was what the young artists could manage. The result is convincing, and has fooled many casual viewers. Perhaps, the evocation of mosaic was inspired by what Mrs Chong saw during her tour of Europe.


The portrait of the Raja Permaisuri Agong lends weight to this WOMEN only scene.


Square by little square, Wai Chun painstakingly brushes on the missing ‘tiles’. Note the architect’s red dress with black and white pattern – the young artists were obviously fashion-conscious.

Wai Chun confesses that the school motto of ‘Our Utmost for the Highest’ is what sustained her through this ‘call of duty’. The process has been time consuming but the experience is both meaningful and satisfying for all concerned. It has fostered old friendships. The volunteer painters had loads of fun despite the painstaking work which none of them are unaccustomed to. Happy or sad, memories of school days live on, perchance to air at opportune time, like when old school friends gather for a worthy cause.


Wisdom runs along the corridor of the main building.

This mural has long been taken for granted. Having endured the passage of time and neglect, it is now primed and poised for glory, as the school advances towards its 120th anniversary celebration in 2017.


The triptych: Seated on these comfy padded sofas you would miss seeing the ‘women at work’.

Is this mural unique in Malaysia for its subject of women at work? Do tell us if you know of any exceptional school mural with special themes. We will be delighted to document their stories and share them in this PHS blog. ○H



Kenyon Cottage, formerly the headmistress’ residence.

We heard that the building is set to become the school ‘museum’ for the display of its movable heritage and archival material. The PHS notes similar set up in Yuk Choy High School and St Michael’s Institution in Ipoh, and St George’s in Taiping. Please share with us if you know of others.


The 1964 edition of the school magazine, ARGOSY, illustrates a new mural at the school canteen shared with the primary school. Incomprehensibly, this vibrant mural, depicting children at play, has been painted over with a far less interesting mural.

UPDATE – 29th December, 2015: A dedication ceremony was held in the school to mark this exemplary effort given to the mural’s restoration. The PHS thought it deserves something special to help fix this memorable advent. Siak Hong sought sponsorship of the commemorative plaque from Royal Selangor. It was a success!


(Above): A week before the dedication ceremony, Wai Chun deputised the PHS in receiving the plaque from Datuk Seri Chen Mun Kuen at Royal Selangor showroom in Setapak, KL.


(left): PHS President Mohd Taib Mohamed presents the pewter plaque to MGS Principal Datin Mungit Kaur. (Right): Chan Wai Chun presents a souvenir photo book to PHS. The photo book chronicles the mural restoration process, with messages from Datin Mungit Kaur, Mrs Vivian Chong and reflections from all the girls who worked on the restoration project.


Inscribed with a brief history of the mural, the pewter plaque is fixed to the wall below the mural. No more excuses for not knowing about this incredible mural that is almost half-a-century old.

Read More : The extraordinary passage of Taiping’s Central Market

President’s Address at the AGM 2015

Mohd Taib, James Gough and Philip Pu at the AGM

With the formation of the National Heritage Department through National Heritage Act 2005 (Act 645), non-governmental organisations like us seem redundant. The same fate has fallen on Badan Warisan Malaysia, its voice becomes stifled. Yet, PHS and NGOs like us have remained relevant.

Other than the National Heritage Act 2005, there are legislations that cover heritage matters in Malaysia. The Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (Act 172) and Local Government Act 1976 (Act 171) both emphasize heritage preservation. However, along the way, in implementations, they slip up.

In Ipoh, there are 25 buildings/monuments/sites which are gazetted as “state” heritage through the Local Government Act 1976. However, to date, only a handful has been listed as national heritage under the National Heritage Act.

On 8th September 1999, through the Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan, that is, state exco meeting (No. 1348), the Perak state government declared Taiping a heritage town. Only a handful of its “33 firsts” have been listed as national heritage under The National Heritage Act 2005, and some of them have fallen to the ground. Recently, when Taiping launched the Taiping Heritage Trail, prominence was given to two electric buses donated by the Japanese government rather than the sites; the buses will provide transport to tourists on the route.

In Karai, the Victoria railway bridge will suffer the same fate of neglect. I have witnessed at least three events organised at the site, yet no effort has been taken to preserve it under The National Heritage Act although officers from National Heritage Department were present at the events.

Last year, PHS was consulted on Ipoh’s heritage by both MBI (Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh) and the Department of Town And Country Planning Malaysia. Sadly, we have not been informed on the outcome.

The old issue of vandalism at the pre-historic rock art at Gunung Panjang, Tambun was exposed by the Malay Mail recently. We have yet to see action by the relevant authorities.

There is a tree preservation order under the Town and Country Planning Act. The National Landscape Department has documented heritage trees under Tree Inventory System (2008-2010). Trees that are more than 30 years old would be preserved, and 1,220 heritage trees in Perak have been listed. As such, the Ipoh tree (near Ipoh Railway Station) is value at RM123,735.60; Pokok Hujan-Hujan along Jalan Seenivasagam Ipoh, 120-years-old, at RM1,301,900.98 and those at Taiping Lake Garden which are 125-years-old have been rated at RM1,068,712.84.

PHS acknowledges the initiative from the private sector, including Town House Museum in Taiping and Han Chin Pet Soo in Ipoh by Ipohworld. I hope that there will be more private initiatives and that the state authorities will give them due recognition.

Lately I have rendered help to two PhD candidates, three Master degree students and one undergraduate on their theses, all of them relate to heritage. I was appointed as “Felo Industries” by Politeknik Sultan Idris Shah in Sabak Bernam, Selangor for 2014-2016.

I would like to thank all members of the PHS community for their support in making PHS relevant to the struggle to preserve our heritage.

Thank you.

Mohd Taib Mohamed gifting tokens of appreciation to Dr Olanweraju Ashola Abdullateef

Mohd Taib Mohamed gifting tokens of appreciation to Sam Tan

Mohd Taib Mohamed gifting tokens of appreciation to Law Siak Hong

Sam Tan delivering his power point presentation

The Last Conventional Lime Kilns

Text and photographs: Law Siak Hong

Lime is an essential building material. To learn more about it, a team of conservationists from Penang’s George Town World Heritage Inc. came to ‘Pulai-Ipoh’, a major centre of lime production (and limestone paving). Who would have thought that we had to commiserate about the sad exit of a traditional trade?

The visitors had travelled in the morning light and arrived in Ipoh for breakfast. To slip into the mood, we decided on a quick look at some old shophouses in Kampong Kepayang (read our last blog), five minutes away, where lime was used extensively in their construction before the days of modern-day cement. We could have spent more time romancing the ruins but the day’s programme beckoned.

In the meeting room of a plant in Keramat Pulai, our guru Harrison gave us an education on lime.

Harrison is well respected in the industry. Over the course of an hour, we learnt from him why the conventional kiln produces superior quicklime, and that quality loses out to the lesser and cheaper products from the contemporary tower kiln. We learnt, too, that lime is critically important in our daily lives. It is used in myriad ways: water treatment (to ‘soften’ water), sugar refining, food and food by-products, toothpaste, detergents, cosmetics, chemical manufacture, paper, ceramics, construction, smelting, steel, road, petroleum, agriculture and more. Is it for these products that we are destroying the biodiversity and natural beauty of our irreplaceable limestone hills? There must be a way out. Let’s reduce our reliance on them, for starters, and put a moratorium on new hills which have not yet been exploited.

GTWHI team: three architects and a videographer: Yee Li, Yeow Wooi, Que Lin and Gwynn, with our guru, Harrison (middle). Missing here, the researcher Muhammad Hijas appears in another photograph below.

Post-theory, we left the classroom for site visits. The sun was mild. We drove past limestone hills and came to the conventional lime kilns near a small limestone outcrop in Bercham, Ipoh. We discovered that these last conventional lime kilns in the Kinta Valley had been abandoned quite recently. (Why did I not ‘recce’ ahead of the visit?) In the work shed, a couple of workers were bagging the last scraps of quicklime. According to them, there is no more supply of rubber wood for the best fire to ‘cook the rocks’.

Feeling and testing the quality of the lime.

A file picture of the kiln when it was in operation; note the stack of rubber wood. GTWHI’s urban planner/researcher, Muhammad Hijas, squeezes into the lime kiln for the medieval feel of the ‘room’.

Set 80 metres apart, two rows of kilns, three in each, face each other across a little creek – a fire barrier, perhaps. About 4 metres in diameter and 5 metres high, the cylindrical kilns rise behind a retaining wall: a concrete and brick structure. Entry into the kiln to stack the rocks is through a narrow, man-sized passage. In front of the retaining wall is a long shed, a roofed work space with a storage room at one end and at the other, living quarters for the workers, who keep a 24-hour watch on the fire for three days. Work is also done on an upper level. Compacted earth, levelled with the

File picture: limestone piled around on the upper level, to be cooked in the kiln and become quicklime.

rims of the kiln openings, provides the space where rocks would wait to be dropped into the kiln and stacked into a domed vault, piece by piece. What skills, what occupational hazard! The back of the kilns slopes away gently for a small truck to bring up the rocks.

The abandoned kilns and the cool isolated setting. Note the limestone hill in the background. Workers’ quarters on the right have been reconfigured into a store. What’s in store for these kilns?

Harrison walking past the retaining wall of the abandoned kiln.

One set of kilns was already partially concealed by bushes, creepers and wild grass. Dead branches had been dumped into the hollow.

Yeow Wooi recording the structure of the retaining wall at the passage (left). Piqued by the construction, Que Lin the videographer switches role and poses at the passage (right).

While we were looking around, someone unlocked the steel door to the only kiln which had remained intact and accessible! The passage was partially sealed with bricks, and we had to bend down low or crawl in. It felt like we had stepped back in time, into a circular medieval room under an open sky; we would be right at home draped in hessian, mud and ash. White lime had caked up on the bricks lining the kiln, while green moss had found their footing on the wall and the floor.

File pictures: Looking down into the kiln and the narrow passage. The bricks lining the kiln are laid on their edges. Note the irregular surface of the wall.

After lunch and iced tea, we went to a tower lime kiln south of Gopeng. A surprise was waiting in the wings. As we took the first bend of the dirt road to the plant, a brick wall came into view. Hugging the foot of the limestone cliffs were twelve, or more, conventional kilns in the wild. A poignant moment: nature had reasserted its mastery over man-made objects.

Effective and responsible action: thin out the vegetation selectively (aesthetically) and manage the ground covering and the trees; then maintain a clear path to the upper level of the kilns and mark it with a guide rope. Would the holes and the wild vegetation pose any threat to the visitors?

Later, at the plant, we were told that the lime company might adopt and maintain this evocative historical site, for corporate responsibility purposes. For sustainability, cost effective measures are practical and appropriate. Less is more. Perhaps the management will consult with us: PHS.

While a conventional kiln is seen as a hole in the ground, the tower kiln pierces the air. For industrial security, no photography was allowed. The tower kiln is a tall, heavily insulated steel drum, tapered and stumped at both ends. It is suspended from huge I-beams, supported by a massive concrete base. Around the kiln, an open steel staircase links several platforms, where various operational procedures and tasks can be performed. On a tilt, the bucket elevator raises its load of limestone up to the top to tip the rocks into the kiln. Progressing downwards (!), the rocks are heated, cooked and cooled. Quicklime powder, the finished product, is collected at the base and piped into the adjacent silo. It takes sixteen hours for the tower kiln to make quicklime. In comparison, the conventional kiln takes nearly two weeks.

File pictures of the retired tower kiln, similar to the ones we visited in Gopeng, with twin silos (left). A view from the top at the level of the gangwalk from the kiln to the top of the silo (right).

Our close encounter with the retired but magical tower kiln in Keramat Pulai was scratched due to rain…. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of loss, of a magnitude I have yet to come to grips with. What can be done to save and reintroduce the technology and the art of the conventional lime kiln which produces superior quicklime for our building craftsmen? In the meantime, we must settle for lime of a poorer quality, but one that is cheaper and much quicker to make. Would there be a demand for the superior product or would it be simply a waste of time? This is the kind of problem conservationists grapple with. 

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

Tourism in Perak

*6 July  201– TaipingBukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar anBatu Gajah.
Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong, with photographs 12bcourtesy othMinistry oTourism and Culture, Perak Office

What is happening in Perak ahead of Visit Malaysia Year 2014? By all accounts, the initiative which began in 2011 will continue and players are pepped up for success. There are more hotel rooms in Ipoh. There are old buildings being turned into food and hospitality outlets, especially in Ipoh. There is a new state exco who leads a young and enthusiastic team. Things look bright. But heritage tourism is yet to be understood and tapped into. Read below a couple of stories for an uplift of spirit.

Homecominfor thMinisteof Tourism and Culture

Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, the Member of Parliament for Padang Rengas came home for his first official visit as Minister of Tourism and Culture. Appropriately, his itinerary covered the most important triangle of heritage towns in Perak, from Larut to Kinta: Taiping, Bukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar and Batu Gajah (just outside Ipoh). PHS President Mohd Taib Mohamed was the tour guide at Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah, where the Minister officiated the opening of the new Tourist Complex.

Naturally enough for the Minister, having only visited Sabah and Sarawak, his objectives were familiarization with the agencies while seeing some tour destinations in Perak. The most remarkable thing was, as Mohd Taib recounted, that he took the wheel to arrive at his destinations; his driver and aides were the passengers. Even the police outriders had not realized the minister was in the driver’s seat. Standard operation procedure was dropped unceremoniously. That set the tone of his homecoming.

In Taiping, the Minister visited the recently refurbished Perak Museum, the oldest museum in Malaysia, and the new exhibition at the Zoo on Taiping heritage walk, which was opened earlier in the day by another VIP. What a day for Taiping heritage! Later, in Bukit Gantang, he was welcomed by over 200 kampong folk, including the hosts in the homestay programme. He was treated to the local specialty: durian, which he must know well. That was topped by a “gazal” party: a traditional musical in modern costume.

A cruise on the majestic Perak River led to the evening’s highlight: the opening of the Sayong Riverfront Recreational Complex “Persisiaran Sayong”, which kicked off the “VISIT MALAYSIA YEAR 2014” campaign in Perak. The big crowd was entertained by traditional dances: Malay “Tarian Dabus”, Chinese lion dance, yo-yo play-dance, fan dance, Bangra dance, and a percussion band of drums from different Malaysian cultures. The legendary Dato’ M Daud Kilau, a native of Teluk Intan and pop diva, Azlyn were the singers who lighted up the stage.

Boost for tourism at Kellie’s Castle

The following day, Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah was the star feature. While various schools of thought perpetuate, Kellie’s Castle remains an eye-catching edifice despite questions about its heritage value. Money has been splashed on the site, so the least we can do is go and see for ourselves and rate what has been done before we make our own judgment. For sure, personal experience underlies heritage tourism.

1  Mohd Taib briefing the Minister and his entourage.

2  An enthusiastic Minister captures an audience.

3+4  The display on William Kellie-Smith and the history of Kellie’s Castle inside the unfinished castle. Mohd Taib makes a point. In blue batik is the D.O. of Batu Gajah, Dato Haji Jamrie

Under 10th Malaysia Plan, RM5 million was allocated by the Tourism Ministry to upgrade Kellie’s Castle as a tourist destination. With the Works Department as the lead agency the project was completed early this year.

To refresh your memory, our national daily The Star had made a report back in April 2011. The Batu Gajah District Officer then, Dato’ Razali Othman was quoted: “Among the upgrading works are landscaping, setting of a walkway and new stalls while the present outlets would be demolished… The castle is one of the top 10 must-visit places in Perak and
we want to ensure the premises are well maintained.” Indeed, the eye-sores of sub-standard service buildings are gone but one wonders about the wisdom of such an “activity centre” for a destination which has not achieved critical mass in terms of sustainable visitation.

As for the new garden of Kellie’s Castle, despite the annoying “cow grass”, it is best experienced. It features outdoor signs with historical images of the various buildings in the romantic setting. Go see it, and let us know what you think. Extra parking bays have been added to cope with the expected increase in tourist arrival. Here are some photographs to give you some idea of the new works.

5  After some rain, a puddle would form at the entrance to the Complex.

6  Blooming pink tabebuia shade the pavilion by the car park.

7+8  The commemorative plaque which marks the official opening and a board with detail “directional signs”.

9  Without critical mass (of visitors) the stalls of the cafeteria are not viable.

10  The display at the gallery comprises a few pieces of handicrafts. Are these samples of the souvenirs on sale and why is labu Sayong not featured as our iconic product?

11  A covered patio looks up to Kellie’s Castle (see photo 12), with a map of attractions in the environ of Batu Gajah (see photo 14).

12  Settings for “I was here” and wedding shoots are the latest additions to this tourist spot. Note the gentler hexagonal garden pavilion in the background.

13  The ticketing kiosk next to the footbridge which takes you across the river to Kellie’s Castle.

14  Map of “tourism products” in the environ of Batu Gajah.

We wonder how the current management company would deal with the new amenities for lecture, exhibition and “thematic activities”. It seems the District Office is still “looking at appointing a new management company to look after the castle”.

15  A view of the new Tourist Complex from the road.

16  Less than one kilometre away is the Arulmigu Maha Mariamma Temple. Contributed by Kellie Smith to calm his builders as a rash of sickness downed the workers at the “castle”, the family (his wife and daughters in Indian attire) are commemorated in figurines surrounded by other figurines of Hindu significance on the parapet wall of the temple.

PHS anHeritagTourism

Since becoming PHS President, Mohd Taib has focused on tourism and intangible heritage, working with various authorities. Worthy of note is the Director of the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural, Perak office, Shahrudin Abdul Hamid, who managed the official visit of his No.1 boss. To be given the honour of being the guide to the Minister on his official visit means that PHS’ hard work has not gone unnoticed. It may be wishful thinking, but we hope one day the Ministry will make decisions with due respect to our recommendations on heritage tourism. That’s one way an NGO in heritage (and tourism) like PHS can contribute to society.

Postscript: That same Sunday evening in Damai Laut and over the following two days, 140 persons attended a “Perak Tourism Retreat” held at Swiss Garden Hotel and Spa, for tourism players in Perak, destination operators, tour guides and relevant NGOs. The aim was for the new state exco for health, tourism and culture to get to know the tourism players and chart the course of tourism development in Perak. Mohd Taib was the facilitator for the session on Heritage.

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

Perak Heritage Society

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

Office and Postal Address:
85C, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil,
30300 IPOH, Perak, Malaysia.
(opposite the Syuen Hotel)

Fax: 05-253 5507


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