Banking in on preserving city’s heritage

THE rejuvenated OCBC Premier Banking Centre at the intersection of Lebuh Gereja and Lebuh Pantai in Penang is hard to miss, thanks to its well-thought-out rejuvenation plan.

It pays tribute to the three historical buildings that make up the building, featuring the Art Deco from the neo-classical and colonial periods that it houses.

The result is a vivid combination of east meets west, intertwining tradition and modernity, a symbol of preservation in which history gives context to progress.

The bank recently won the Singapore “Good Design Mark” Award, which recognises innovative and exceptional designs that spur the imagination and enhance day-to-day lives.

The opening of Penang’s largest premier banking centre in 2014 saw the financial institution delicately preserving the legacy and heritage of buildings dating as far back as 1886 while gently equipping it with all the furnishings, amenities and services demanded of modern society.

The triune starting points of the transformation story of this heritage wonder are the establishment of the Goon Yen & Friends building in 1886, the subsequent erection of the Kongsoon House two doors away in 1914 and the 1920 opening of Oversea-Chinese Bank Limited between the two.

Combined, they are today the OCBC Premier Banking Centre.

The current facade of the OCBC Premier Banking Centre.
The current facade of the OCBC Premier Banking Centre.

After occupying its part along the row 98 years ago, OCBC Bank progressively took over the entire row of buildings over time.

When they set out to establish the Premier Banking Centre as a work of heritage preservation, their challenge was clear: they had three buildings with unique architecture standing next to the more modern one housing the main bank branch.

“One of the ways we enhanced the contrast of old with new was by working with the existing space, stripping away the plaster coverings and exposing the original bricks.

“Showcasing the other cement walls for instance, which we knew were almost 100 years old, was not a very radical approach but one that made a lot of sense,” said OCBC Bank Premier Banking & Branch Distribution head Anne Leh .

To emphasise the contrast between the old and the new, they chose to put particular attention to the elements that connect the different spaces.

Those areas have different characters and get more and more intimate the deeper they go into the building.

“We wanted these transitions to be obvious and deliberate, similar to the changing facades as you stroll down Lebuh Pantai, changing and reflecting the generations,” she added.

“One must of course not forget that OCBC is a bank, committed to providing cutting- edge products, solutions and service to its customers.

“So together with the preservation and expansion of the centre, we wanted to enable seamless operations,” added Leh.

The OCBC Premier Banking Centre also converts into an event space that is used to organise various activities and programmes.

The new facility can hold more than a 100 people at a time.

OCBC Bank is looking to further its deep-rooted relationship with Penang by housing more community events on a consistent basis.

“Commerce in Penang has its roots in the Beach Street area, as it was known then, and OCBC Bank is pleased to be able to do our part to rejuvenate the area with our investment and bring it back to its former glory,” said OCBC Bank (Malaysia) Berhad’s Penang-born chief executive officer Ong Eng Bin.