National registry needed for heritage buildings

Renewal: The once-dilapidated RexKL now serves as a community hub for creative events like art exhibitions, workshops and live theatre.

PETALING JAYA: Regular audits should be conducted on buildings of heritage and historical significance to preserve them, says Badan Warisan Malaysia president Lim Wei-Ling.

She said federal and state governments should have a register on all heritage buildings under their purview.

“This register must have an inventory on the types and categories of buildings. Every site should be properly recorded and inventoried.

“This should include a proper record of their state and status in terms of maintenance and what repairs are required.

“Once inventoried, our national list of heritage properties should have a proper audit performed on them regularly,” she said.

Lim said heritage buildings could be repurposed into community spaces as well as offices and private homes.

“Examples are the RexKL in Kuala Lumpur and the Queen Victoria building in Sydney; the latter was saved from demolition and was fully restored to its former glory with a long profit-sharing lease to the Malaysian company that undertook its massive restoration project,” she said while referring to the former Rex theatre in Jalan Sultan, which has now been turned into an arts and culture space.

“We support this idea for the sustainable reuse and adaptation of heritage buildings in the country, provided that the heritage aspects of their interiors are taken into consideration and preserved, not just the facades.”

Lim also pointed out that several buildings of historical significance in major cities had been lost to development.

Kuala Lumpur, for instance, has lost important landmark buildings such as the Eastern Hotel, the Bok House (Le Coq d’Or), Chua Cheng Bok Mansion and other post- independence architecture.

“Penang, on the other hand, lost many more (heritage buildings).

“For instance, the Komtar development demolished over 300 historic landmark buildings along the Prangin canal.

“This enclave was the centre of the riverine settlement of the Chinese while the British were settling in the George Town World Heritage Site zone,” she told The Star.

She noted that several other individual buildings were also demolished in Penang.

Among them are Hotel Metropole, which was formerly known as Asdang House which had Thai connections, homes of notable Siamese families at Pykett Avenue and along Kelawai Road, buildings in the enclave of Burmah Road and Yahudi Road (now known as Jalan Zainal Abidin) and the Shanghai Hotel at Gurney Drive, which was formerly the residence of Chung Thye Pin, a wealthy tin miner who was known as the Last Chinese Kapitan of Perak.

More recently, the Clove Hall House in Penang was demolished, and now Rex Cinema is under threat,” she added.

She said there is also a perception that heritage buildings are a burden.

“Interestingly, the colonials left behind a large cache of government institutional buildings, as well as an assortment of buildings by wealthy locals.

“To many, these heritage buildings were a burden to the newly founded nations,” she said.

Many of these buildings appear to be “antiquated” and “forbidding”, she added.

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