Preserving A City’s Heritage For Future Generations
Heritage buildings represent a city’s identity through their physical components while holding extraordinary stories of how the city was created. This fosters a sense of identity in its community as the buildings represent the foundation of the city that was built through hard work, determination, perseverance and resilience. Preserving such buildings for future generations ensure that there is always a proud reminder of the grit and integrity of those before us. Meanwhile, they also reflect the culture that shaped the community along with the physical designs of each building.
“Each city has an important story to tell and its buildings, artefacts and intangible culture are not only our connection to the past, they act as living monuments to educate us on past challenges, mistakes and lessons learned.”Hamdan Abdul Majid, Managing Director of Think City
However, buildings of a certain age can usually become very expensive and difficult to maintain mainly due to customised craftmanship and labourious tasks. It sometimes beg the question if the city would benefit more at a lower cost from newer, modern buildings? This is where agencies like Think City come in to help with conserving and protecting a city’s unique heritage, such as the work that they’re doing preserving and restoring heritage buildings in Penang.
As a regional city-making agency and change-maker in the way cities are planned and developed, Think City is responsible for providing urban policy thinking, management and implementation of urban solutions. A special-purpose subsidiary of Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the agency’s ultimate goal is to develop people-friendly, resilient and liveable cities through urban rejuvenation. In order to achieve this goal, Think City has been actively involved in creating urban policies and plans for Malaysia. This includes the Penang 2030 initiative, targeting to achieve a family-oriented, green and smart Penang.
At the same time, these policies also address the conservation of built heritage and adapted space use to ensure these buildings remain relevant amidst the advent of modernity. Managing Director of Think City, Hamdan Abdul Majeed shares with us why conservation of heritage buildings are important not just to preserve cultures but also in building communities.
Why is it important to conserve heritage buildings? What is its value to society?
Think City’s mission is to create more people-friendly and resilient cities by being a catalyst for change in the way cities are planned, curated, developed and celebrated. Therefore, as a matter of principle, people and society are always at the forefront of what we do.
When it comes to heritage, each city has an important story to tell and its buildings, artefacts and intangible culture are not only our connection to the past, they act as living monuments to educate us on past challenges, mistakes and lessons learned. This helps us understand the influence of cultures and traditions in shaping a city and its urban landscape. It also provides society with a sense of belonging, shared identity and cohesion.
Cultural heritage is also a significant contributor to a city’s development and economy. It provides a city’s unique identity and shapes the foundation of its brand. This in turn can influence how successful a city is in terms of attracting talent, investment, industry and visitors.
What are the characteristics of a high-value heritage building?
Buildings of special architectural or historic interest are often considered to be of national importance and are prioritised in terms of protection. There are universal classifications of historic buildings with various categories detailing different characteristics, such as UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
How does the presence of a heritage building increase the value of a city?
Collectively, heritage buildings with preserved characteristics tend to form a better sense of place. This often impacts social well-being and space dynamics. Conservation also encourages building owners to acknowledge a particular building’s spirit of place, and to go further in making a connection to create new relevance for the modern day. The relationship between past and present provides unique opportunities for new businesses and drives innovation and entrepreneurship. An area with heritage buildings that has been adapted for modern purposes has been known to attract talent and influence the socio-economic value, as witnessed in the historic core of George Town Penang, where Think City has worked with the community to adapt the use of heritage buildings for viable commercial use.
Conservation of heritage buildings comes with challenges. What are the challenges usually faced?
In the process of conservation and preservation (two areas of heritage building protection), key challenges lie in the lack of technical expertise, the integrity and availability of original materials, the absence of skilled labour and other resources, among others.
Our conservation efforts are further defined by building communities, seeking consensus and getting people to take ownership of their heritage.Hamdan Abdul Majeed
What are the efforts taken to protect heritage buildings to ensure that its value increase?
At Think City, we take a holistic approach that not only focuses on protecting Malaysia’s cultural assets but also in enhancing the content of heritage buildings. This is to ensure that a sustainable ecosystem will prevail and continue to be driven by the community-at-large, as they take active ownership of their cities.
Apart from conservation or preservation work, part of our mission is to address the lack of skilled resources. Together with our international partners such as the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Getty Conservation Institute and UNESCO, we jointly create capacity-building programmes such as conservation workshops to help build local expertise and upgrade the skills of local craftsmen, builders, and heritage professionals.
As mentioned, people are always at the heart of what we do and we have always taken a bottom-up, community-first approach as opposed to a top-down approach. So, a lot of our effort is also centred on community-based engagement and ensuring inclusion – so that no one is left behind. Our conservation efforts are further defined by building communities, seeking consensus and getting people to take ownership of their heritage.
It’s good to know that there are agencies like Think City helping to ensure the conservation of heritage buildings and, by extension, preservation of Malaysia’s rich culture. What’s even better is that this goes hand-in-hand with progress, as old buildings are repurposed to house modern and commercially-viable usage. What’s more, as their programs also help build up local expertise in relevant fields, it’s a win-win for the community on all levels!
Let’s hope that with such initiatives, we’ll hear less about beautiful old buildings being torn down to make way for multi-usage properties by foreign developers, and instead be able to enjoy the beauty of the past and have it admired by visitors from abroad. Just like how we enjoy the old-city feel of London and Paris, heritage buildings in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Johor, Sarawak, Perak and just everywhere in Malaysia should be preserved as they tell future generations of how we got to where we are now.
Interested in old architecture? Read Atira Ariffin In North Korea for a peek into life in this reclusive country.
Alea began her career as a Corporate Communications Executive before becoming a full-time content writer. Her recent projects include crafting articles for Convergence e-magazine by Malaysia Airports and Tropicana Magazine. She loves exploring various cultures around the world and be inspired by the beauty of nature. At Gadabout, Alea’s main goal is to make the readers’ days better through fun and interesting articles on travel and lifestyle.