Do you ever get awestruck when you see a 100-year-old building? The fact that it was built more than a century ago without any modern technology fascinates me. My curiosity grew when I was studying architecture at Taylor’s University (2015-2019). During these four years, I had a memorable experience with Malaysia’s heritage buildings and architecture conservation. It might not seem that big of a deal, but to me, it was something new.
Revisiting My Past
I spent my childhood all over the world, away from my own cultural heritage. When I was 10, my family and I moved to Saudi Arabia due to my father’s work. Over there, I enrolled in an international school and mixed with schoolmates from all over the world. We even have a community of other Malaysian families. I remember going to gatherings filled with Malaysian food and celebrating the same traditions together. However, I realised that I still lacked knowledge of my own culture. Whenever we visited Malaysia during our holidays, I would have a hard time fitting in with my relatives. That was why in 2015, I made the decision to come back to Malaysia. To continue my studies and revisit my heritage and culture.
If I didn’t study architecture, I wouldn’t have known what conservation is. You’ve heard of UNESCO World Heritage right? They select sites from all over the world, that has an important value and identify them as World Heritage. So that the future generation can value it as well. The word conservation itself means “to protect”. They protect our past, but there’s so much more than just that.
My First Experience With Architecture Conservation
In secondary school, I never liked history class. I couldn’t find a way to enjoy it no matter how hard I studied. But despite that, I’m always fond of heritage buildings. There’s just something mysterious about them that makes me feel… nostalgic. So at Taylor’s University, I had to study in depth about a heritage building during a two-month class called Methods of Documentation and Measured Drawing. In a group of 20 people and one lecturer, we received a heritage building in Malaysia to study, measure and document.
For the project, our group had to study the heritage building, Rumah Tok Su. Rumah Tok Su is a 122-year-old Malay traditional house located in Alor Setar, Kedah. The house, originally owned by a nobleman, was used for political gatherings by Malay Nationalists. The one who initiated the conservation project was the former Menteri Besar of Kedah, Tan Sri Sanusi Junid. Thus in 1995, the house was moved from Kampung Permatang Kerat Telunjuk to Alor Setar, Kedah.
1. I Measured A Traditional House!
When we received our assignment, the first task was to gather information about it. Where is it? What is it? Who owns it? Knowing some basic information about the house would ease the research process when we are there. Then we had to divide the groups into teams. 20 people might seem easy-peasy but it was a lot to handle. That was why we had two leaders managing the big group. But the challenging part was to plan out how we can measure an entire house in five days.
Site visit day arrived and we were off to Alor Setar, Kedah. Upon arrival, we were each paired up with another member and given a designated area of the house to measure. The measurements included every element of the house, from concrete footing to the roof cover. This also included the wood carvings of the house as well. So during that five days in Alor Setar, I was happy to say that the house made me feel so much closer to my heritage.
2. Putting It All Together
The end of our field trip signalled the beginning of our sleepless nights. With the data from the trip, we divided into three teams – report team, drawing and 3D team, and physical model team. The report team had to write a detailed study of the house from history to architecture. At the same time, the drawing and 3D team was in charge of producing the 2D drawings and 3D model. This was the team I was in! I wasn’t confident of my skills but I learnt so much from my peers every day. The final task that ended the project was creating a physical model of the house. That marked the satisfaction of having the chance to protect our heritage.
How Does Architecture Conservation Make Us Appreciate The Past?
I had this one class during my studies called Architecture Conservation. Instead of going through slides, our lecturer, Mr Azim, would teach us through movies and class trips. My favourite class trip was the trip to Badan Warisan Malaysia, a leading national heritage NGO. We had a tour to a traditional Malay house that they had conserved, Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman. At the end of the day, I had the opportunity to witness another heritage, still standing after 100 years!
UNESCO World Heritage has indeed given a fresh breath of air for many historically important sites. So in the next part of my experience with conservation, we explore another well-known heritage site in Penang, Malaysia, The Clan Jetties.
In the meantime, if you have an interest in preserving a tradition, check out A Forgotten Wau Bulan: Preserving The Tradition by Najwa Maihazam. She talks about a traditional kite in Malaysia called the Wau!