GEORGE TOWN, Nov 14 — Penang today officially opened the first Harmony Centre in the country in a move to promote religious harmony.
The RM2.5 million project saw an old Malay-style kampung house being restored and turned into an activity and resource space for Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Taoists to conduct retreats, seminars, lectures and classes.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the whole idea behind the concept of the shared space for various religious groups was to promote religious harmony and forge a closer understanding.
“I hope all religious groups including the Muslims will make good use of the Harmony Centre in the spirit of togetherness,” he said during the opening of the centre.
The idea of the Harmony Centre was first mooted in 2017 by the then Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
Chow said the state government allocated RM2.5 million to refurbish the state-owned building along Scotland Road.
Restoration works and construction of an additional event hall next to it started in February this year and was completed in July.
The concept and design of the project was undertaken by Penang-based architect firm, BEu Tan Architect (BETA).
Tan Bee Eu, the main architect of BETA, said the timber bungalow was refurbished with “back to the basics” principles that allow more sunlight into the space through windows and a central skylight.
“We allow for cross ventilation along the longitude of the house for energy efficiency and the side rooms are air-conditioned,” she said.
The bungalow, nestled on spacious one-acre grounds, now has a conference room, a function room, a reading room, a dining area and a pantry for small events.
She said it can accommodate up to 80 people.
As for larger events, a new event hall was built next to the main bungalow.
The facade design of the event hall such as the A shape frontage with lattice screens mirrored the architecture of the original Malay-style bungalow.
“We want it to blend in with the main building and the spacious grounds of this place,” Tan said.
The 2,800 sq ft event hall can accommodate up to 200 people.
Tan said it is suitable to be used for larger celebrations and banquet.
“One of the main features of this space is the large spacious compound so that it can be used for various activities such as chingay and lion dance practice,” she said.
Tucked behind the bungalow is a “secret garden” with outdoor seating and swings for small outdoor events.
“We also make space for groups to take up community farming in the garden,” she said.
The Penang Gandhi Peace Centre donated a peace pole inscribed with the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in four major languages used in Penang.
The pole was placed on the grounds next to the bungalow.
The centre was opened with ceremonial blessings by religious leaders from the Penang branch of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).
The MCCBCHST also played a role in pushing for the centre to be set up so that all non-Islam religious groups has a space to share and hold events and activities together.