GEORGE TOWN, April 13 — Penang’s heritage watchdog, Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), has called on the state government to preserve the heritage enclave of Burmah Square instead of tearing it down for a mega development project.

PHT president Lim Gaik Siang said the state should not sacrifice heritage enclaves that are outside of the George Town World Heritage Site for development.

She said a mega development proposal for Burmah Square will see the demolition of repurposed government quarters to be replaced with two commercial and residential towers of up to 40 storeys in the area.

“The heritage charm of Penang lies not only within the George Town World Heritage Site, but is found in many other heritage enclaves such as Burmah Square”, Lim said in a statement today.

“Burmah Square and the surrounding areas sit within a single, most intact, Art Deco-style enclave found in the country.

“Efforts should be made to preserve this enclave, and any plans for redevelopment and rejuvenation should be made in accordance with the genius loci of the place.”

She explained that Art Deco refers to the architectural style that was popular from the 1930s to 1950s.

She said the area around Jalan Larut, Jalan Burma, Jalan Pangkor and Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah has the highest collection of buildings built in the Art Deco architectural style and Burmah Square is the most intact enclave found anywhere in the country.

Other notable buildings built in the Art Deco style included the Lee Kongsi, Wesley Methodist Church, Methodist Girls’ School, Penang Chinese Girls’ High School in Penang and in Kuala Lumpur, Pasar Seni.

The Art Deco style is characterised by its sleek, streamlined looks with a mixed use of materials including reinforced steel and Shanghai plaster.

Among the architects who made a mark in Art Deco architecture are BM Iversen, who designed the two rows of terrace houses along Jalan Phuah Hin Leong, local architect Chew Eng Eam, who designed Lee Kongsi, 31, Jalan Chow Thye and two blocks of houses along Jalan Irrawaddy, and CG Boutcher who designed Penang Chinese Girls’ High School.

“Penang state government should lead by example in its commitment to preserve Penang’s heritage diversity vis-à-vis development,” Lim said,

She said previously, the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) then led by Datuk Tengku Idaura Tengku Ibrahim, repurposed the government quarters in Burmah Square for reuse and this should be continued now.

“The proposed mega development on Burmah Square will have a domino effect on the surrounding buildings, putting pressure for future developments in the area,” she warned.

She claimed that development mistakes have destroyed the heritage significance along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah and Jalan Macalister so this should not also happen along Jalan Burma.  

She said the development plans failed to consider changes to traffic and living conditions of the larger area surrounding Burmah Square.

“The mega development will increase pressure on two major arteries leading in and out of George Town (Jalan Burma and Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), whereby these roads have already breached their traffic capacity on a daily basis,” she said.

She also questioned the suitability of the mega development in an enclave located on a high water table area and surrounded by heritage houses that were built without underground piling.

She reminded the state of the construction and subsequent demolition and rebuilding of the Northam Court along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, which is less than 100 metres from Burmah Square, back in 1980.

She said the construction was suspended, demolished and rebuilt to the present-day MBF Tower because the structure was tilting due to a shift in underground water resulting in unforeseen soil settlement,

“This massive construction will cause huge loss of underground water and the heritage buildings which are seated on these areas will have structural damages, as seen in Prangin Mall,” she said,

She reminded the state that 370 pre-war houses all around Prangin Mall were severely damaged by de-watering in the excavation for three levels of underground car parks for the mall.

“Hammer piling for the foundations of tower blocks will also pose a severe threat to the integrity of the surrounding historic neighbourhood,” she stressed.

She reiterated PHT’s call to the state to review its development plans for Burmah Square and to seek a win-win solution that balances brown-fill development especially in a heritage sensitive area.

“The government also has the responsibility to work hand-in-hand with heritage bodies, experts and organisations to further recognize heritage areas for preservation and rejuvenation for modern quality living in heritage zones,” she said.