Malay Mail: "HERITAGE PRESERVATION: Picking on 'ugly' sister"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pudu Jail and Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad were built at same time, but one had to go. Why?

THE Badan Warisan Malaysia (Heritage of Malaysia Trust) has for the past several years been advocating against the demolition of Pudu Jail.

We have been led to understand that a small concession has been made to preserve a small section of the wall flanking the main gate, although we do not have any details on what the plans for this will be.

This token concession makes a mockery of heritage preservation.

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We wonder if a few years down the road, this may also be demolished to make way for further development, or will it, like the remnants of the old railway arches at Lebuh Pasar Besar, be left standing and ignored, with no explanation of its origins or why it is even there, and to suffer the same travesty of being painted some garish reddish purple, as it passes out of the memories of the local community?

The excuse that heritage enclaves or heritage properties have to provide the same economic viability in relation to new development in adjacent areas is surely passé.

Everywhere else in the world, communities are striving to retain their heritage structures PRESERVATIONas physical, tangible evidence of their history and identity.

Would this decision to demolish have been made were the building to have been the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad? Both these buildings were built at the same time, and the design credited to the same engineer, C.E. Spooner.

And yet one is retained, despite having had extensive changes made to its interior, while the other is demolished despite largely retaining its original form.

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If the decision to retain or demolish one or the other was based on which has the higher levels of authenticity, Pudu Jail would come out on top.

Unfortunately, Pudu Jail does not have the "wow" factor. It does not have the wholesome appeal, being a building with a brutal and insalubrious history. But is this not a legitimate part of the story of Kuala Lumpur?

The latest news which we have read is that it appears the government does not consider Pudu Jail a heritage building and that it is not something which we, as a nation, are proud of.

It would be useful to know what criteria a building or site needs to possess before it can be considered a heritage building by our government. In the case of Pudu Jail, is it not heritage just because it is a jail, with all its negative connotations?

Surely jails are a part of the tangible evidence of our penal history which is part of our justice system. I think that we should also remember that in its over 100-year history, it was not only a prison where convicts were incarcerated, but also where, during the period of the Japanese occupation, servicemen from many different nations who had fought to defend our shores were also imprisoned.

Is this a part of our nation's history which we are not proud of?

Sadly, the custodians of our nation's heritage have not seen fit to respond to the many different voices which have spoken up against the demolition of Pudu Jail.

The only official comments have been ones justifying the need for expansion of the roads to alleviate traffic congestion. But traffic congestion is not something we in KL are unfamiliar with.

Would these same authorities be so quick to agree to demolish the old Railway Station so that we can widen Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and help ease traffic?

Or Central Market building for the same reason?

I would be very surprised if the city's traffic woes just disappear with the widening of Jalan Pudu or Jalan Hang Jebat.

Badan Warisan Malaysia has highlighted the plight of Pudu Jail in various correspondences with the authorities and via letters to the Press for the past decade. We have also formally advocated against the proposed demolition of this property, along with many, many others in KL via our commentary and recommendations for the KL Structure Plan, and more recently, the Draft KL Local Plan.

While it may be too late to save Pudu Jail, Badan Warisan hopes the awareness raised by this will strengthen the resolve of members of the public to be conscious of how fragile our heritage is and to speak up for its protection, conservation and preservation.

Badan Warisan Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur

Sources: The Malay Mail