The Destruction of Istana Bandar

Disk 53

Whilst on the subject of conservation, I had the pleasure of accompanying a fellow council member of the Badan Warisan Malaysia to the above mentioned ‘restoration’ site.

Needlessly to say I was appalled at seeing what was being done to the once magnificent building. This project must be set aside as an example, a lesson to be learnt from for all Malaysians of ‘how not to do conservation’.

The intentions were honorable, – a heritage had to be preserved and restored. A directive was issued, but regrettably somewhere along the line the implementers due to lack of guidance ‘lost’ what they set out to achieve.

‘Lack of guidance’ can be interpreted as due to:

  • lack of knowledge;
  • lack of appreciation;
  • lack of understanding;

It would appear that the body entrusted with this project had completely misunderstood the objective of conservation and how its restoration ought to be approached; resulting in very little of the original fabric of this building being preserved.

Structurally not a single element in the whole building was left undisturbed. The brick strip footing, the structural load bearing walls, structural brick piers, timber structural floors and all the roof structure had been tampered with.

The footings were structurally modified to introduce what was termed ‘micro piles’. Large sections of walls and columns were removed as they appeared to have ‘tilted’ or ‘ in poor condition’. All the timber structure and flooring were removed as they have ‘rotted away’. All the roof structure, trusses, beams, struts, purlns, rafters, battens, fascias and terracotta tiles were completely removed because it was ‘decayed’.

The total disregard for what is existing is regrettable. There appeared to be no reference to any expertise on this building. The matter was referred to the Museum and that’s where the matter rested. It may not be the fault of the Selangor JKR who was entrusted with the project. Being largely run by Engineers it is therefore hardly surprising that this project was approach as an Engineering exercise with the prime objective of ‘strengthening it structurally’ and ‘stabilizing it’. But the Engineers would claim that they have ‘Architects in their team’ and they have ‘consulted the Museum’.

Yes, Architects may be in their team click here but we all know as the outgoing Minister of Public Works, Datuk Samy Vellu, have just said that JKR has been too dominated by Engineers and that Architects have not been given adequate equivalent status and stature. So much for Architects being in the Engineering team! As for ‘consulting the Museum’, most of us who have had dealings in conservation matters know what and where the sympathy of the Museum is towards conservation. Currently the Museum does not have any competent technocrat who understands conservation construction in they employs nor do they have a panel of experts to advise them. The Badan Warisan Malaysia had offered their services to the Museum but this has never been taken up for reasons best known to Museum themselves.

There is hardly any element of the original finishes to floors, walls and ceilings, left in this building. There was no evidence to suggest that a proper record was made or was there any schedules or inventory listing of all elements and components that was in the original building. This being a highly specialized job ought to have an experienced and competent team failing that, to have an advisor/consultant who has had previous experience in this specialized field. A competent and experienced team should include the following; –

  • A conservation Architect; and
  • Main contractor, with previous such expertise.

It is therefore most regrettable that when this building is finally ‘restored’ it will not be the ‘restoration of an original’ but an almost ‘rebuilding of a replica’.

Finally the various government departments entrusted with the job of conservation and restoration must gear themselves to handle such work. The standard and traditional approach towards contract administration based on JKR standards; standard specifications and standard work procedure where the Architect does not follow through with contract documentation, but is handed over to a Q.S. for implementation must cease. A fresh approach drawn from other project experience is essential if Government Departments are to carry on conservation and restoration projects and to prevent such projects becoming vandalized and ruined in the process.

I, therefore, felt compelled to publish a series of pictures taken during my recent visit for the readers to evaluate.