KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 — Kuala Lumpur's heritage buildings in the historic Dataran Merdeka will fall into ruins if efforts are not taken to preserve the historical landmarks, conservationists and architects said.
Singapore’s The Straits Times reported them as saying that the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which originally housed the British colonial administration’s offices and Malaysia’s superior courts, and its famous clock tower were falling into disrepair without any conservation plans in place.
Mariana Isa, a committee member at the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), was reported as saying there was no long-term planning for these buildings.
"When there was a new government building, they moved into it and left this empty," she reportedly said.
The Straits Times noted that there were algae and plants growing in the crevices of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and that the building was unprotected from a nearby RM255.5 million River of Life project meant to upgrade the water treatment system and to beautify the riverside areas in the heritage zone.
Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) council member Steven Thang warned that the building will fall apart when there is no maintenance, especially with plants growing on the roof.
The group of architects and conservationists, led by Mariana, visited the historical site and lamented the fact that the government had allocated huge sums of funding for "ill-conceived new-builds" and spent "none on preserving historical landmarks", which they claimed are in "various states of disrepair and ruin".
"If the government gives a small percentage out of the sum (for the river project) to preserve the buildings bit by bit, it can save them the long-term damage," Thang reportedly said.
He believed that bad planning for the area also affected the aesthetics of the site as the ambience of the area would lose its originality.
Laurence Loh, the architect who restored the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang, concurred that the ongoing beautification projects and upgrading works in the area were "killing off the original spirit of the area".
"The sense of place, history, memories. All of that is lost," he said.
They were referring to modern new structures such as the RM10 million rectangular water feature structure with a bright LED panel and a clock counting down to 2020 located across the road from the survey office building and the glass and concrete bridge across the Gombak River.
Loh said without a gazetted conservation plan for Kuala Lumpur, the heritage sites in the area will be destroyed due to development and poor urban planning.
Badan Warisan's Elizabeth Cardosa also expressed her dismay at the new additions to the Merdeka Square, while stressing that there needs to be more thorough engagement by the government with non-governmental organisations and specialist groups on conservation.
The conservationists believed that the only way to revive these colonial buildings are through proper management and a political will to follow through.
According to Loh, the "wrong" kind of intervention can cause an area to lose its sense of history but said unfortunately, conservation is not a national priority in Malaysia.