Old Buildings, New Life

As our studio was established on the vibrant island of Penang, we often find ourselves basking in the city’s multiform environment. Being a group of creatives, we delve deep into what makes something special to inspire us in our next project, and what better way to start than our own home island.

In the heart of our tiny island lies Georgetown, it comes to life with vibrant art and culture, undeniably good food, and its heritage architecture. Unlike most cities, Georgetown isn’t a landmark with a singular distinctive building, it is a collective of charming architectural structures passed down from colonial times. As we zoom into Georgetown’s storied past, these old buildings are merely shells for the underlying charms of the city — heritage traders.

Old Buildings, New Life — 27.09.2021
By Team Foci Collective

Heritage traders were the backbones of the economy back then, thriving  on meticulous yet laborious traditional methods of crafting goods or art that entertains. These hard workers are the past lives that transformed the buildings into something more than just architectural structures; they are the defenders of traditional artistry.

In retrospect, these traders have come a long way and those days seem like a dream, where noodles were sold on bicycle carts, when printed materials were painted or drawn. Gone with it are the buildings in ruins, walls breaking brick by brick. Century-old trades dying one by one, modernization lives to take another trade a day at a time.

Despite the deterioration of the traders and buildings, time’s arrow only marches forward, we cannot ignore the inevitability of change. As sad as it may seem to demolish deteriorating buildings, it creates opportunities. Whether it be businesses or housing, it creates a ripple effect where job opportunities arise and an elevated way of living. Similarly, these aspects build our economy in contemporary times.

“time’s arrow only marches forward”

Some might say “out with the old and in with the new”, and some will argue “history needs to be preserved”. It is a never-ending battle, but we need to allow ourselves to look at things from another perspective, one where compromise is present. In this case, it is co-existence.

“the old and new have amalgamated to form diverse lives.”

When the old and new world co-exist, it adds an unmatched quality to Penang’s vintage streetscape where it houses modern businesses, where the old and new have amalgamated to form diverse lives. Along with the enforced conservation efforts, Georgetown will continue to have the best of both worlds.

Narrow Marrow, Image Source: @kymberhly on Instagram
At the end of the day, it’s not about the buildings or modernisation, it is about the people who believe in the ideas of modernity and heritage that paints Georgetown with a unique architectural palate. The youths of the city will grow up to a place where contemporary innovations thrive while tradition and history colour our lives.

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