Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bok House: When modern development supersedes cultural heritage.

After my recent enlightenment with Insider's Kuala Lumpur, I decided to do a bit of research on this colonial times mansion called Bok House. It was then, owned by Chua Cheng Bok who is also the founder of Cycle & Carriage. I had so many plans in my head - to initiate conversation with whomever who's taking care of the place now, to discuss if there're any opportunities that could marry my work discipline and national duty of heritage conservation, and to yadda yadda yadda. Only to my horrific discovery that this is the remains of Bok House.
And I'm gonna cut and paste the statement by Barisan Warisan, our national fighters in heritage conservation, here because I know if I link it, some of you lazy buggers, probably won't even bother clicking it. But of course, I know a whole lot of you, aren't ;)

Published in News Strait Times, 18 December 2006:

After labouring to promote a specific law since the early 1990s, Badan Warisan Malaysia had high hopes for the protection of our historic built environment when the National Heritage Act 2005 (NHA) – gazetted on 31 December 2005 – was effected on 1 March 2006. Albeit this Act was not in the form Badan Warisan would have preferred, but finally, there appeared to be a force of law which would champion of the nation’s heritage cause.

On 12 April 2006, the President of Badan Warisan wrote to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage nominating Bok House as national heritage as provided for under Section 68 of the NHA. The basis for this nomination was articulated in an in-depth Statement of Cultural Significance which clearly stated its architectural, social and historical values – and which referenced the persona of Bok House expressed in published public documents, historical essays and other records over the past few decades. This request to the Minister was to be an acid test on the effectiveness of the NHA.

We have pursued the matter rigorously after the law was enforced, using all means open to us in seeking the opportunity to explain to all levels of government the unique position of Bok House in Malaysia’s national heritage continuum.

The demolition of Bok House, despite our persistent and dogged attempts, sadly demonstrates our failure in getting our appeal recognized and endorsed by Government.

Let us ask one simple and basic question which must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds – is Bok House a heritage building?

If the answer is yes, then it should have been accorded protection under the provisions of the NHA, and in this event, protection would have been in the form of gazettal, regardless of financial implications. Why then has it been allowed to be demolished? If there was objection to its gazetting, the laws of the country offer recourse for the landowner, and logically, the law should be allowed to take its own course. Or were there not powers to gazette it?

We can only presume that the decision-makers at Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) have approved the demolition. Can we assume also that the highest authority in DBKL would have deemed it expedient to refer to his superiors before making this momentous and unpopular decision. DBKL could not but be aware that Bok House, and its future, was already an issue, expressed not only in a letter from our President to the Mayor, but in the innumerable letters, and public discourse in the national press? It is a subject within the public domain.

In the final analysis, can we assume Bok House has been deemed to be NOT a heritage building?

We have been given to understand that an agency of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage has written a letter to the Trustees of the Estate of Chua Cheng Bok on 28 February 2006 – precisely one day before the NHA came into force. Supposedly the letter stated that at a post-Cabinet Meeting on 22 February 2006, the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage decided it was no longer interested to take over, or, to gazette Bok House as a Heritage Building, and it therefore did not have any objections to the development proposals for the site.

So, if this building which is of such great historic prominence and provenance has been deemed by the authorities not to be a Heritage Huilding, Badan Warisan Malaysia would like to know what the government’s definition of heritage is and what criteria were applied to arrive at this decision.

Sadly, we cannot but come to the grave conclusion that the demolition of Bok House within the first 12 months of the life of the NHA is an omen of things to come.

The Council of Badan Warisan Malaysia
15 December 2006
Badan Warisan Malaysia(Heritage of Malaysia Trust)No. 2 Jalan Stonor50450 Kuala LumpurMalaysia Tel: +60 (0)3 2144 9273Fax: +60 (0)3 2145 7884

Original post here.

I can't believe I'm only reading this 4 years after the incident. That just shows how much coverage this issue had. I'm sure with the internet and persistence of information now, we could perhaps create stronger public pressure should this ever happen again. I don't know...

Sigh. Well, to leave you with the memory of Bok House, here's a very beautiful, melancholic and artistically shot of Bok House. Credit to photographer, Azrul K. Abdullah.
I'm sorry to realize this too late.


  1. Wow! Nice topics, I am looking this type of topics. But I need more informations. I know a New Drafting CAD Site gives away over 100 House plans for free.

  2. Thanks but can you not spam me?

  3. Hi, I'm the photographer of the image. The credit should be Azrul K. Abdullah. It's already on the image. Please inform me if this image is going to be used further.

  4. Hi Azrul, my deepest apologies for that mistake. I found the picture on a website and thought she/he was the photographer. I completely missed the fonts on the photo.

    I've rectified accordingly!