Glimpses of Malay Moderne
My first experience in Malaysia was walking to Georgetown, on Penang Island. I reached the small city on foot, off the overnight train from Thailand. I walked from the train station, along a maze of pedestrian ramps and overpasses through a wasteland of industrial properties and future redevelopment sites to the ferry terminal. A few minutes later I was in Georgetown.
Reading about Georgetown, I thought it would be a quaint colonial town; it does have World Heritage Status due to its unique architectural and cultural townscape unparalleled in Asia. And it was, but it was more of a city. And a city more diverse architecturally than what I expected from the UNESCO site. There were plenty of two story colonial streets with storehouses, shops and restaurants on the ground floor and presumably accommodation above. However, the city was punctuated by high- and mid-rise hotels and offices from the 60’s onwards.
Perhaps due to the economic development zone status, these newer interventions reflect a much more international and modern style (which coincided with significant foreign investment). The range from simple and elegant to monstrous and awkward seemed to jump out throughout the city. With the passage of time, and original designs kept fairly well in tact, all were engaging and quite photogenic…