Just a quick post to let you know that the 8th edition of my heritage newsletter, WWWarisan, is now out. You can read the newsletter online here. If you enjoyed reading the letter and want monthly heritage headlines delivered straight to you inbox, do consider subscribing – which you can do here.
Our lab’s research on stained glass in Singapore has been featured in KU Leuven’s Documentation and Research Centre for Religion, Culture and Society (KADOC) newsletter.
As the article notes, these windows are an ‘example of shared heritage’. Design drawings and cartoons in the KADOC archive allowed us to confirm the authorship of a number of windows across the island, and fill gaps in the history of stained glass in Singapore.
Among our finds were the working drawings for a window at the former St Joseph’s Institution campus on Bras Basah Road, which was lost during the Second World War. By comparing this with the one extant photograph of the school chapel we had access to, we were able to confirm the window’s authorship by the famed Dobbelaere atelier, and identify the lost window’s iconographic programme.
Researching these windows has been a good reminder of how interconnected our world has always been, with ideas and materials being transported across the world through networks of trade and missionary work. The project has also highlighted how incredibly useful digital archives are – this article simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise (saving a trip to Leuven).
I’m particularly grateful to Patricia Quaghebeur of KADOC for her assistance with our research, and her infinite patience with my weak command of the Dutch language.
I’ve been meaning to write something about Penang’s Transport Master Plan, which is an ambitious but (I think) highly-flawed document. That piece is still in the works as I read up more about the plan, but in the meantime, the new Penang Monthly has hit the shelves. My byline appears twice in this issue.
The first piece looks at transport and mobility for those without cars of their own. I know some of these challenges well enough — when I lived in George Town, I got around mostly on foot, sometimes by bike, and by bus when I wandered further afield.
For this piece, I spoke to confirmed pedestrians, cyclists, people in wheelchairs, and fans of ride-sharing apps to tease out how Penang’s public transport networks could be improved. What becomes clear, I think, is that planners must go beyond the abstract act of ‘planning’ and truly understand the needs of users. If we’re to break the stranglehold the car has on our cities, Malaysians need viable alternatives to the private automobile.
The second piece anticipates my recent move south.In HDB Republic:,’ I look at how Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, as well as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, manage the challenges of housing, homeownership, and heritage in this land-strapped island nation.
Singapore’s rapidly changing skyline is the product of intense spatial pressures, but increasingly, authorities here are engaging with questions of architectural heritage and urban identity when making decisions about what stays and what goes. In this respect, I think Singapore offers valuable lessons for a city like Penang and indeed the rest of the world. How do we root our sense of place in an ever-changing city?
I hope you enjoy both these articles!
Header image: Singapore’s Central Business District skyline. Image courtesy of the Urban Redevelopment Authority
2016 hasn’t been great for Penang’s heritage. On 9 February, a number of buildings at the Runnymede site on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah were demolished.1 While families across the island were tucking into Chinese New Year lunches, a demolition crew was picking away at the remains of George Town’s colonial past. The demolition was controversial for two main reasons: firstly, among the buildings destroyed was a bungalow associated with Sir Stamford Raffles, widely regarded as Singapore’s founding father; that the demolition was carried out during a significant public holiday also raised eyebrows.
Less than two weeks later, villagers in the nearby Kampung Siam began preparing to leave after the High Court threw out their appeal to remain in their ancestral homes.2 The historic village will soon give way to new development. The two incidents, though not directly related, reveal how Penang’s rich heritage — both tangible and intangible — is under considerable pressure from development. And the outcomes at both sites give cause for concern about the future of this island’s historic legacy.