PENANG2095: The Duality of Preservation and Progress


The project illustrates an imaginary tower in the year 2095 that revised the traditional elements of Penang’s architecture and by doing so, it challenges the taboos and ideologies of preservation to envision a futuristic architecture that suggest the need of constant architectural growth. In Georgetown Penang where the heritages becomes the representation the entire city, the entitlement for its importance and preservation have made it almost impossible to imagine the potential future architecture for the city. Retrospectively, it is also impossible to disregard the existence of Penang’s heritage buildings.

To achieve the duality between preservation and progress, 3 scenarios were exercised to open up the reconsider possibilities of looking at the problematic opposition:

Scenario 1 – Refreshing the Present, when stararchitects designs in Penang Scenario 2 – Boxing up Georgetown, dividing the preserved and the developed Scenario 3 – 100 year old Megastructures, when the new becomes the old

The tower is a data collection that is constantly growing and constant update of culture, historical events and architectural elements for Penang over the time. With the re-composed Chinese shophouses architectural features, the floor levels are stacked onto one another and every floor higher indicates the refinement of its previous architecture feature to suit the locals; present lifestyles. The tower is designed to grow endlessly for the future while preserving every single details of its past. Every previous ornamentation, form, historical events, additional elements and lifestyles are used as references for the development of the new level. Thus, the nature of tower is translated as the reflection of every Penangites’ past, present and possible future.


What prompted the project? and the interest in the notion of preservation within the context of Penang?

With the manifesto of Rem Koolhaas’ “Preservation is Overtaking Us”, the project revolves around the taboos of progression in an ideal world of preservation. Challenging the controversies within the mentality of a perfectly preserved heritage world, a conjecture is formed to question the possibility of creating a progressive architecture that is culturally responsible and most importantly, preserve-ready architecture for the future.

Georgetown, Penang is known for its largest collections of well preserved pre-war buildings in the Southeast Asia region, dating as early as the late 1700s’. In 2008, Georgetown has earned itself the recognition as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The aging structures stood over 300 years passing down from generation to generation. Today, the heritage buildings in Georgetown became the iconic architectural identity for the locals with its majority the heritage buildings being the Chinese Shophouse typology. The presence of its significant architectural features gradually became part of the Penangites’ pride and the represented image of Georgetown. Eventually, changes of any sort in Georgetown might seem like a threat degrading the authenticity of its heritage.

What drew you to explore the speculation through the typology of the tower?

The initial idea was to propose several different typologies with different methods of execution, using the Chinese shophouses typology and its features as precedence. To gradually evolve the typology of the shophouses without modifying its existing urbanscape, the stacking method became one of the most ideal method to exhibit realistic spatial and facade transformation through time. Hence, creating an endlessly growing and evolving tower.

How instrumental is the facade in tracing the development of the shophouse through time? How does this affect the programmatic distribution not he inside?

The facade is the reflection of time. The transformation, as it progresses upwards indicate the adaptation of style from the level below and as well as the adaptation to the norm of the time. Therefore, every level tells a story about the technological condition and the culture of the time. As the building goes higher, the preservation begins accordingly below. Spaces from within transforms while whatever is deem worthy of preserving, will be preserved. This method raises question for the balance between preservation and progress. The scenario of freezing time while moving time: ‘What happens when new tenants were to move in and transform the spaces to suit their needs and how should the previous version of the space be protected?’ The conjecture suggests no definite answers and this is why multiple methods of structural detachment between spaces can be seen throughout the massive drawing. The new development with signs of the old creates a duality of both worlds.

What informed the date of 2095?

A date indicates the latest updated version of the tower. The year –95 was chosen as a tribute to Oswald Mathias Ungers’ megastructure proposal back in the 1960s that runs across the entire city of Berlin for the year 1995 as a conjecture. The proposal for the year 2095 in Penang is the conjecture expressing our progressive potential, reflecting our heritage and cultural significance, exclusively when preservation the heritage becomes the norm in the future. Which in this case characterized under the vision of a bold proposal similar to Ungers’ Berlin 1995.

What defined the articulation of the proposal through a unique axonometric drawing?

The project started with a 2 dimension sectional drawing of the tower, however, the 2D section only manage to convey the idea within the internal connection between spaces for the growth of the tower and the spatial utilization for the Penangites’ lifestyle. In which failed to exhibit the key elements of the architecture, the facade, the ornamentation, and etc. The challenge sets out to illustrate as much information as possible with a single drawing, hence turning the 2D section into a 3D axonometric drawing. The axonometric drawing increases the challenges and the level of thought process when drawn. It reveals many hidden aspects of the typology that was not obvious before. Through the axonometric drawing, facade details, logical structural constructions, 3D volume utilized spaces and many other aspects are all taken into consideration when designing the tower.

What tools did you use throughout the project?

The drawing was done solely in AutoCAD. Initially, a 2D section of the tower’s silhouette was drawn in AutoCAD and was transferred into Rhinoceros 5.0 for its axonometric angles and dimensions extraction. It was then transferred back into AutoCAD for the tower’s 3D extrusion and beyond that, every line and every detail was drawn manually in AutoCAD.