“Exquisite effort in conserving a heritage building while enhancing cultural amenities and public space.”
– PAM Awards 2011 jury citation, Gold in Conservation
This is conservation and adaptive re-use project; in 2008, we were asked to convert the existing Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) building into the New Sibu Heritage Centre.
Designed by the expatriate firm Swan and McLaren in 1960, the SMC building was completed in 1963 to house the local council, coinciding with the formation of Malaysia in the same year. It was during this period that the hallmarks of the young nation’s architecture were established, including notable structures such as the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and the Masjid Negara.
The SMC building shares similarities with these structures, particularly in the design of the folded concrete roof and the incorporation of tropical architectural features such as shaded verandas and vent block walls. In 2002 the council moved to their new premises and vacated the building. It was left vacant until 2008 when we were asked to look into its adaptive reuse as a Heritage Centre for Sibu.
Over the years, the neighbouring development had caught up with the SMC. A multi-storey car parking structure built in front of it has effectively destroyed the building’s axis, and removed any chance of re-establishing an entrance fore court to the new museum.
To counter this, we decided to use the adjacent park as a fore court and as a link between Jalan Wong Nai Siong and Jalan Central, both being important thoroughfares in Sibu. A ‘water-table’ is devised to provide an urban edge to the ‘museum’ and to organise the movement of people into the building. We then designed the ‘funnel’ to direct people into the centre of the building – it is constructed from ironwood in a manner similar to the jetties along the Rejang river.
The funnel leads you into the centre of the drum, up the ramp and to the exhibition area. We designed the exhibition by replicating the experience of walking through the alleyways and lanes of Sibu’s old town.
In the forecourt, we introduced a timber platform ‘the terrain’ to give surface undulation to the park and a light steel frame with screens for shade. The screens are folded in a manner to mimic the SMC building. The surface of the park is delineated with urban lines which take their clues from the neighbouring lanes. These urban lines are filled in with simple materials; chippings, grass and crushed bricks from the demolition of walls. It is a poetic reminder of this hardworking building – donating itself even after its demise.
The ‘museum’ is located in the first floor while the lower floor would have retail and food outlets – the rental collection would then allow free admission into the museum.
We decided very early to do very little with the existing building – because it has good bones and memories, and this should still express themselves in the new design. It is a local landmark and social landmark in Sibu.
This is an example of how value can be added to existing buildings through interventions and insertions without diluting the essence of the original building; allowing the new to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the old.