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As good as the original

OLD is gold. On-going restoration and conservation work in Perak will restore Masjid Ehsaniah in Padang Rengas, the Old Post Office Building and the Perak Museum to their former glory, writes ZALINA MOHD SOM.

When Masjid Ehsaniah in Padang Rengas is fully restored to its original form in a month's time, one can easily liken it to the beautiful Istana Kenangan which houses the Perak Royal Museum, some 10km away in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar, the royal town of Perak.

Even now as restoration work by the Department of national Heritage is still in progress, the similarity between the two buildings is already apparent.

The mosque's remaining white-black-and-yellow tepas wall holds a strong likeness to the palace's bright and unique wall.

"Unfortunately, we can only use 20 per cent of the original wall and we have to go as far as Perlis to find tepas wall of the exact material and design," says Mat nasir Baba, chief assistant director of the department's Conservation and Archaeology Unit.

Tepas is the most distinctive Perak Malay architecture, and is made of bamboo strips woven to geometric diamond-shaped design called kelarai.

There's only a handful of tepas buildings left in Perak. The charming palace and the mosque are the only public tepas buildings while others are mainly private houses.

However, the tepas wall is not the only feature that makes the little mosque unique. The tepas mosque, as it is fondly known among locals, is probably the one and only sample of Perak's traditional Malay mosque that still stands today.

The double-storey, rectangular mosque has no minaret or dome. Instead, it has four unique columns built like minarets at all its corners.

Decorative wood carvings of natural motifs like flowers, leaves, crescent and star adorn the upper part of the window frames and other trimmings.

The mosque was built 73 years ago in 1936 by local craftsmen and launched by the then Sultan of Perak, Sultan Iskandar Shah, who funded the construction cost of RM8,000.

Apart from being the centre for religious activities for the locals, the mosque was also an important resting point for those travelling between Ipoh and Taiping.

Located at Kampung Kuala Dhal - midway along the old Ipoh-Taiping road, the mosque last held activities in 1976 after a new and bigger mosque was built next to it.

Masjid Ehsaniah was given a new lease of life when the Department of national Heritage started restoration and conservation works last December.

Upon completion in july, the department will hand it back to the mosque management which plans to use the restored building for religious classes while prayers will continue to be held at the nearby mosque.

Keeping Heritage Alive

Work on Masjid Ehsaniah is part of the government's current exercise to restore and conserve heritage buildings.

It has been doing so since the 1990s, under the banner of the Museum and Antiquity Department, before it was moved to the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage in 2006. Since this year, the Ministry is known as the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture. More than 20 restoration and conservation projects were carried out throughout the country since then.

Three are completed - Rumah Penghulu Ghani in Malacca and two in Pahang, the birth home of Prime Minister Datuk Seri najib Tun Razak in Pekan and Balai Polis Raub in Raub.

"These heritage buildings are restored to their original forms and will be given back to the owners to maintain. It is then up to the owners how to utilise the buildings," says Mat nasir.

The restored buildings will bear respective official plaques from the department to mark their status. The plaques are Warisan Kebangsaan (national Heritage), Warisan (Heritage), Konservasi (Conservation) and Kediaman Tokoh-tokoh (Prominent Person's Home).

Other heritage buildings in Perak still undergoing restoration works are the Old Post Office Building in Ipoh and the Sanitary Board Building and the Perak Museum, both in Taiping.

Old Post Office Building, Ipoh

Some call it Ipoh Town Hall, but most refer to it as the Old Post Office. Both refer to the same building - a grand colonial building with Roman and Renaissance architecture, embellished with colossal neo-classical pillars.

Located in the heart of Ipoh not far from the majestic Ipoh Railway Station, the building was designed by British architect A.B Hubback who also designed the railway station and the building for Mahkamah Tinggi Ipoh.

Construction started in 1913 and finished three years later. The building was separated into two sections housing the Post And Telegraphs Office and Ipoh Town Hall.

It was then occupied by other organisations like District Police Headquarters, Tourism Department and Bumiputra Administrative Centre. The building underwent numerous changes and renovations to suit the occupants' needs and requirements.

Expected to complete in january next year, the restoration work will put back the original layout of the building, based on findings from massive researches and studies.

However, the restoration work only covers the Old Post Office building as the other half is still being used by Dewan Bandaraya Ipoh (DBI).

There are talks that the building will occupy the Department of national Heritage Perak office on the upper floor and a telegraph gallery on the lower floor but these are not confirmed.

Sanitary Board Building, Taiping

Built in 1892, the Sanitary Board building was among Taiping's first five buildings. The two-storey building features Anglo-Indian architecture with strong colonial designs beautifully married with local flavour.

A few years after World War II, the half-concrete, halfwooden building housed the Taiping Health Office on the first floor and the Town Council office on the ground floor. Eventually, the building was taken over by the Town Council staff.

The Town Council office moved to a new building, Majlis Perbandaran Taiping in 1987, following its municipality declaration eight years earlier.

The beautiful building was abandoned for some years before private-sector companies moved in. The last occupant was a furniture company that did massive renovation work to suit its business.

Luckily, there are lots of old records and photographs that help establish the original design of the 117-year-old building. The restored building will be turned into a gallery to showcase exhibits on all Taiping's firsts, as well as the country's.

Perak Museum, Taiping

The 126-year-old Perak Museum is the oldest museum in the country. Built in 1883, it was founded by British Resident to Perak, Sir Hugh Low, who instructed Leonard Wray jr., a botanist and geologist, to collect the country's historic, culture and natural artefacts.

Completed in 1886, it displayed natural sciences and the cultural tools of the Malays. Three years later, it had additional verandas added to the front and back. The following year, an exhibition gallery was added to the back portion.

The building features neo-classical architecture, designed with much consideration given to the local weather. This is an early attempt at achieving Malay-neoclassical eclectic element.

Its most prominent and majestic feature is its façade which has two pair of towers, each on its left and right sides, and its pediments.

The almost-complete restoration work reinstates the museum's original designs based on its blueprint and cleverly uses minimal style to fit in modern facilities like an airconditioning system.

Contact

For details on restoration and conservation of heritage buildings in Malaysia, contact the Department of national Heritage at Tel: 03-2167 5278.

Fax : 03-2171 6029.

Website: http://www.warisan.gov.my.

Source: Nst- Travel

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