Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Heritage in danger: The Atkinson Clock Tower (historical site)


It has been confirmed; Kota Kinabalu City Hall - Dewan Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu (DBKK) has APPROVED a joint-venture proposal from a commercial developer and its government department counterpart to build a multi-storey commercial complex right next to Kota Kinabalu city’s most enduring structure – the 105-year old Atkinson Clock Tower!

The Atkinson Clock Tower was built in 1905 in memory of Francis George Atkinson, Jesselton township's first District Officer, who died from Borneo Fever in 1902.

Standing alone amongst the lush greenery on a bluff on Signal Hill, the clock tower remains as the only visible architectural marker of Kota Kinabalu's urban growth, after a century of land reclamation for commercial purposes.

This is what the developer, Benteng Pulangan Sdn. Bhd. plans to build directly adjacent to the Atkinson Clock Tower site:

…another giant commercial complex of concrete, glass and steel – in a city already filled with white elephant commercial projects.

The proposed 16-STOREY SHOPPING MALL-CUM-HOTEL COMPLEX threatens the long history and cultural significance of the Atkinson Clock Tower as our city landmark; images of the proposal sourced from the developer’s clearly show that the project will visually overpower the pristine hillside – and physically overwhelm the clock tower with its massive development.

UPDATE: This website has been taken down by the developer, after receiving strong criticism about the project from irate citizens of Kota Kinabalu.

The initial proposal by the developer
...was to relocate/remove the historical clock tower!
The proposal was rejected by DBKK.

Clearly, these developers aren't people who value our city's history at all!

Who will benefit from this commercial project?
Certainly not the people of Sabah.

This photo was taken from The Sabah Architectural Heritage Blog ( – showing soil testing works being conducted to determine suitability for piling. Note that the proposed commercial development extends right up to the fence of the clock tower perimeter and will engulf the clock tower, further obscuring the tower from public view.

The developer is exploiting a legal loophole in the State Antiquities and Treasure Trove Enactment 1977 that protects the Atkinson Clock Tower from being removed. However, by allowing a commercial development at least 44 meters (144 feet) high to be built just mere metres away from the 15.2 metre (50 foot) tall clock tower, the historical significance of the clock tower will be severely and utterly compromised.

This is the commercial shopping mall's Development Plan - already approved by DBKK.
The monstrous development will SMOTHER the clock tower with its sheer size and height. The Atkinson Clock tower is the small red patch indicated at the end of the staircase, seen on the left side of this development plan.


A FaceBook community page - Heritage Sabah has been set up by concerned individuals urging the Sabah Government to review and halt the upcoming commercial development. At the time of this post,690 people have joined this community page. An online petition is currently being drafted to urge the Sabah State Government to consider turning the site into a public recreation park.

Here's the link to the community page:

This is an important turning point for Sabah and its policy towards the protection of its heritage buildings.

Unless Sabahans and other concerned Malaysians voice their protest and make their voices heard, we will lose our last and most beloved landmark of this city.

We must make a stand.

We must speak up and ask our state government to intervene.

The clock tower built in 1905 has endured two devastating World Wars and witnessed the liberation of North Borneo from the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII. It has seen the township of Jesselton grow to become the metropolitan city of Kota Kinabalu, while standing proudly on Signal Hill as a beacon of our historical legacy.

This is what the Atkinson Clock Tower hill will look like...

Generations of the past have had the wisdom and integrity to value the clock tower's continued and solitary presence - and have left the site alone in its blanket of lush greenery despite the rapid changes of the city.

The upcoming commercial development of the 16-storey shopping mall/hotel will uproot and strip away the big trees surrounding this historical site. The clock tower will become a prisoner of its commercial neighbour - with a high wall of concrete, industrial windows and branded signages taking away the its calm and dignified ambience.

We owe it to the next generation of Sabahans and Malaysians to carry on the legacy and enduring spirit of the clock tower by allowing it to stand alone for perpetuity. If we allow the site to be compromised by this commercial development, it will be an indelible mark of failure of our generation to protect the last heritage site in Kota Kinabalu.



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