Friday, August 19, 2011

“If the KK city library structure is salvagable, we should save it”, says local heritage advocate.


KOTA KINABALU, Friday 19th August – Local heritage advocator Richard Nelson Sokial believes that the city would benefit from having two libraries instead of one new centralized building.

His statement is a response to the public outcry by a group of civic activists who launched a signature campaign against plans by the State Library to move the Kota Kinabalu Regional Library out from its current 35-year-old building located behind the City Hall premises here. The new city library is scheduled to be built in Tanjung Aru.

Sokial who visited the forementioned library building stated that he was prior informed by Sabah State Library staff regarding the plans to demolish the building, but he did not know what would be built in its place.

However, he expressed his doubts over whether it was wise to entirely relocate the city library to a new site in Tg. Aru. “Instead, it may be a good idea to have two separate libraries – both at Tg. Aru and on its existing location in the city, because by moving everything to Tg. Aru, the traffic congestion problem that currently exists at Tg. Aru there will become even worse”.

When asked on whether the existing library should be preserved, Sokial stated that “it would be wonderful if we could not only save the city library building but also restore it to its original design”. Sokial stated that the past renovations made did not do any justice to the original architectural design of the city library building built in the 1970s.

“I have fond memories of the city library because as it was this very building that instilled in me, the love of books and knowledge. As a child, the staircase to the adult reference section, as I recall, used to have a central skylight that allowed natural sunlight into the building. The landscaped garden, the open circulation of the library sections made learning such an enjoyable experience. They don’t design buildings like this in KK anymore”

He went so far as to compare that the design of the 2-storey existing city library to be even better than the Sabah State Library Headquarters building located off Jalan Penampang. “Of course, the Sabah State Library building does serve its function well, but the architecture of the city library has always been more welcoming and conducive for general public reading and even as a meeting place for students and city dwellers. It would be a pity to see it gone”.

“The city library has a strategic location with views overlooking towards Gaya Street and across to the Town Padang. Its external circulation areas, shaded by greenery, make it enjoyable for pedestrians who visit the library.”

However, having inspected the building recently, he pointed out that there were some serious cracks on some of the beams and internal pillars of the existing city library, and suggested that if the civic group wanted to save the building, it would be advisable to first conduct a structural assessment and dilapidation study on whether the current structure was salvagable.

“Depending on how serious the structural damage is, we can only then determine whether or not the building can be saved. In some cases, the damage may be too great.”

On whether or not he agreed with a new library building, Sokial said “in the context and interest of the city, it is imperative that whatever built - or retained - at this particular site must still be used to serve the public and not for the benefit of a few selected individuals.

“If a new library is built, the low-rise scale and architecture of the new building should be designed in the spirit of the original library, complimentary for the needs of the city folk. If the existing library can be saved, it needs to be upgraded because it is currently quite run-down“.

“But if demolishing the city library is an excuse to build yet another commercial building in mall-saturated Kota Kinabalu, I would disagree wholeheartedly”, he said citing the situation of the yet unresolved case of the 16-storey shopping mall next to the Atkinson Clock Tower, KK city’s oldest landmark.


Thursday, August 4, 2011


Heritage advocator Richard Nelson Sokial believes that the historic townships in Sabah, particularly along the railroad are untapped tourism resources.

He listed several towns including Beaufort, Bongawan, Membakut, Papar, Kimanis, Kinarut and Weston as historical towns that flourished thanks to the North Borneo railroad started in 1896 by the British North Borneo Chartered Company administration.

“Many young Sabahans do not even know that these towns have their own history. For instance, the town of Weston was named after Arthur J. West, the railroad engineer who built the first rail from Bukau to Beaufort township between 1896 – 1900. Therefore, the town of Weston can trace its history back to 115 years ago. Sadly, nothing architecturally significant from that era exists today – except for the old jetty which is estimated to be more than 100 years old. The local communities in some of these towns have lost a lot of their architectural heritage”.

He believed that the Sabah State Government and Sabah Railways could tap into the potential of promoting heritage tours using the railroad as the primary means of travelling to these pre –WWII towns.

“Heritage tours could be conducted for those who want to experience something other than nature and orangutans. I myself have taken the new Sabah Railway trains to all the historical towns along its operational route. The new trains are comfortable and there is a lot of interesting views to see along the way”, he said.

“For the budget backpacker, travelling along the Sabah Railway would be aviable option to explore into the heartland of Sabah. They could stop and stay at the various townships that still retain their historical shophouses like Kinarut, Bongawan and Membakut. To my knowledge, many of these shops are now rented out to sub-tenants with some of the upper floors left vacant. With proper supervision, repairs and initiative, these vacant lots can be turned into budget backpackers accommodation”.

“Imagine how many tourists would love to stay in an old colonial building that has a historical value to the local community – it could start an economic boom for the township again. There is a significant value in heritage branding of these townships, if done properly with the right amount of funding and expertise”.

He noted that some existing buildings in townships such as Membakut and Bongawan have unique and distinct architectural details that link directly to the glory days of the British Empire.

“One of the corner shophouses in Bongawan, for instance, has a window ornamentation with the date ‘1939’ on its gable. The style is distinctively Chinese with influences of British Colonial style. Many of these townships flourished between the 1920-1930s because of the rubber boom of that era”.

“Another architectural feature is the use of decorated bargeboards on the roof ends of the shophouses. These timber bargeboards are a distinctive feature of British Victorian architecture”, says Sokial who studied architecture at University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

He noted that some of these old shophouses have already been slated for demolition upon the expiry of their land leases within the next few years. He urged the state government to study the merits of preserving selected building sites in towns along the original North Borneo railway lines which is currently operating under Sabah Railways.

“Saving heritage is not just for the tourists. It’s for the people of Sabah as well. Locals who commute from one town to another via train can learn a little about the history of each heritage town at their respective train stops. A generation of Sabahans that understands their history is a generation that can change the course of their future”, he added.

“A heritage town loses all its meaning and identity if its historical buildings are destroyed in the name of commercial development. However, it is still possible to develop a township for the modern needs of the local community and still retain some heritage character of the old buildings”.

Sokial who is currently doing a research on several historical townships along Sabah’s West Coast Division urges the locals to take pride in their historical buildings.

“It is a testimony that once upon a time, the town in which they now live in was once a piece of history, not just for Sabah but for UK, Australia, Japan and the rest of the world”.