The reconstruction of Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit (or Chow Kit Heritage House), also known as Rumah Degil (or Stubborn House), at its new site at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery is expected to be done by November 2018.
The two-storey Malay house built in 1926 got its nickname because it stood its ground at 41 Jalan Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, for 89 years even as the city grew around it. It became the sole wooden structure in a jungle of high concrete.
It eventually came to be called Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit (RPCK). In 2007, creative director Fatulrahman Ghazali filmed a documentary about the house and dubbed it Rumah Degil.
The house was lived in by a single occupant, a lady named Normah Majawali who was born there in 1932. According to The Star, she had refused to sell the property despite being offered millions of ringgit. But it was ultimately let go in 2013 and the land was cleared in 2015.
An architect named Tan Kay Chay, who was engaged to design a new building on the site, believed that the old premises should not vanish. So instead of demolishing it, he dismantled the house in the hope of reassembling it somewhere else.
On Feb 16, 2018, restoration of the house was begun by the National Heritage Department. And it’s new location, on the ground of the National Art Gallery on Jalan Tun Razak, is actually not far away from its original site.
The project is a collaboration between the National Art Gallery, Yayasan Hasanah, Malaysian Institute of Architects, Chow Kit Heritage House Conservation Group, ATSA Architects, and Seroja Klasik Enterprise as the contractor.
The house was originally built by Jaafar Sutan Sinomba, fondly known as Sutan Mengatas Sutan Sinomba. He was believed to be the descendent of Sutan Puasa, a Mandailing merchant who migrated from Sumatra and reportedly the “true” founder of Kuala Lumpur according to claims by heritage researcher and author Abdur-Razzaq Lubis.
Two other houses belonging to Jaafar’s sons, Abdul Talib and Abdul Wahid, once also stood on the same row as RPCK. But in the early 1970s, a commercial structure known as Wisma Wahida was erected by the Urban Development Authority on the site of Abdul Wahid’s house at 38 Jalan Chow Kit.
During a visit to the original RPCK site, ATSA Architects CEO Azim Tan Sri A Aziz told Bernama that Rumah Degil was heavily influenced by traditional Malay architecture from the central Malaysian state of Perak.
Azim, who was involved in the restoration of the 108-year-old Kampung Memali Mosque in Perak, said that the reconstruction of RPCK was 70% complete (by September 2018).
“Almost 90% of the wood components are materials from the original structure of the house,” he added. “We have also made improvements to strengthen the structure of the house for safety purposes due to its age.”
RPCK had witnessed some of Malaysia’s biggest historical events since the British colonial era, including the Japanese occupation in WWII and the 1969 riots on May 13. In 2013, Jaafar’s family finally sold the house when they could not afford its maintenance.
The RPCK project was initiated by two cousins from Chow Kit, Tan Kay Chay (from KC Tan Architects) and James Chong. Tan said he was approached in 2014 by a contractor who wanted to redevelop the land where the house stood.
Tan first sought his cousin’s help to locate the family who owned the property. He was later introduced to Fatulrahman Ghazali, the creative director of Obscura Films and winner of the 2007 Malaysian Student Film Festival award for his video documentary Rumah Degil.
Tan and Chong then met Lubis, author of the book Sutan Puasa, The Founder Of Kuala Lumpur, who helped them to meet Normah Manjawali, Jaafar’s granddaughter and the last person still living in the house. After that meeting, the cousins were more determined to carry out the conservation of Sutan Puasa’s final legacy.
For Fatulrahman, his involvement in the project was an interesting experience because it involved cooperation from a diverse group of Malaysians. “It is very unique to work with (Tan and James), and also foreign contractors who do not know how to speak Malay,” he said.
He added that the house was dismantled from March-May 2015 and was done in phases according to conservation procedures and standards.
Meanwhile, Normah’s daughter Nora Salleh told Bernama she appreciated those involved in the rescue of her family home. “I would like to thank the National Heritage Department and architects involved for recognising Chow Kit Heritage House as having historical value for the future,” she said.