07 Mar When East Meets West – An Architectural Amalgamation
A charming cosmopolitan city, George Town is famed, among others, for its unique built heritage – thanks in part to its status as a bustling entreport centuries ago, which saw the influx of numerous external influences from both the Eastern and Western worlds. Nevertheless, its true architectural allure lies in its ability to flawlessly adapt this hodgepodge of influences to local conditions, resulting in seamlessly eclectic fusions that would, years later, see the city gain international renown as a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site
Owing to its rich colonial legacy, Penang was home to many Europeans, especially the British. This in turn, saw a myriad of European architectural influences being painstakingly brought in to the island and lovingly adopted here. Furthermore, within the next hundred years or so, the booming local economy had given birth to a new generation of affluent locals. This group of people had the means to head over to Western countries to further their studies and, when they returned, they brought with them various Western influences. This led to the construction of many a majestic building featuring Victorian, Georgian, Art Deco and Anglo-Indian styles.
Excellent examples of Western-inspired architecture that still stands today are the Suffolk House, E&O Hotel, the Standard Chartered Bank building and the HSBC building.
The city’s prosperous economy during those early days also attracted people from nearby countries, including China, who decided to head to our shores to seek their fortunes here. Upon settling down here, they brought with them the cultures and customs (including architectural influences!) from their homeland. Many of these people did, indeed, make a pretty fortune. This meant that they could afford to bring master craftsmen all the way from China to build mansions that were heavily influenced by the intricate designs and carvings of their homes back on the mainland but conveniently suited to local climate conditions and lifestyles. And thus, the Straits Eclectic architecture began to proliferate in Penang.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion and Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (also known as The Blue Mansion because of its brilliant blue exterior) are two such examples. You can also find Straits Eclectic-inspired architecture in many of the temples, shophouses and clan/association buildings around the city.