Religious symbolism vs tropical heritage
As I see it, there are two ways to forge a multi-ethnic nation.
One way is to eliminate all ethnic traditions and manufacture a whole new Malaysian entity.
The other way is to recognise and utilise the strength of our multi ethnic heritage. Let’s face it, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism have centuries-old teachings with humanistic values that would be absent in a purely capitalistic and “pragmatic” culture.
The trick is to find similarities and tolerate differences whilst growing up on new perspectives.
If politicians with selfish agendas stop exploiting religious differences, and people lose their ignorance of each other’s cultural and religious heritage, Malaysia can become a strong nation with deep roots and far sighted vision.
I would like to propose the idea of organic architecture to solve the problem of national architectural identity. The necessary elements are: local materials, natural landscape and climate, plus cultural/religious heritage.
Some firms have already experimented with tropical-friendly architecture but they are stuck in their “machine aesthetic” devoid of cultural references (eg: Mesiniaga).
On the other hand, cultural references can become skewed. If most architects could only get off the bandwagon of architectural revivalism and imitation, they might be able to chart new design ideas.
For instance, Islamic cultural heritage is not exemplified by big domes, arches and expensive ornaments but is rooted in the idea of humility, non-wasteful gestures, people-friendly planning, and a deep respect for nature as the embodiment of God’s existence.
Chinese feng shui also has a lot to offer environmentalists in relation to sustainable architecture, if one looks hard enough.
Our mountains can offer construction materials uniquely suited for our climate. Our commercial and cultural landscapes also offer unique opportunities of meaningful ornamentation.
Thus a deeper understanding of our religious/cultural/natural landscape and climate can point the way towards buildings that capture the essence of our place and the spirit of our time.
A more participatory idea of governance would go a long way towards realizing the idea of a natural identity as opposed to a negatively manufactured identity or a forced identity.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lecturer Prof Dr Mohamad Tajuddin passionately believes that architectural design that respects cultural values, religious sensitivities and the ideals of democracy is vital to nation-building and harmony.