Monumental Preservation of Rumah Degil

Cultural heritage and natural history of a nation has a very high value and is integral to defining people’s identity and link between generations. Heritage sites are arguably the physical component of a city’s identity. The lived-in architecture, the strategic locations and the uses of these buildings reveal unique stories telling of how our city came to be and can offer predictions of where it might be going. These features add character and beauty to our city, fostering a sense of home and community, and serving as a reminder to each of us that our city’s history belongs to all of us together. At Hasanah, we truly believe in this and hence have been supporting in preserving various initiatives that are reflective of Malaysian history and national identity.

The preservation of Rumah Degil fits well into this story. Rumah Degil (or the stubborn house) was the last wooden Malay house on Jalan Chow Kit, and last remaining legacy of Sutan Puasa, the founder of Kuala Lumpur. The 2-storey wooden house was built in 1926 by Tuan Haji Jaafar Sutan Sinombar, descendant of Sutan Puasa. Over the years however, the house began to be neglected and in 2013 the land was finally sold for a commercial building to be built on the land where the house stood.

Though the house garnered attention in 2007 when Fatulrahman Ghazali made a documentary on the house, it wasn’t until much later that efforts for its actual preservation began. In 2014, KC Tan Architect and several parties who were involved decided to save and preserve the house as a private initiative. They created Persatuan Rumah Chow Kit as a vehicle to raise awareness on the house and get the house to be reconstructed on a new site. However, mounting costs over the years forbid its actual preservation and the house was finally relocated to the National Art Gallery compound. In 2017, Hasanah joined the efforts to relocate and reintegrate the house along with National Heritage Department, National Art Gallery, Rumah Chow Kit Association and Pertubuhan Arkitek Malaysia.1

The personnel involved in the projects from each organisations are professionals who have themselves worked on conservation work in Malaysia. It was carefully carried out and documented for future reference. In July 2018, a heavy storm almost hampered the effort of the conservation. The roof of Rumah Degil was uplifted due to heavy turbulence and lateral movement of the wind. The construction was delayed for about 72 days but was completed in December 2018.

The significance of this house is for the Malaysian especially those who reside in Kuala Lumpur to appreciate and understand the making of Kuala Lumpur. The house is now under purview of National Art Gallery and will be developed as a museum cum exhibition hall offering visitors a glimpse into Malaysian history and culture. The official opening of the Rumah Degil is awaiting the certification of fitness and safety clearance from authorities.