Architecture of Penang - Chinese Influence

Chinese Influence

Chinese immigrants brought with them architecture from their ancestral land as can be seen in the many Chinese temples and clan houses. Examples that stand out include the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (also known as the Blue Mansion), built by the namesake Qing-dynasty Chinese immigrant who was a hugely successful trader and community leader; the Kuan Yin Temple, the Khoo Kongsi, and the intricate clan house of the influential Khoo clan. The spectacular temple of Kek Lok Si at the foothill of Penang Hill is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Known as the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, it was largely built by artisans and worksmen from China in the 19th century. A great many of the shophouses and residences found in George Town were built in the style of Straits-Chinese architecture with their very recognisable red terracotta roofs.

Nouveau riche Chinese millionaires of the time built themselves stately mansions along the famed Millionaires' Row of Northam Road (now Sultan Ahmad Shah Road). One of the most famous of them still standing today is the Yeap mansion, resplendent in white. The holiday palace of the Sultan of Kedah, Istana Kedah is also located on the same stretch.

Towkay Chung Thye Phin, last Kapitan China of Penang and Perak, was responsible for two exceptional pieces of architecture. The first was the fabled Chung Thye Phin Mansion where Gurney Drive meets Northam Road (No 2 Kelawai Road). People walking through the building found themselves strolling along subterranean passageways and chambers, gazing up at a clear glass dining room ceiling revealing live fish or marvelling at the art deco interiors of its rooms. After the death of its owner, the mansion was sold and turned into a hotel (The Shanghai Hotel) famous for its local music and "joget" dances. It was eventually demolished and on its footprint now stands an imposing condominium (1 Gurney Drive). On another part of the island, Chung designed Relau Villa, his holiday resort. The villa was equipped with a swimming pool ringed by private and other types of rooms. Its derelict structure can still be seen and explored today at Taman Metropolitan, Relau. According to family history, Kapitan Chung Thye Phin was inspired by the artistic canals of Venice and the enchanting ponds and lakes of China when he designed the swimming-pool, which was constructed by Mr. B. H. Ung, the first Chinese architect to make use of reinforced concrete buildings in the community, the Ban Hin Lee Bank being a particularly notable example.

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