: I’ve always been interested in ways that different cultures are able to come together and live as one. It can be in any forms; be it how different muti-cultural groups can live in perfect harmony side by side without losing their identities, or even how different ethnicities can assimilate with one another and build a whole new culture.
This became the inspiration for the recent Malaysia Day documentary I produced for Astro AWANI the television station called ‘Dewan Malaysia’ (which was on air on Malaysia Day itself and can be seen as it will be repeated throughout the week).
We are all familiar with the community hall building or ‘dewan komuniti’ that we so often see in neighbourhoods, kampungs and small towns. Usually, it is just a big hall which the locals use when they want to play court sports such as badminton or sepak takraw, or when they want to hold a wedding. But I wondered if it could be more than that.
So I called on several creative individuals to see how they would create their most ideal ‘dewan komuniti’. The brief was simple. If they had no limitations, how would they design a ‘dewan komuniti’ that could best bring the people of Malaysia together.
They didn’t have to actually create a physical building. It’s just conceptual. They could either draw or build a model. And so the group, some architects, a t-shirt designer and an illustrator, set off on their assignment. Wong Jeh Tat (Architect)
Growing up in Sarawak, Jeh Tat was always surrounded by lush greeneries and forest life. Now that he is living in Kuala Lumpur, he feels like Malaysia is developing in an unhealthy state where everything is all concrete and unnatural. Hence, his idea of a ‘dewan komuniti’ is a simple large public area - or what is commonly known as a park.
“Children these days are cooped up in buildings, condominiums and template houses. They don’t even get to see grass! If they can see more greenery, their mental state would be much better,” he says.
He also feels that these public spaces can be utlilised anyway by the community. Different religious groups can have their prayer sessions there, weddings and sports can still be done, and it should also be a place where everything negative about the community can be centred at so it can be improved.
“The homeless can come and the locals can help them. It can also be a place where stray animals like cats and dog can go for refuge and be aided by people,” he explains. “In fact, if churches, mosques and temples are built in the area, it would make people connect spiritually too because they’re surrounded by nature.”
Wong Jeh Tat feels that the community needs to get back to nature. KARYA (architect collective)
KARYA consists of a group of young architects, Ashran Bahari, Naadiya Hani, Mior Aizuddin Fahmi, Hazazi Hamzah and Faiz Pazanon, who have been friends since their university days. Their concept for a ‘dewan komuniti’ is to take one current day element of connectivity to further connect people - the road or highway.
“Roads are used to connect one place to another. But it also disconnects people as we can see how highways that cut through villages and towns can be divisive,” explains Mior Aizuddin Fahmi.
So KARYA aims to create public spaces along large highways so that it comes alive with people and activities instead of just blaring with vehicles speeding across. There can be parks, halls, working and living pods all along the highways so people can stop and do things as they drive by.
In fact, if the highways become so public, people might just decide to cycle or even walk to work and they won’t have to drive cars anymore. And that can reduce so much stress for folks these days who commute so much in private vehicles.
“Its back to basics. Our ancestors hundreds of years ago travelled through rivers to connect with different communities and the river bank became so vibrant with life and activities. Let today’s highways become that,” says Hazazi Hamzah.
KARYA believes that highways can be the new community centre. Arif Rafhan Othman (Illustrator)
Arif grew up in the small town of Taiping and he remembers following his mother to the town’s ‘dewan komuniti’ to attend handicraft classes such as sewing, cooking, origami and other such activities. But it seems like events like these don’t go on any longer in the ‘dewan komuniti’ of today. So his aim is to revive this practice.
“I’ve designed a hall that can be transformed into many shapes and sizes on the inside so the space can be used for many different activities,” he explains.
Walls can be moved around so that it can be a huge hall for sports, weddings, theatre plays and whatever else that requires a large space. But sliding and foldable wall panels can be moved around so that classes and different activities that require smaller spaces can also use it whenever required.
There should also be an economical pull so that the community can come together. Those who attend classes should also be given the opportunity to use their skills in order to generate income. For example, after completing cooking lessons, the participants can be encouraged to open food establishments like cafes or stalls in the ‘dewan komuniti’ premises itself.
Arif Rafhan Othman wants to see classes that can bring people together. Koh Yung Shen (T-shirt designer)
Although Shen now runs an urban wear label, he also used to be an indie rapper and was part of the close-knit indie music scene in the country. His ‘dewan komuniti’ design is very much influenced by his musical background. He feels that it should serve the immediate community and bring them closer before coming into the bigger picture.
“What’s the use of knowing somebody so far away in a different country on social media when you don’t even know your next door neighbour?” he laments.
And so he has taken the arts approach in bringing people together. The ‘dewan komuniti’ can be a place where young artists can showcase their skills such as musical acts, theatre or even stand-up comedy to their local community. Of course, other activities can be held there too.
“Good food is something that can always bring people together. So the ‘dewan komuniti’ should be a place full of different kinds of food. We can even have the world’s longest barbecue pit there!” he laughs.
Koh Yung Shen wants to know his neighbours better.