+ BACKGROUND, CHALLENGES AND OBJECTIVES
Fort Cornwallis is the largest and most intact fort in Malaysia. Built in the late eighteenth century, it was initially constructed out of nibong palms before gradually being rebuilt with bricks into the fort we see it as today. Its evolution as a structure and landmark signifies the early development of George Town.
It sits adjacent to the Esplanade, George Town’s seaside promenade, and is surrounded by multiple public spaces, including a sports field, a historic fountain garden, and a waterfront area.
Aerial view of Fort Cornwallis and its surrounding areas
In 2008, George Town and Melaka were inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the first time for cultural sites in Malaysia to be inscribed into UNESCO’s listing. The joint inscription of the two cities was based on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) both cities embodied in their living and built heritage. Outstanding means that in comparison with the generally documented cultural heritage, they are representative of the best.
To protect the UOV of George Town, the Penang State Government gazetted the George Town Special Area Plan in 2016, which contains strategies and action plans for better care and management of the city’s heritage buildings. The Planning and Design Guide for the Public Realm, which envisions concept plans for the redevelopment of George Town’s northern and eastern seafronts and the upgrading of Fort Cornwallis, was also gazetted.
While the main purpose of the project is to restore Fort Cornwallis to its period of highest significance, it also aims to provide innovative solutions in the conservation and restoration of historic structures and their public spaces, catalyse a new economy based on cultural heritage, and promote inward investment in socio-economic and socio-cultural development.
Interpretive sketch of Fort Cornwallis in 1816
+ ACTIONS AND IMPLEMENTATION
Conservation and restoration works of Fort Cornwallis are being conducted in five stages:
Stage 1: Preparation of the Fort Cornwallis Conservation Master Plan (CMP)
The Fort Cornwallis CMP provides guidelines for restoration works and for managing the property.
Stage 2: Fort investigation works
A dilapidation audit and site assessment were conducted to record the potential risk or damage to the property before any restoration works were to be carried out.
Stage 3: Archeological works
Archaeological works uncovered brick and stone structures belonging to the moat and led to the discovery of cannons, a mortar, and other smaller historical items.
Stage 4: Preparation of the Fort Cornwallis Conservation and Museological Programme
The Fort Cornwallis Conservation and Museology Programme involves the development of a new cultural heritage museum/exhibit at the fort and the curation of narratives for the historical items discovered at the site.
Stage 5: Physical conservation and restoration works on the fort
Fort Cornwallis is being enhanced through the restoration of the storerooms and moat, conservation of the fort wall and bastion, and improvements in landscaping.
Physical restoration works of the storerooms and moat in action
Community engagement and participatory planning initiatives
• Besides the ongoing physical works at the fort, several workshops, knowledge-sharing sessions, and site visits have been organised as part of an effort to build capacity in all stakeholders and partners.
• A special programme known as the Fort Cornwallis Young Archaeologists’ Programme, led by the USM archeology team, was developed to promote awareness on sustainable care for Fort Cornwallis among children and teenagers. This programme was a collaborative initiative between GTCDC, MBPP’s Department of National Heritage, USM, and Esplanade Park.
• Open days and engagement sessions involving leading NGOs and special interest groups/individuals was organised to obtain feedback about the project and encourage third party monitoring. This initiative proved to be invaluable as it meets the overall objective of deepening public participation in the project with a view to activate more programmes in the future.
• Information about the project is being provided on the site's hoarding boards as part of the strategy to reach out and notify the general public about the project and its intentions.
Workshop and site visit by local and international practitioners
Fort Cornwallis Young Archaeologists’ Programme
+ OUTCOMES AND IMPACTS
The conservation and restoration of Fort Cornwallis intends to breathe new life in the area, generate a sense of pride in the cultural diversity of the area, and bring hope for the future of the historic fort.
The project has already had a positive impact on the local community and the fort’s surrounding areas, with the upgrading of the sports field ensuring more efficient use of the space in the long run. As part of the Young Fort Cornwalllis Young Archeologists’ Programme, school students have been invited to take part in the archaeological excavation works at the site, where they learned about the history of the fort through hands-on excavation and developed a deeper appreciation for the city and country’s shared history and heritage.
At the broader level, the project enables planning practices to be introduced within the heritage zone that take into consideration the historic character of the area while enhancing the quality of life for residents. All these efforts are based on the firm belief in and commitment to World Heritage values.
Key achievements of the project include:
• Cultural heritage capacity building and knowledge transfer at the various stages.
• Innovative solutions (e.g. exploration and establishment of sustainable building materials, methods and design approaches; introduction of a sustainable urban drainage system for the moat).
• High impact public space improvement projects.
• Preservation of George Town’s UOV.
+ REPLICABILITY AND SCALABILITY
Heritage conservation projects will often vary in terms of building/monument size, historical context and significance, and heritage type (natural, tangible, intangible, indigenous, etc.). Nevertheless, the planning and implementation process demonstrated in this project can be replicated in other urban environments.
• Financial support and political commitment from the government is vital to the successful execution of a heritage conservation project or plan.
• As heritage buildings and monuments hold a unique niche in the urban landscape, projects are anticipated to face a lack of technical skills and expertise at some point. It is important to keep on tapping into local and international networks to produce solutions to this challenge.
• A management plan is needed to ensure regular maintenance and long-term sustainability of the project after its completion.
• The relevance of a conservation project is often questioned or misunderstood. A conservation project is different than conventional development projects as it involves additional layers from initiation to completion (i.e. investigation, test/demonstration, and implementation). Ensuring stakeholders, partners, and funders are able to understand the nature of project is crucial to better manage project goals, timelines, and expectations.
+ BUDGET AMOUNT
The project costs more than MYR 15 million (~USD 3.7 million), with the Penang State Government as the major funder and Think City co-funding the programme for the early preliminary stages and providing human resources.
+ BUDGET SOURCE
The budget allocation is for the restoration of the storerooms and moat, archaeological excavation works, museology works, and implementation of the Fort Cornwallis Young Archaeologists’ Programme.
The team is also exploring technological interventions that can be utilised as part of the museology installation. This includes innovative immersive storytelling technology, from augmented reality to virtual reality, and technologies that allow stories to be embedded across the site with minimal need for physical markers.