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The Octagon – Soon-To-Be Cultural Icon of Ipoh

Cover Story

by Alexa Patrick

Ipoh’s once iconic two-storey round market or pasar bulat, otherwise known as Yau Tet Shin Market, will rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes once again when The Octagon is completed in 2016 on the same site. Deriving its shape and name from the original which was in the shape of an octagon, will be a 23-storey luxury condominium, making it the tallest building in the centre of the city.

 

Mooted as a Catalyst for Culture in the Surrounding Area of New Town

The original Yau Tet Shin market was once upon a time a must-stop destination when passing through Ipoh. The bazaar sold all products exclusive to Ipoh such as Menglembu groundnuts and local pomelos. It was a busy area.

The two-storey building was built in 1962. Forty years later in 2002, the structure was demolished for safety reasons and was used as a car park until 2008 when plans were mooted to revive its legacy as an icon of Ipoh. Ten years after it was brought down, a new luxury condominium is rising in its place.

Iconic Location Now Becomes Tallest Building

The Octagon, when completed in 2016, will be a 23-storey luxury condominium which would make it the tallest building in the centre of the city. The condominium will have a commercial section consisting of an Atrium and Mall which will be a catalyst to complement the businesses surrounding it and in all probability bring back night activity to a wider part of the city centre. The task to rebuild on this iconic landmark was given to the Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCCI).

At their Chinese New Year open house recently, PCCCI Deputy Chairman and One Octagon Sdn Bhd Managing Director Dato’ Liew Sew Yee explained that the concept for The Octagon is for residents to live within the city centre and enjoy all the unique delights of Ipoh especially its local foods plus entertainment “at your doorstep”. “Currently there are many shop lots in New Town where the downstairs are occupied but not upstairs. During the day it may be busy but is quiet at night except for a few roads.”

Old Businesses and Clan Houses

The site of The Octagon is surrounded by Ipoh’s colonial architectural buildings and old Ipoh history. The once busy Jubilee Park, an amusement park, just 100 metres away to the north owned by the Shaw Brothers, housed the Grand Theatre and Jubilee Cabaret, while to the east can be found the Chinese guild and clan houses such as the Hakka Qiong Hai Association.

Some of the existing businesses here have been operating at the same location for 20 to 50 years. Hung Kee rice shop, with its matured bougainvillea plants adorning its entrances, still serves refreshing hot soups and rice fare and is still run by the same family fifty years on.

Two doors away is the Noor Jahan bakery operated by Mohammed Mahathir, a fourth generation family member. Although not allowed to bake their breads here, the premise is still used to market their products. Immediately across the road looking west is found Ipoh’s famous foods, chicken bean sprouts noodles and soyabean desserts of tau ching and tau fu fah.

The popularity of these unique Ipoh dishes has attracted bus and car loads of visitors which in turn attracted the opening of several new shops promoting local biscuits and other food such as salted chicken. Today, the area is populated by a host of food and other shops offering a plethora of tourism products specific to Ipoh.

Here too, for seven nights a week, one of the roads is closed for a night market called Gerbang Malam. Other than the west section that has a constant flow of visitors throughout most of the day and night, the other sections can be considered slow.

Towkay Yau Tet Shin

The preservation and development of The Octagon location is appropriate considering the contribution by Towkay Yau Tet Shin to Ipoh. Yau Tet Shin himself was a pillar of society in Ipoh for having built the initial 350 shop houses in New Town, the area defined east of the Kinta River.

In its heyday at the Yau Tet Shin market, the traders, besides promoting Ipoh’s unique products such as pomelos and groundnuts, also sold suitcases, bags and had restaurants and even a music shop that sold records.

The building’s design then, with its eight-sided roof, was iconic enough to make national cartoonist Dato’ Mohd Noor Khalid, better known as Lat, sketch the site for posterity when he included it in his Town Boy book for future generations to know.

The Octagon, octagon meaning eight sided, will still have eight sides though not equal in size, with four long and four short sides.

Octagon to Play a Social Role

The management of The Octagon has mooted to the state government to turn the area surrounding its site into a cultural district. Their request is based on the existing guild and clan houses in its neighbourhood as well as its traditional commercial surroundings.

The Octagon development consists of 23 storeys of which the bottom three floors will be commercial units comprising an Atrium cum Mall for hosting exhibitions, functions and activities. The commercial units will not be sold and will be controlled by the company to ensure the right mix of tenants to reflect a cultural image to complement the composition of other businesses in the area.

The management has communicated with the establishments in the area of their plans. Its request for them is to create businesses which have a theme related towards local culture, tourism and produce special to Ipoh.

A check with the clan houses along Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri (Clare St.) and Jalan Theatre, where 30 per cent of all buildings comprise clan houses, said they are supportive of the idea and would promote their culture when the project is completed in 2016.

Ho Koon Kan, the Chairman of Qiong Hai Hakka Association, said his association was very supportive of the idea. “We are committed to this idea and have set up a sub-committee for this. We are going to give our building a facelift in time in line with the actions by The Octagon management”, he said.

As Cultural Catalyst

According to Liew, the role of The Octagon is to be a catalyst. “Our plan is to organise multi-activity shows and exhibitions at our Atrium. After visiting our exhibits, visitors can walk to the adjoining blocks nearby to savour Ipoh’s unique foods and the cultural atmosphere. This sort of tourism and cultural activity is currently absent from the city centre. If the activity can be sustained throughout the day it will bring back activity and economy to the city centre.”

Promoting Urban Living

The Octagon was originally promoted as a SOHO (Small Office Home Office) but was subsequently changed to Residential status. The reason for the change was to “repopulate the city. We want to promote urban living and bring life back to the city centre”.

At the beginning the project was tendered out. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there were no takers. “Subsequently twenty of our PCCCI members stepped in and formed a company called One Octagon Sdn Bhd to manage and oversee the project.”

The 23-storey condominium consists of 160 units and 238 car parks. Seventy per cent of the units have been sold. According to Liew, the completion of the project is their contribution towards the community of Ipoh. Their idea for a cultural district is a long-term plan which they had conceived earlier and minuted recently at the Ipoh City Council’s Special Draft Plan, ‘Ipoh Tin Heritage City’.

“We do not expect the concept to be realised overnight; probably in 5 to 10 years after the completion we will begin to see the change setting in. However, in order to see that plan fulfilled we need to plan now,” summarised Liew.

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