Penang Harmony Centre

This is a refurbishment project to transform an existing timber bungalow by adding a new multi-purpose annex hall, rejuvenating the external compound into a welcoming community hub.

The Penang State Government initiated this project to provide a communal space that promotes religious harmony among its multicultural communities. To fulfil the social functions, the architects proposed four major functions of the bungalow: learning, administration, events and meetings. The community centre was then officially opened to the public in November 2019 with a capacity of more than 300 public users at once.

The physical context of the site comprises the timber house and a rear garden, which occupy a large part of the site. To transform the otherwise abandoned bungalow, the architects adopted low-budget passive design features to a large extent.

The biggest constraint is the tight budget given to transform the entire one-acre compound, including the restoration of the original bungalow. To create a public space of low maintenance, there had to be durable construction methods, easy-care materials and incorporation of natural daylight and ventilation.

The bungalow was then redesigned to be naturally ventilated along the longitudinal spine from the front to the back of the house. The original interior timber stud walls were removed and replaced with glass panels to admit sunlight from both sides of the house. The new central skylight was created by removing the existing ceiling panels and replacing the opaque roof with clear roofing sheets on the jack roof.

Such intervention also made stack ventilation possible, which should be the core purpose of an archetypal jack roof. Ultimately, the roof structures have been kept exposed as a formal expression to celebrate the heritage values of the house.

As for the new annex hall, one of the main passive design strategies was creating accordion walls or ‘breathing walls’ to admit daylight and to allow for natural air movement. On the roof, strips of skylights were lined up intermittently to create an uplifting space, accentuated by a sloped internal ceiling.

In terms of architectural massing, it was a challenge to design a large hall without overshadowing the existing bungalow. The harmony of old and new was achieved by borrowing the roof line and pitch of the existing bungalow to morph into the roof profile of the new hall. The new annex hall’s height is controlled and deliberately lowered so that it does not tower over the original bungalow in scale and proportion. The architects also avoided repeating the traditional wooden shutters onto the façade of the new annex.

The gardens around the site were inspired by Malaysian rural villages (kampung), characterised by random and organically formed meandering footpaths as well as a sporadic arrangement of individual houses. The existing coconut and fruit trees were retained and further defined with spots of new palms, philodendrons and ferns that survive well under canopies.

New contemporary steel white benches and old-school swings create opportunities for social interactions, gatherings and respite. The ground is covered with gravels and stones. To add some playfulness, hints of the nostalgic snake and ladder game were created in a bigger scale using affordable precast concrete pavers.


Project Name
Penang Harmony Centre
15, Scotland Road, George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Completion Date
July 2019
Site Area
4,589 square metres
Gross Floor Area
615 square metres
Building Height
Existing bungalow: 2 storeys; 11 metres
New extension: 1 storey; 7 metres
Number of Rooms
Government Implementing Agency
Chief Minister of Penang Incorporated (CMI)
Architecture Firm
Beu Tan Architect (BETA)
Principal Architect
Tan Bee Eu
Interior Design Firm
Beu Tan Architect (BETA)
Principal Designer
Tan Bee Eu
Civil & Structural Engineer
Perunding YAA Sdn Bhd
M&E Engineer
GH Tag Consultancy
Quantity Surveyor
Kuantibina Sdn Bhd
Landscape Architect
Beu Tan Architect; Sputnikforest
Main Contractor
CLK Builder PLT