Keeping a piece of history – an expert story

Tan Yeow Wooi is a StraitsJourneys expert.

As a professional conservation architect, he breathes new life to old heritage, especially so with Penang – the state with the most heritage buildings in Malaysia. Places of worship, pre-war shophouses, clan association buildings, come alive in his hands.

He’s very protective of old building structures, especially traditional Chinese architecture. “According to my own survey, in 2006 alone, there were 96 buildings in the city that were either demolished or marred by indiscriminate renovation with 80% of the original structure destroyed,” says Yeow Wooi.

Clearly a man that derives a lot of satisfaction from preserving history, one project at a time, he seems to have a Midas touch when it comes to turning dusty old shophouses into attractive historic gold.

Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple in Penang, photo from

“While many armchair critics only pay lip service to conservation efforts, here is one man who will comb through ancient texts or historical records to trace the origins of an old building under his scrutiny,” says The Star Online, Malaysia’s regional newspaper.

Conservation and restoration is hard work – tapping into Yeow Wooi’s expertise for intensive research, planning, design and project documentation. Artisanal work such as wood carving, painting, sculpturing may be required. Even masons and carpenters from native China and India are sometimes engaged for their skilled workmanship. Materials also play a critical role – the timber, tiles and traditional paint. Yeow Wooi even travels to China for research, as he dissects traditional Chinese architecture further into Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese styles.

History is a state’s best currency, and demolishing old buildings without any regard to its origins and culture, is chipping away at precious heritage. Yew Wooi believes that education is the best protection, so he’s conducted lectures and written substantially on heritage and conservation, to raise awareness and canvas for protection of old buildings.

Some of these publications include “The history and architecture of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, Penang” and “Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple” and “Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee’s Shen Zhi Jia Shu and Hai Ji Zhan” and “Penang Shophouses – A Handbook of Features and Materials” and “Panicrama”.

Yeow Wooi’s dedication and conviction to maintain authenticity and design integrity is highly inspirational. His methodical work-up for his restoration projects makes him almost like a master of jigsaw puzzle – piecing together the fragments of history, and keeping the story of the building as intact as possible.

Straits Journeys is deeply honoured to have Yeow Wooi on-board our panel of experts, and whilst he may be a guide that money can’t hire, you can soon book a StraitsJourneys experience to take a walk with him through some of Penang’s most precious heritage.

StraitsJourneys is a place for travelers to find and book deep travel experiences tailored to specific interests. The experiences are presented by carefully selected local experts. We expect to launch in days. In the meantime, register your interest in StraitsJourneys and be the first to receive our stories, updates and offers.

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