This three-storey Neo-Classical building was built in the 1920s. Initially, it was constructed as a hostel for Chinese opera troupes who performed next door at the Chinese opera theatre. Today, on the ground floor, there is a popular eatery known as Kong Heng in which serves some of the most-watering local dishes in Ipoh.
Meanwhile, on the two upper floors is a retreat by the name of Sekeping Kong Heng, an addition to the Sekeping family of retreats, located right in the heart of Ipoh Old Town. – *
All efforts have been made by the owners to preserve as much of the character of the original building as possible in contrast to the surrounding new architectural intervention.
The wood walls of the partitioned rooms on the first floor had been replaced with concrete sheets and each room had been fitted with its own bathroom. There are also eight rooms on this floor.
While the main Kong Heng building has been restored the kitchen, at the back of it has been maintained and made an excellent example of adaptive reuse by building another two storeys over it which adjoins it to the original building by the staircase in between. The second-floor annexe is an open-air communal room with tables and chairs. The kitchen is planned to become a café later on, while there are no plans yet for the ‘store’ which has been cleared of its intruding roots.
The space between the two buildings has been paved with cobblestone and the entire ground floor is kept cool under a canopy from the original matured trees. From the main road, the building appears that nothing has changed other than the paved lane and newly-planted trees. But then Kong Heng coffee shop is just 25% of the total property.
In 1891, the first Chinese theatre was built at the corner of Leech Street and Panglima Street on land acquired by Yau Tet Shin from the Dato’ Panglima Kinta. In 1906, it was replaced by a new theatre which could accommodate 1500 people. In the 1920s, this three-storey building was built next to the theatre as a hostel for Chinese opera troupes. This day, the Kong Heong Coffee shop downstairs is a popular dim-sum cafe.
Over at Old Town amongst the Heritage Trail lies the Dramatist Hostel, more popularly known as Kong Heng coffee shop famous for its kai see hor fun and other local food fares. The property which is bordered by Leech Street (Jalan Bandar Timah), Jalan Panglima, the adjacent lane until Belfield Street (Jalan Sultan Yussuf) was purchased by its current owners in 2008. This is a three-storey building where actors stayed, rehearsed and performed at the Chinese Opera Theatre, situated next door which had since been demolished but the hostel remains. One of its owners is renowned landscape architect Ng Sek San, an Ipoh boy, who said that “Ipoh was a good place to grow up” and felt that “it should be preserved for the next generation”. However, for Ng, “restoration is not just about restoring, that would become a museum.
Within this 1920s building, heritage and futurism collide in a rare visual drama. In upstairs, a new avant-garde boutique hotel, Sekeping Kong Heng, explores the limits of design. Downstairs, a 50-year-old coffee shop personifies Ipoh’s unchanged history, its regulars largely oblivious to the creative boundaries being pushed one floor above.
Sekeping Kong Heng has a world of Malaysian architecture talking. It’s a radical departure for Ipoh, the capital of Perak state in northern Malaysia, known for delicious local food and its tin mining history rather than adventures in extreme design. The hotel occupies the top two storeys of the crumbling, neoclassical building in Ipoh’s Old Town that features original flaking paint and dilapidated brickwork frame raw cement floors and scarred old floorboards. Even trees, which have crept inside over time, are allowed to remain. “Floating” glass bedrooms are suspended from the ceiling of the old rehearsal hall among the timber beams, and the hotel’s astonishing centrepiece – its take on a top-floor penthouse – is a vast room with no walls, just mesh and filmy white curtains between you and the sky.