For the second instalment of ‘Building Culture’—our ongoing photo series documenting the relationship between architecture, culture and place—photographer Sarah Pannell takes us to George Town, Malaysia’s second largest city located on the island of Penang. A UNESCO World Heritage Zone, George Town combines old-world Asian charm with British colonial influences making for an eclectic, sun-bleached mix of urban architecture.
Established as a trading post of the British East India Company in 1786, George Town was among the first British settlements in Southeast Asia. It was occupied by Japan in the second world war and reclaimed by Britain in 1957 to become modern Malaysia’s first official city. Containing the largest collection of pre-war buildings in Southeast Asia, this colourful city is made for wanderers.
Now home to a highly diverse population, the city blends British Raj era architecture, Chinese temples, Middle Eastern tiles and gothic gargoyles—mellowing beneath Western-style high-rises and towering carparks. With a jumbled maze leading to fragrant Indian spice shops and traditional Chinese “wet markets”, George Town’s grunge architecture lends itself to a growing food and art scene. The watermarked buildings serve as a reminder of the city’s tropical location, where a mountainous jungle lies just beyond the city.