From a Distant Perspective

“To the young with hearts of passion and the old who are young at heart.” -Kevin Mark Low

Last June I got an opportunity to be a part of #BetterCities’s pilot project, Urban Residency in George Town, Penang, in which 9 young creatives from architecture and design backgrounds collaborate to design a community space. The site lies at a back lane flanked by shop houses and residences in Little India. Within a week, we have to design this almost abandoned pocket space into a place where community can use, gather and interact.

Prior to our workshop, the #BetterCities team had conducted a 4-month research before locating this space as a case study. They made the design guidelines and requirements for us. So our aim was to tackle the Challenge Brief with a design solution that could be possibly built within a week. There was also a budget limitation, of MYR 8000.


I decided to apply simply because I needed a breath of fresh air and a new experience. New perspective.


Being a stranger in a strange city, my personal motivation in this project was simply to understand, to keenly observe. To sit back and listen. Turns out, I learned a lot.

Since the first day when I arrived at Sekeping Victoria, the workshop venue, these creative people fascinated me. They all have sharp opinions and a deep understanding on many kinds of issues. Every discussion was intense. Every design decision was under careful consideration. Being among them, I learned new things: how to argue and solve problem in terms of design; how to interact with different layers of communities and authorities; how to implement ideas into technical construction (i.e. making it real); how to know when to brainstorm and when to make decision; and when to stop thinking and just do.

I also heard many interesting stories from the participants: the art scene in Penang, the political situation in Malaysia, the creative people’s desire to be appreciated more, and the so many different approaches to tackle the urban challenges in the cities from what I know back in Indonesia.

Yet, as the neighboring countries we share similar issues. Southeast Asian countries, especially our cities, are vastly growing. Some people are ready to face global challenges; they talk about a better future, a better world. Some are still absorbed in their conservative values and traditional way of living, which are actually great to preserve history and their roots.


Being the generation in between, I think this is the opportunity for young people to address both sides with smart and creative kind of approach. Bridge the gap. Be the solution.


Looking back at our work in the back lane of George Town’s Little India, for me, it is a good start. Having different creatives staying in an enclosed environment, given a design challenge to be solved together, having to understand and respect each other, I imagine the Urban Residency experience a close simulation of life on a broader context. Hopefully someday we will remember the experience as we work in different environments and seek new ways to communicate our values as we interact with people of different cultures and idealisms.

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The first time we opened the “Chappati Burn” garden (an accidental name coined by the discovery of an abandoned board we found on site), I saw the uncommon scene that I couldn’t find in my home country: people of different languages, colours, professions… interacting together like all other things never matter.

To the young with hearts of passion and the old who are young at heart, I hope wherever and whoever you are, whatever you wish to be, you will learn something from whatever you are facing right now.

To be a better person. Among a better community. In a better city.

Cheers from Indonesia,
Rofianisa Nurdin


Rofianisa Nurdin is a fresh architecture graduate from Bandung, Indonesia; devoted in writing and asking questions. With friends from college, she co-founded Vidour in 2011, a collaborative architecture documentary group which have been engaged with layers of communities to document Indonesia’s most happening architecture and art events from Bandung, Jakarta, Flores, to Tokyo. Interested in arts, media, and culture; a creative community activist within Bandung Creative City Forum; and currently a research assistant in Bandung Institute of Technology.

Urban Residency: Meet our Participants

Our first Urban Residency programme is fast approaching! We have had a great response to our Open Call and we would like to thank everyone who applied, especially applicants outside of Malaysia!

The main criteria for the selection process were quality and relevance of portfolios. We were looking for portfolios that reflected skills as well as complemented the statement of intent. Additional points were awarded to those with prior experience working in community or neighbourhood projects, in constructing/building things, and have a keen interest in place-making.

We have selected seven people to join our first workshop. Our Urban Residency mentors, Lia Tostes and Hui Ping, will spend an intensive week with them brainstorming, designing and constructing ideas to improve a small public space in George Town, Penang. Let’s introduce our seven successful applicants!

Alex Lee is an urban explorer, DIY dude & greenie. He is constantly exploring, observing and apply interventions to cities to create conversations. Pint-sized but feisty, Alex believes the city is a living thing.

Website: bumppitybump.blogspot.com

Bryan Chee completed his architectural education in London with professional experience from both Malaysia and UK. He is interested in design from visual art to urban scale installation, currently dividing his time teaching architecture while pursuing on some experimentation projects to transform the city experience through design making under MADE. One of the recent completed project was a series of urban sitting installation under the theme “Design Change Things”.

Website: maderesearch.wordpress.com 

Justin Khoo, 25 year old Penangite, not from concentrate. He is a lover of food, culture, plants and nature. Architecture graduate with an interest in utilitarian design, context and sense-of-place. Enjoys going to markets, whizzing around on a bicycle and trips to the beach.

Website: justinkhoo.carbonmade.com

Sueh Li Tan is a Penangite. She loves type design as much as Assam Laksa. In 2012, she co-founded Typokaki with Karmen Hui to explore type design and typography in relation to Malaysia cultures through workshops, events and research. They have been conducted two type design workshops so far, with the theme ‘Petaling Street’.

Website: suehlitan.com


Zi Hao Tan is an artist, designer, and writer whose works examine the socio-political details in the everyday life. Graduated as a Dean’s List Scholar from The One Academy, he has since participated in exhibitions across Malaysia and Taiwan. He recently completed his BA International Communications Studies in the University of Nottingham Malaysia and is looking forward to furthering his education in Southeast Asian history and politics.

Website: cargocollective.com/tanzihao

Yulianto Qin, an Indonesian national, trained as an architect in Indonesia and Japan. He has been involved in heritage building documentation project with Indonesian Center of Architecture Documentation and Architecture History Lab at Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan. His main interest are architecture heritage conservation, documentation, and visual anthropology studies.

Website: qinphotography.com

Rebecca Nayagam has graduated with a Bachelors in Architecture from Melbourne University. In 2010, she co-founded a non-profit called Novels for Nepal, built a library in Humla, Nepal and has been working on a few selected projects in Kuala Lumpur. She aspires to be more than an architect – she hopes to one day use all the skills and knowledge she’s gained through her formal education to contribute to resolving societal problems through design solutions.

Website: facebook.com/novelsforall

ADDITIONAL PARTICIPANTS

Rofianisa Nurdin is a fresh-graduate architect from Bandung, Indonesia; devoted in writing and asking questions. With friends from college co-founded Vidour (2011), a collaboration-based architecture documentary group which have been engaged with layers of communities to document Indonesia’s most happening architecture and art events from Bandung, Jakarta, Flores, to Tokyo. Interested in arts, media, and culture; participating within Bandung Creative City Forum as a creative community activist; and currently a research assistant in Bandung Institute of Technology.

Website: cargocollective.com/vidour


Chew Pui Cheng has worked with urban property developers, international resort designers, British commercial architectural firms, rural community architectural designers, Dutch film set production and designers. She is also a permaculturalist, a carpenter, an occasional lecturer, a researcher for a heritage publication, a transparency platform co-developer, a wannabe conservationist.

Website: quickcauses.com


Urban Residency is a weeklong urban action workshop Urban Residency is organised by #BetterCities, supported by The Embassy of Finland, Kuala Lumpur, and in partnership with George Town Festival, George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), Municipal Council of Penang Island (MPPP) and Think City.

Urban Residency: Meet our Mentors

Two days left for you to send in your application for Urban Residency!

Since April, our team at #BetterCities has seeked consultation from different experts and institutions to get a better understanding of George Town. We have also selected mentors with a level expertise and empathy towards community-centered approaches to urban design and planning. Throughout the duration of Urban Residency, selected participants will be working with our mentors to propose, design and produce a project that will improve a selected site in George Town, Penang.

Curious who the mentors you will be working with if you are selected for our pilot programme? Meet our Urban Residency mentors.

Mentor #1: Lia Tostes, Urbanist/Architect

Lia is an architect and urbanist from Brasilia, Brazil, who has just finished her Masters at the University of Tokyo, Japan. She currently lives in Kuala Lumpur and is a collaborator of #BetterCities. In August 2012, her project MyOwnOsaka was selected, with the prize of MYR15,000, to be part of the Osaka Canvas 2012, an important Japanese public art festival. MyOwnOsaka was an outcome of her research on grassroots urban interventions.

For her thesis, Lia profiled 75 case studies, in which city dwellers, seeking to tackle urban issues, undertake projects in urban spaces. The movement named Mend-Yourself-Urbanism (codenamed M.Y.URBANISM) was recently presented at Urban Popcultures Conference in Prague.

Mentor #2: Hui Ping, Architect/Lecturer

Trained as an architect, Hui Ping received her Bachelor degree locally from University of Malaya and a Master degree from Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

Currently, she is residing in PetalingJaya and operates under her newly set-up design office, Rekacipta HUiS. She also lectures part time at the Design Studios of Department of Architecture, University Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Apart from being passionate about designing and teaching, she is also attracted to issues pertaining to her immediate physical environment – in short the City. Recently, she won first prize in a national open idea competition for her community project entitled The Back Lane Project. Through this and perhaps more of such initiatives, she hopes to see more and more Malaysians claiming and occupying the public space.


Download the application form here.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact us at hello@betterciti.es.

Urban Residency is a #BetterCities’ pilot project in George Town, Penang,
supported by the Embassy of Finland, Malaysia and in partnership with George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI) and George Town Festival. The project will take place during George Town Festival 2013 between 10 – 16 June 2013. 

Urban Residency: George Town, Penang Open Call

Are you interested in participatory urbanism? Are you passionate about improving shared public spaces? Do you believe creativity and collaboration can contribute to a better neighbourhood and city?

Wearing the colors of George Town Festival, #BetterCities launches its first project in George Town, Penang: Urban Residency (UrRe). UrRe is a weeklong urban action workshop that will take place between June 10th-16th 2013 in George Town, Penang. Selected participants will design and build projects to transform overlooked public space into a more vibrant, responsive and liveable place.

Team #BetterCities has worked closely with local institutions and groups to devise a relevant design challenge, which will be disclosed on the first day of the workshop.

Selected participants will have room and board covered, a shared work space, as well as a budget for materials (travels to George Town, Penang not included). Participants are expected to get to George Town at their own expenses on June 9th 2013.

#BetterCities invites architects, designers and installation artists to apply. Please send your application form, portfolio and resumé to hello@betterciti.es by May 27th 2013.

Download the application form here.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact us at hello@betterciti.es.

Urban Residency is a #BetterCities’ pilot project in George Town, Penang,
supported by the Embassy of Finland, Malaysia.

Urban Residency, Part II

#BetterCities had a fine time in our first fact-finding trip to George Town, Penang! Sze and I managed to set up a few meetings and here is a brief report:

From George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), our team heard about some of their current and future projects, from “Greening George Town” to George Town’s way-finding project.

We stepped out of the meeting with a better notion of what the city’s current status quo is, and what the challenges in dealing with communities are. Thank you, GTWHI, for taking your time, and helping us form an understanding of the city and its inhabitants.

First Stop: GTWHI! (photo credit: Sze Ying Goh)

We also had an interesting exchange session, where two local creative groups, Arts-Ed and LUMA, shared with us their current initiatives. Both groups are collaborating on a project called “The HIP Project”, which stands for Heritage in Penang, Happening in Penang, or even History in Progress! One of the key objectives of The HIP Project is to instill a spark in youth to take greater interest in cultural assets in their environment and be inspired to produce creative works from interaction with the site(s). Through social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram, these groups are trying to reach young people, and engage them in the matter of heritage.

An Afternoon on Cannon Street (photo credit: Sze Ying Goh)

On our last day, we met with George Town Festival‘s director, Joe Sidek, who talked a bit about the challenges of presenting tradition to a contemporary audience. This is definitely a guideline that we in #BetterCities are hoping to incorporate to Urban Residency’s programme. All in all, we got to know great people, and initiate exciting partnerships!

Team #BetterCities for Urban Residency: Sze and Lia (photo credit: Sze Ying Goh)

Team #BetterCities will be in George Town again this week, from Monday to Wednesday (April 15 – 17). This time we will concentrate our efforts in constructing a design challenge for Urban Residency.

We will keep you posted at betterciti.es/urbanresidency.


Lia is an architect and urbanist from Brasilia, Brazil, who has just finished her Masters at the University of Tokyo, Japan. In Masters, she has profiled 75 case studies, in which city dwellers, seeking to tackle urban issues, undertake projects in urban spaces. This movement was named Mend-Yourself-Urbanism (codenamed M.Y.URBANISM). When searching for initiatives, she came across #BetterCities, and now that she is living in Kuala Lumpur, Lia became part of the team. Passionate about urban life, the Brazilian architect believes cities become better places when the practice of urbanism is reunited with the everyday life of its citizens.

#BetterCities Goes to George Town, Penang!

#BetterCities heralds the second quarter of 2013 by stepping out of our home base in Kuala Lumpur to launch our first project in Penang! This new undertaking is a pilot programme called Urban Residency (codenamed UrRe) that will take place in George Town, Penang. The cat’s meow of UrRe will be a weeklong urban action workshop during the George Town Festival in early June. Throughout the week in June, selected participants of UrRe will design and build projects to improve the public space.

Preparation for Urban Residency begins with our team heading to George Town tomorrow! Our goal for this first field trip is to deepen our knowledge of the city and the communities, to understand the city’s current status quo and challenges, and finally, to look for potential sites and problems.

We are looking for local institutions, art collectives, creative communities and individuals who want to collaborate either as participants in the programme or exchange/provide information (even share secret spots of George Town!).

We will keep you posted on UrRe! Do drop us line if you want to collaborate, and stay tuned for the programme’s open call!

Urban Residency is supported by The Embassy of Finland, Malaysia.


Lia Tostes is an architect and urbanist from Brasilia, Brazil who has just finished her Masters at the University of Tokyo. She currently lives in Kuala Lumpur and is a collaborator of #BetterCities.