GEORGE TOWN: The former Rex Cinema building here, facing demolition to make way for a 27-storey condominium project, is a rare architectural gem from the 1930s, according to an architect and real estate expert.
Alex Koenig, who has researched Penang’s old buildings, said the building should be preserved for its 1930s tropical art deco style, as well as for its ingenious traits that were uniquely Malayan.
The building’s front tower with two concrete slabs in the middle is an architectural classic, he said.
“Penang has one of the largest caches of remaining tropical art deco examples. Rex is one of them,” Koenig told FMT. “There are now signs of its extinction.”
Koenig described the building as an example of “democratic building design”.
He said the architect, Charles Boutcher, knew the cinema would draw large crowds and the tower was a symbol of democracy and the grandeur of the silver screen which brought people from all walks of life there.
Koenig said tropical art deco is a Malaysian derivation of art deco with unique features such as upper vents to cool the interiors through cross ventilation.
This feature was ahead of its time, he said, and can be replicated today in becoming more carbon neutral.
Other features include ship-like features such as portholes, the use of Shanghai plaster on the exterior, flagpoles, and aerodynamic streamlining, he said.
“It would be a pity if such a prime example of architectural ingenuity would be brought down,” he said. He said developers must retain at least the facade and its unique features for posterity.
He said the Rex was built as a standalone cinema at a time when cinemas were operating out of shophouses, which made it stand out among the rest.
The Rex building was one of the best examples of Boutcher’s work, he said. Boutcher also designed Kedah House, OCBC Bank, Sentosa Mansion, and the Cenotaph in George Town, and Zahir Mosque in Alor Setar.
The Rex building was constructed in 1938. Rex Cinema ceased operations in the early 2000s, when a furniture shop took over the building. Last year, the city council gave planning permission for the building to be demolished for a 27-storey condominium project.