A jury of 12 conservation experts gave Stadium Merdeka the Award of Excellence and the Suffolk house in Penang the Award of Distinction in the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture and Heritage Conservation held in Bangkok (NST Sept 8, 08)
For those who fought hard to preserve the stadium’s historical importance, the award is a well earned recognition for a national monument that Malaysians accept as the symbol of our nationhood and its birth.
Not all share the belief unfortunately, and in the late 90s, the fate of Merdeka Stadium laid precariously in the hands of development juggernaut. A would-be victim of an outrageous trading chip by Tun Mahathir to fund his fancy Commonwealth Sports Complex in Bukit Jalil.
The more cynical ones perceived it all part of an elaborate scheme to discard the memoirs of our beloved Tunku - Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. However, the arrival of Pak Lah a decade later at the power helm, finally offered a ray of hope to the iconic football stadium.
Award-winning architect cum conservationist Laurence Poh was put in charge to put glory back to Stadium Merdeka. Soon, an army of jackhammers and hard hats descended on the bitumen track and concrete stands to give the stadium a new facelift.
Its seating capacity of previous high of 60,000 was scaled back to the heydays of Merdeka at under 20,000. The reduced seating capacity is far from the days when the Stadium housed Malaysia as an Asian football power house, but the new overall look is similar to what Tunku had envisioned when he led JKR engineers to transform Kuala Lumpur in time to celebrate our independence from the British.
At the core of the conservation plan is the preservation of the main façade of the grandstand. A mini museum cum photo gallery was included to showcase the stadium and its many historical events.