Cherishing her father’s legacy

By S. ISTA KYRA | nst_ipoh@yahoo.com

ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE: Ruth Iversen Rollit is working on a book about her father, Berthel Michael Iversen, who designed many of Ipoh’s landmarks

IPOH: RUTH Iversen Rollit, daughter of Danish architect Berthel Michael Iversen, said her architect father used to take her on evening car rides around town to makan angin while he assessed the condition of the buildings that he had designed.

“It was part of his routine to ensure that his architecture was purposeful and sensible for its inhabitants, even after his designs were lifted from the drawing board,” said the 74-year-old woman.

Iversen was responsible for creating many of Ipoh’s landmarks including a chain of Shaw Brothers’ cinema halls such as the Rex, Lido, Ruby, Cathay and Majestic theatres, the grandstand at the Ipoh Race Course, Jubilee Park and Mercantile Bank.

Rollit said her father was a perfectionist and meticulous about his work.

Iversen, who arrived in Malaya in 1928, went on to start his own architecture firm in Ipoh and became widely sought after for his unique, simple and practical designs.

Owning an Iversen-designed home or building came to be regarded a status symbol among the wealthy, but the architect did not work exclusively for the rich.

“He was not averse to working for a modest budget and obliged the humblest client. One example of this was his work for a school building in Sungai Siput,” said Rollit.

His firm — Iversen, Van Smitteren & Partners — had offices in Ipoh, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and was involved in key projects including the Federal House in Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and Loke Yew Building near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur.

During the 40 years that he lived and work in the country, Iversen left his mark in the form of many houses, government buildings, hospitals, schools, radio stations and churches. Some of them are still standing today.

For Rollit, the structures are her father’s precious legacy and despite having settled in London for over 30 years, she regularly returns to look at them.

“I have developed an eye for recognising his style from the buildings that he pointed out to me in our leisurely car-ride sessions.

“His designs stand out for their simplicity, elegance and practicality,” she said.

Rollit said she regarded Ipoh as the hometown of her growing years.

“My fondest memories here was when I lived with my father, mother and elder brother at No 1, Tambun Road,” she said.

The house, which has been torn down, was also designed by her father.

“The premises comprised a quaint house and spacious garden which extended to where a roundabout is located now near the menteri besar’s official residence,” she said.

She said over the years she had heard that many of the buildings designed by her father were being lost either to dilapidation or demolition.

“It causes me much sorrow and heartache to learn of the destruction of my father’s buildings.

“I believe that each one held a special place in his heart and it is alarming how his works are slowly disappearing from the landscape.

“I fear, with it, the soul and charm that this town had so much pride in is also disappearing,” she said.

She suggested that instead of bringing down old structures, preservation and conservation efforts could help to tap the town’s tourism potential.

Rollit is working on a memoir of her father based on his letters to her mother and the thousands of photographs that he left behind.

She said the pictorial book, which she started working on three years ago, was nearing completion.

“I have inherited a treasure trove of pictures depicting Ipoh and its landmarks that I hope to include in my book.”

Ruth Iversen Rollit outside a house in Jalan Raja Nazrin Shah that she said was designed by her father. Pic by Wong Tuck Keong

 

Originally published 05 February 2013 in New Straits Times