Talk to any local Penangite about Komtar and you’ll be greeted with a combination of both awe and national pride.
To outsiders, this sense of wonder can seem misplaced, given that Komtar amounts to little other than a concrete and glass monstrosity.
Phallic in design with its brutalist 1980’s architecture, its construction required the wholesale demolition of hundreds of colonial-era shophouses, schools and temples around the 11-hectare site – displacing established neighborhoods in the process.
Today it stands as a big finger to the local communities it was supposed to serve and a stark reminder of the “development at all costs” mindset that once prevailed in Penang and perhaps arguably still does.
The tower was completed in 1985, making it the tallest skyscraper in Malaysia at the time. Which is perhaps why Penang people hold it near and dear, while to others, it’s little more than a glorified hellhole.
Komtar was supposed to “revitalise” George Town, but by the early 2000’s it had become a monumental white elephant.
The destruction of entire neighborhoods during its construction phase forced many local residents and businesses to relocate – effectively depriving the new tenants with a local community of customers.
Potential tenants and the general public alike, were left unimpressed with Komtar’s poor maintenance, its confusing interior layout, and dim, garbage-strewn corridors. The fact that it resembled a giant dis-used toilet didn’t help.
It was estimated that by 2008, some 40% of retailers had left the building, while many others simply abandoned their shoplots without opening in the first place.
In recent times, there has been considerable effort to once again revitalise the building, and many of the homeless derelicts that once slept on the steps and corridors have since moved on.
Today, it’s little more than an eyesore, the likes of which hopefully won’t be seen again.