Urban conservation issues in Brunei Darussalam: the case of Brunei's water villages
The built heritage of Brunei is an important resource for the nation. Indeed, the history of urban settlements, especially the water villages are examples of some of the earliest settlements within the country and region. In this context, the water villages of Brunei constitute some of the largest and most historic Malay water settlements in the world. In many ways their unique character and cultural activities still sustain a way of life which is fast disappearing elsewhere. Even within Brunei, however, increasing development pressures and a desire for improved living conditions are having a significant impact upon the physical and social fabric of these settlements. For example over the past two decades unprecedented changes have occurred in the traditional architectural styles of the kampongs. As a result, much of the original building forms have been replaced with modern replicas. Similar changes have also occurred in societal terms with traditional working and craft practices giving way to more contemporary activities. The Government of Brunei has recongnized some of these challenges and has been increasingly active in trying to maintain the physical and social fabric by introducing a range of policy initiatives. These have, in the main, included town planning, environmental health, employment and pollution controls. Nevertheless changing socio-economic circumstances still continue to have an impact upon the heritage and culture of these settlements. It is therefore becoming increasingly urgent that new conservation initiatives are taken if new economic opportunities, brought about by economic diversification (i.e. tourism), can be maximized. The paper explores the growing tensions between the cultural traditions of Brunei, the desire for modern development and the need to secure a balance between western planning philosophies and local traditions. The paper concludes that as a result it will become increasingly important to reclaim heritage through improvement, enhancement, protection and increased public awareness, if heritage resources in Brunei, such as Kampong Ayer, are to be adequately conserved and sustained for the future prosperity of the country.