From Maidan to Padang

By 1629, the maidan (a word originating from arabic that means an open ground usually used for parades and events) of Isfahan was surrounded by important state and public buildings. In Kolkata in 1773, the British created a wide open field in front of Fort William to allow for a clear defence from any attack, but ended up being used primarily as a recreation site. Soon after, this typology of urban field appeared in Penang in 1786, and in Singapore after the 1820s.

The British manipulated the functions and representations of this architecture to craft a space for surveillance of the commoners, to demonstrate its military might, and for other purposes of governance, recreation and exhibitions. All of this took place against the theatrical backdrop of British civilisation imposed on faraway lands.

Whethere it is known as a maidan or a padang (a malay word meaning “a playing field”), the insertion of such open spaces with a common and seemingly neutral purpose of hosting public activities has continued in contemporary Singapore and Malaysia, in more contemporary formats such as a stadium.