Malaysia’s Traditional Shop Houses: Influences of British Colonization and Migration

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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1. 0 Introduction During the 19th century, Malaya had been colonised by the British and many Chinese and Indian had migrates to Malaya. As a city, Kuala Lumpur had become the most crowded and fast development place. Many colonial and migrations stay at Kuala Lumpur. Through colonisation and migration, both knowledge and methods of house construction had been adapted to the Malaya architecture during that time. Therefore there are many heritage buildings especially the Chinese shop houses had been influence by the foreign design.

In this essay, I had make a field trip to Petaling Street to collect photographs of shophouses. Through the characteristic of the design of the shophouses I need to identify the Malaysia and foreign design influences of the traditional shop houses in Petaling Street. Description and contrast had been made of the influences of the shop houses by comparing the buildings which the structures had been influence by. 2. 0 Background 2. 1 British Colonisation In Malaysia During 19-20 Century Figure 1: Tin mine Tim mining, a popular activity amongst there and they increases many Chinese workers to migrates to Malaya (figure 1).

Chinese migrates brought their tradition dwelling design where the two storey Chinese shop houses becomes common. “During British colonise Malaya, many public and private building had been built by the British which contain the mixture of architecture styles such as Renaissance, Palladia, Neoclassical and revived Gothic because Kuala Lumpur has become the Federal Capital and Headquarters of the Resident General. ” (Mohammad Iza,(2010),p. 45. ) 2. 2 Shophouses Before 1880's Chinese shophouses was a very simple construction of one storey houses which only use wooden parts supporting on attap roof which is open to the street.

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While the rear section of the shophouses was usually built on piles over a river to facilitate the delivery of goods. Most of the construction is use the locally available materials combine with Chinese architecture influence. Therefore curved gable are glazed ornamental tiles are some of the Chinese shop houses characteristic. Moreover the stucco decorations is the intention of which was to emphasis the character and background of the owner. The early shophouses are build in rows with uniforms facades and a continuous, covered five-foot way in front (figure 2).

There are also jack roof on the shop houses which rise above the main roof to allowed accumulated hot air in the house to escape (figure 3). Besides that, there is also low rickety, shuttered window on the front of the first floor. Figure 2: Five-foot way Figure 3: Jack roof “Before World War II, the commercial centre of every Malaysian town was featured by one or more streets lined with usually two storeys high shophouses, where trading were occurred at the lower floor and the upper floors as residential accommodation area. ” (Anon,(2008),p. 44. However, the position of the shop and residential space might be different depending on the number of floors of a shophouse. For an example, a single story shophouse tends to include residential area behind the shop; while for the shophouses of two or more storeys have residential space typically located above the shop. Early masonry shophouses were often built around 6-7 metres wide and 30 metres deep occasionally extended to 60 metres according to its location. They were often built in rows with uniform facades and a covered five-foot way in front of the shophouse. The five-foot way was first imposed by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, a British colonial administration that founded the city of Singapore in 1822. ”(online,www. wikipedia. com). It is an old practice specifying that all shophouses should include a minimum five-foot-wide veranda on the ground floor. This building tradition addressed the extremes of the tropical sun and rain, and created pedestrian linkages at ground level. These shaded areas were conducive to the shopkeepers by providing an extra space area to displaying their products (figure 4) .

Apart from that, the typical Chinese shophouse was built in rows with a common wall between each unit. The walls that separate the shophouses are generally constructed by local manufactured baked clay. They are structural, load bearing walls to transfer the weight of the roof and upper floors down to the ground. Besides, the front of the shophouse on the ground floor has no walls, enabling goods to be displayed along the full width (figure 5) . Since the shophouse has no front walls, the front will be boarded up with fitted timber panels and secured with horizontal bars to lock up the shop.

In addition, to ventilate the shophouse, a central courtyard can be found inside, which was later reduced to an airwell when space became more precious (figure 6). It was built to cool the building before the air-conditioning was invented. Courtyards were typically for residence all over China especially in the less densely populated areas of the north where they were located at the central of the layout, which often surrounded by high walls. Besides, a lane was also allocated at the back of the shophouse as a sanitary lane.

It is a space found in between two rows of shophouses that faced back to back. This lane allows bullock carts to collect night soil as well as for safety purpose, for example, allow access for a fire truck when required. Figure 4: Displaying their products at the five-foot way Figure 5: Ground floor of the shophouses has no front walls Figure 6: Airwell found in one of the shophouse 2. 3 Foreign architecture and design influence There are five types of shophouses, Traditional, Neoclassical, Dutch Patrician, Art Deco and Modern.

There are three principal varieties of shop houses during 1930's to 1940's which are Utilitarian design is made by simple wooden shutters and a minimum of decorations. While the Neoclassical design had elaborate the Greek and Roman columns and arnately decorate the Greek and Roman columns and arnately decorated window frames, pediments, paraprets and cornices. However Art Deco is the simplest design which only use simplified lines and geometrical patterns to decorate. The Noeclassical style can by recognised by a Grecian pediment (figure 7) , columns (figure 8) and moulded plasters swags decorated the facade.

Besides, some of the Neoclassical style include a parapet and the top of the building and ornate window frames. Different from the Neoclassical, Dutch Patrician design as a Dutch-inspired gable was adopted for the front facade of the shop houses. Figure 7: Neoclassical pediment Figure 8: Original style Neoclassical column Art Deco was started during 1930's. The design only contain geometrical shapes and simplified lines were departure from the 1920's style. The ground floor and windows are not original.

This is because it is from traditional vernacular and Western Neoclassical styles to Early Modernism and International style. Art Deco style had marked the transition from traditional vernacular and Western Neoclassical styles to Early Modernism and International style. 3. 0 Analysis 3. 1 Compare and contrast between Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown shophouses to the original foreign Neoclassical styles Figure 3. 1. 1: High ceiling found in Petaling Street shophouses(left) and St. George Hall, London(right). One of the special feature in Neoclassical architecture is high ceiling. High ceilings (Figure 3. . 1), tend to help to ventilate the air in the building through convection process, where the hot air rises and cool air sinks, as a result, the house will be cooling. The shophouses these days have a standard height of 8 metres, where space had become more precious besides saving cost. Figure 3. 1. 2: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Rue De Rivoli, Paris(right) painted in white or pastel colours. Apart from the high ceiling, Neoclassical buildings are often painted in white or pastel colours (Figure 3. 1. 2). White and pastel colours are bright and attracts people’s attention.

Furthermore, these colours are poor conductor of heat, they helps to reflect more of the visible light spectrum, causing the particular building to be as cooling as posible. This may be the reason why the buildings in Neoclassical period painted in this series of colour. Figure 3. 1. 3: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Arc De Thriump, Paris(right) with parapet on the top. Parapet (Figure 3. 1. 3) is a wall-like structure at the edge of a roof, which served as a fire wall, that prevents the flames from coming up to the exterior of the building, igniting the roofing membrane.

In addition, it also modifieds the wind flow over the roof so that the pressure exerted is distributed evenly to prevent it from collapsing. Figure 3. 1. 4: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Madeleine Church, Paris(right) with pediment. A pediment is a classical architectural element which consist of the triangular section found on top of a building, supported by the columns. It is founded in the classical Greek temples, Renaissance, and Neoclassical architecture. The pediment of Madeleine Church, Paris is filled with relief sculptures while the one found in Petaling Street shophouses are filled with floral sculptures (Figure 3. . 4). Figure 3. 1. 5: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and New York City Hall(right) columns. A column is an upright pillar which supports a beam or a roof, sometimes it might just simple for decoration purposes. There are 3 types of columns which is doric (oldest and simplest of classical orders), ionic (more complex than doric, with a scroll on top) and corinthian (with most ornate). Ionic order is found in the Petaling Street shophouses, while New York City Hall contained the doric order (Figure 3. 1. 5). Figure 3. 1. 6: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and New York City Hall(right) are symmetrical.

Symmetry and balance are the most pedominat characteristic of Neoclassical buildings. This feature is recognizable easily as the left and the right portion of the building is the same to maintain the balance of the building so that it does not fall (Figure 3. 1. 6). 3. 2 Compare and contrast between Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown shophouses to the original foreign Art Deco styles Figure 3. 2. 1: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Caisse Nationale d'Economie, Monteal (right) with flag pole. Concrete flagpoles are one of the common feature of Art Deco buildings (Figure 3. 2. 1).

The flagpoles are stretched from the top of the building with bands or motif sculptured at the base of the poles as if it is attached to the wall of facade. Figure 3. 2. 2: Petaling Street shophouses column(left) and Patel’s Building, Durban’s column(right). On the other hand, Petaling Street shophouses and Patel’s Building (Figure 3. 2. 2) both have geometrical shapes running down the column, which is also a common feature of Art Deco architecture. Nonetheless, Petaling Street’s column has a mixture of both Art Deco and Neoclassical styles as on top of it’s column, since there’s some swirls on it which belonged to Ionic order.

Figure 3. 2. 3: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Caisse Nationale d'Economie, Monteal’s (right) mouldings. Furthermore, plaster moulding is another characteristic of Art Deco architecture. Shanghai plaster is commonly used as it provides the same visual effect as stone and it’s a cheaper building material. This finished plaster was usually left in it’s original colour, sometimes painted in the pastel colour of the era. The fine vertical lines plaster moulding at Petaling Street shophouses and Caisse Nationale d'Economie, Monteal are easily recognizable (Figure 3. 2. 3). Figure 3. 2. : Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Thorp Coffee House(right) stated the year it was built. To the contrary, Art Deco buildings usually state the year that it was built on the top of the building. For example, the particular Shophouse in Petaling Street was built in the year 1910, therefore, the figure 1910 is placed on the top of the building as well as for Thorp Coffee House (Figure 3. 2. 4). Figure 3. 2. 5: Petaling Street shophouses(left) and Louis Hay’s Office(right) with air vents. Lastly, Art Deco buildings have horizontal air vents usually located above the windows (Figure 3. 2. 5).

The air vent is placed above the window to cool down the interior of the building as hot air are less dense and rises up, thus, escaping through the air vents. 4. 0 Conclusion Through compare and contrast of the different style of the shop houses, we able find out that the different style of the shop houses was influence by different background. From the 18th century until now we can see that the style of the Chinese shop houses change according to the place the shop houses was built. Beside that, the structure of the shop houses also depends to the need of the owner and the period of time those shop houses was built.

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Malaysia’s Traditional Shop Houses: Influences of British Colonization and Migration. (2017, Dec 23). Retrieved from

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