Monday, March 05, 2007

Architectural Design of Traditional Malay House


Organised by: University Trisakti, Indonesia in collobration with Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Indonesia, University of Technology, Malaysia and Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan

Lilawati Ab Wahab1, Kamarul Syahril Kamal2, Husrul Nizam Husin3 and Mohd Azian Zaidi4
1234University Technology MARA, Malaysia


Design of the building always reflects people perspectives of the building for the first time. It’s not exempted for Malaysian vernacular house, which designed with a deep understanding and respect for nature. The vernacular house of Malays known as Traditional Malay house evolved along different lines in the various regions and states. If we look over peninsular Malaysia from Johore to Perlis, we can find 11 different designs of house. Each state has main characteristic, which vary from state to state. The evolution of the architectural design of Traditional Malay house must have derived from several influences such as migration and trade. Besides that, cultural, environmental needs, socioeconomic and religion was the big factor, which influenced the design too. Built mostly of timber, Traditional Malay house generally look like a same. Most of the house used local timber such as Cengal, Meranti, Damar Laut and Petaling. Looking to the forms and shapes of traditional dwellings we can find that the three elements that distinguish, at a glance. Basic design of the Malay house is the stilts on which it stands, its open plan and its pitched roof. Generally the house is same in function but different in design. Most of them offer the near perfect solutions to accommodating Malaysia’s tropical climate, but they incorporate flexibility in the design and use of space. This paper intends to focus more detail about the design of Traditional Malay house in Peninsular Malaysia, which will cover from common features of the house, history of the design and design characteristic for each house in Malaysia. Nowadays, most of vernacular house become hard to find. It’s become varnished because of modernization. As a Malaysian we must be proud to make sure it’s been conserve because the Traditional Malay house reflects and expresses the Malay way of life, which was evolved by the Malays over generations.

Keywords: Traditional Malay House, Architecture, Layout, Design Characteristic, Wood.


The architectural design of traditional Malay house is very unique on it own. Once look at 11 of them, its look alike but the styles is vary from state to state. The different especially the design of the house can be found easily. History and cultural factors influenced a lot in designing and setting traditional Malay house. In the early years, most of the traditional Malay house was build near streams and along the coast. Besides as a shelter, it is to fulfill the needs of life such as drawing water for drinking, bathing and washing. The location of the house makes the people aware for flash floods and high tides. Most of the house were raised off the ground on tree trunk or bamboo post which known as stilts because of the reason. Building on stilts was not only dictated by the need to protect against floods but it also afforded protection from ants, snakes and wild animals. Beside that it is used as utility area, serving as storage and ‘workshop space’ for the family. The traditional Malay house belongs to the Malays. This paper will look on Traditional Malay house in Peninsular Malaysia only since Malays can be find a lot in peninsular. Basically the Traditional Malay House can be identified based on the state where the houses are located and this house has been zoned into 4 areas. The zone has been identified referred to the feature of the house due to the historical ties especially migrant effects.

Zone 1 Johore, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor
Zone 2 Perak
Zone 3 Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang
Zone 4 Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.

Table 1: Zone area.


The Malays tradition affects a lot in Traditional Malay house design. The house has at least two entrances. The main entrance at the front always been used by visitors and males but entrance at the back one mostly used by women and children. The house is divided into three main areas, the ‘serambi’ (verandah), ‘rumah ibu’ (main house) and ‘dapur’ (kitchen). To separate the area, one slight floor level changes or doorways have been made between the areas. Besides the three main areas, some of the houses have the ‘anjung’ and passageway. The ‘anjung’ is a covered porch where used as a relax area for family members or guest. A passageway known as the ‘selang’ links the main house to the kitchen and provides an effective firebreak between the areas in the house. Most of the traditional Malay houses are constructed by local carpenters or by the owners themselves. The design and material used for traditional Malay house highly influences by socioeconomic, cultural and environmental needs. Most of the material used is readily available local material such as timber, bamboo and palm.

1. Johore Five Roofed House

The traditional Malay House in Johore well known as ‘Rumah Limas Bugis’ or Bugis Five-Roofed House. The house style is influenced by the Bugis of Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is easily recognized by the long ridged roof, which is joined to four ridges, which project outwards to the four edges of the roof. The special about it is the edge of the roof is decorated with carvings. This type of house can be found a lot in the Pontian District. The main characteristic of this house is that at the ends of each main ridge are upright sharp wooden projections. The layout design of traditional Malay house in Johore consists of the verandah, which is connected to the front room. The verandah always used as a living area for the family. It is separated from the main house by a wall. The main house and kitchen are separated by a passage. The materials used for construct ‘Rumah Limas Bugis’ include ‘Cengal’, ‘Keranji’, ‘Penak’ and ‘Meranti’ wood that can easily found in Malaysia.

2. Malacca Long Roofed House

‘Rumah Melayu Melaka’ or Malacca Malay House is the traditional Malay house that can be found in Malacca. It can still be found in the whole of Malacca today. It is only traditional Malay housed which mainly can be recognized by its glazed and multicoloured tiles on the staircases which are imported from Europe and China. Flowers are a common motif. The house evinces a mixture of architectural influences, which mainly adopted from the traditional Chinese house. In its original form, the main house of the Malacca Malay House stands on 12 or 16 main posts. The structure is made up of the main house, the central section and the kitchen. The main house is made up of the verandah and at times front room is added which has steps leading to it. In the central section is a room and separating the main house and the kitchen is a passage called ‘selang’. In the central section there is an attic used as a bedroom for the girls especially when there is a wedding ceremony and, also, as a storage space. The Malacca Malay house is normally built with ‘Cengal’, ‘Meranti’ and ‘Damar laut’ wood.

3. Negeri Sembilan Long Roofed House

Negeri Sembilan Long Roof House in Negeri Sembilan simply can be recognized by the design of the roof. It is the only house on the Malay to have a curved roof reminiscent of the Minangkabau roof of Sumatra. They are long and at the two ends of the roof are the gable ends, which arch upwards. The house is much smaller compare to other traditional house. The structure is made up of the main house, central section and the kitchen. Same like other traditional Malay house the main house is made up of the verandah and the front room. The central section is made up of a small living area and a room for family. The kitchen is at the back. The special about Negeri Sembilan Long Roof House is it has an attic, which is used as a bedroom for the girls or for storage.
4. Selangor Long Roofed House

The Selangor house dating back more than 60 years can still be found in the federal capital of Kuala Lumpur. These houses closely resemble those in Malacca and Negeri Sembilan due to their historical ties. This type of house is also known as the Long Roofed House as the roof consists of along, straight horizontal ridge and at the ends of the roof are the gable ends made from double-layered wood. The main house stands on 12 main posts, that is, 6 long posts and 6 shorter posts for the inner verandah. The house is made up of three components, that is, main house, central section and kitchen. The main house comprises a verandah, front room and room. It is made up of the extended verandah, room and central passage, which connect the main house to the kitchen. The most attractive of these houses are an open jutting verandah which serves as a reception room. The visitor will not enter the house but is welcomed on the landing or under the porch. The wood that always used are ‘Cengal’, ‘Giam’, ‘Damar Laut’, ‘Meranti’, ‘Kapur’ and ‘Kempas’ wood whilst the roof covering is from sago or ‘Nipah palm’.

5. Pahang Long Roofed House

Architecturally, traditional houses in Pahang have more common with those of the west coast states, perhaps because the Bugis, a seafaring people from Sulawesi built many of the earliest houses. The traditional Malay house in Pahang is known as ‘Rumah Serambi Pahang’. This particular type is increasingly becoming extinct. However, it can still be found in several villages in Pahang. The houses are typically lower to the ground, use smaller timbers and are less elaborately carved but it has a long roof where the gable ends are edged with carvings. It is composed of the main house and kitchen and in between is a passage. The kitchen was design with a jack roof to allow smoke to escape while cooking. It is also includes several other sections. At the front is the verandah followed by the main house, which includes 2 other sections, a raised platform and a living area. The different in terms of section for this house is at the back of the house has a back verandah known as ‘ruang kelek anak’. The kitchen comprises the main kitchen area and a landing for cooking and used as a waiting room for women respectively.

6. Perak Long Roofed House

The traditional Malay house in Perak is called the ‘Rumah Kutai’. ‘Kutai’ means old. Rumah Kutai only located by the banks of the Perak River. We can easily find it in the Central District, Lower Perak and Kuala Kangsar. The Rumah Kutai has rare traditional long roof with the gable end. Most of the house has an attic at the base of the gable end, which used mainly for storage. The walls and floors of Rumah Kutai made entirely of bamboo matting, which allow natural ventilation and reduce glare. It’s different from other traditional house, which prefers used timber as a wall and floor panel. The main section of the Rumah Kutai has 12 or 16 posts. The interior is undivided and on the same level. It is made up of the verandah, living room and a room. At the back is the kitchen, which is separated by an unroofed passage. The window and door openings constructed very small and its effects the lighting in the house which make the house often very dark. The main materials used are wood and bamboo. Wood is used for the posts and roof framework whilst the walls and floor are made of bamboo and the roof covering is from the sago palm.

7. Penang Long Roofed House

There are different types of traditional Malay house can be found in Penang such as the Long Roofed House, ‘Rumah Serambi’ and ‘Rumah Serambi Gajah Menyusu’. ‘Serambi means verandah and ‘Gajah Menyusu’ means an elephant suckling her young. These various traditional houses are increasingly becoming extinct. The latter is recognized by the shape of its roof whereby the roof of the main house is higher than the roof of the verandah. This particular structure is akin to an elephant suckling her young. The architecture is made up of a long horizontal roof with gable ends at the ends. The whole structure is made up of a main house and a kitchen. The house is divided into the extended verandah located in front of the verandah, the central section, the inner verandah, the ‘ruang gajah menyusu’ and the kitchen. The materials used in the building of the house are ‘Cengal’ and ‘Meranti’ wood and the roof covering is from the sago palm.

8. Kedah Long Roofed House

The location of Kedah and Perlis makes the shape of the Kedah Long Roofed House and Perlis Long Roofed House almost similar except for the arrangement of the various sections of the house. The arrangement of the Kedah Long Roofed House is elongated and has a long horizontal roof with gable ends at the ends. The kitchen roof is lower than that of the main house and the whole structure looks quite like an elephant suckling her young. The house divided into two sections. The verandah and the extended verandah located in the front. The central section, inner verandah, room and kitchen are located at the back. The Kedah Long Roofed House stands on several posts or stilts of which the main house has more than 20 posts. The materials normally used are ‘Cengal’, ‘Meranti’ and ‘Damar Laut’ wood and bamboo. The roof covering is from sago and ‘Nipah’ palm and Senggora tiles. It walls are made from flattened bamboo strips interwoven in a pattern.

9. Perlis Long Roofed House

Nowadays the Perlis Long Roofed House is hard to find and this type of house slowly becoming extinct. The house dates back more than 70 years. The Perlis Long Roofed House, standing on more than such 24 posts comprises numerous posts or stilts at times. It has an elongated shape and a horizontal roof with gable ends at the ends. The building is composed of the main house and kitchen. The main house comprises the verandah, rooms, central section and visitor’s lounge. The kitchen is not separated by a dividing wall but only by a passage called the ‘ruang selang’. The Perlis Long Roofed House is made from ‘Cengal’ and ‘Damar laut’ wood. Its walls are made from flattened bamboo strips interwoven in a pattern. Its roofing is made of sago or ‘Nipah’ palm and at times, Senggora tiles.

10. Kelantan Long Roofed House

Traditional Malay house in Kelantan can be found in two types. They are the Single house and the Twelve Post House. The architecture of both does not differ greatly. The Twelve Post House still can be found in several villages as well as in Kota Bahru and dates back about 100 years. The house styles are very different with other states and features similar to Thailand and Cambodian house. These include steep and tiered roofs with curved gable ends. The Kelantan Long Roofed house consists of 12 main posts for the main house and 6 long posts. The top pair is called ‘main’ and the bottom pair is called verandah. The walls are made of wooden panels decorated with carvings. The roofing is made of senggora tiles, which are Thai in origin but have been made locally. The Twelve Post House in its original form is made up of three main sections. That is, the main house which has verandah, the central section and the kitchen. The central section and kitchen are not sub-divided into rooms.

11. Terengganu Five Roofed House

One of the traditional Malay houses are found in Terengganu is the’ Rumah Limas Bungkus’, which means five-roofed house. It can be found in the Besut District. It is popular among the Terengganu Malays since the 20th century. Unfortunately, none are found today and those exist today date back only 40 or 50 years. The house can be easily recognized. The roof consists of a straight central ridge with four shorter ridges projecting down to the four edges of the roof. The edging immediately beneath the roofing is decorated with wooden carvings. This particular house can be found in several forms. Some are long and some are square in shape. It is made up of the front room, verandah, central section and kitchen. Same like Kelantan traditional house, they are mainly built from ‘Cengal’, ‘Meranti’ or ‘Kapur’ wood. The roofing is made from senggora tiles imported from Thailand though are some locally made. The house set apart by their detailing, the construction of the walls and roof and in particular the intricate carvings.


A number of different can be distinguished and a brief description of the main characteristic among the 11 houses can be described as follow:

Johore Five Roofed House-Long ridge, Carved roof and wood projection.
Malacca Long Roofed House-12-18 post, tiles staircase and attic.
Negeri Sembilan Long Roofed House-Minangkabau roof and attic.
Selangor Long Roofed House-12 post and open jutting verandah.
Pahang Long Roofed House-Lower to the ground, smaller timber, carved gable end and ruang kelek anak.
Perak Long Roofed House-12-16 post, small opening, long roof, attic and bamboo matting.
Penang Long Roofed House-Higher roof and structure like an elephant suckling the baby.
Kedah Long Roofed House-20 post, long roof, structure like an elephant suckling the baby and bamboo wall.
Perlis Long Roofed House-24 post, bamboo wall and senggora tiles.
Kelantan Long Roofed House-12 main posts, wooden carved wall, curved gable and senggora tiles.
Terengganu Five-Roofed House-5 roof and carved fascia board and wall.

Table 2: The differences of Traditional Malay houses.


The design of the traditional Malay house not only reflects the identity of the owner but its also show the socioeconomic, cultural and history of the past. The traditional Malay house featured Malays in all way. The different between the house in every state showed that Malays itself is not the same. Each of them has their own perceptions in designing of the house influenced by a different factor. Our children should realize their own identity through the traditional buildings. Otherwise they will think that their identity is same like other country. Traditional buildings are importance to a country. The traditional Malay house has been endangered by the onslaught of modern development on the Malaysia. It has been faced so many change such as from timber house to brick house. As a truly Malaysian, we supposed to realise and have some feeling to love and appreciate our heritage from varnished. We shall take an action such as revival of traditional architectural design to be applied in our terrace, bungalow even flat house. An adaptation must be done such as displaying Malay roof styles and forms rather than used ordinary roof, which is lack in tradition and aesthetic value.


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Anonymous said...

very good info..

Anonymous said...

thank..its very looking for the cut section through the long-roofed of malay you have any???

Anonymous said...

Good info. would be more interesting if accompanied with the diagrams.

Umran Suffian said...

currently im doing a research on islamic spiritual influences on housing selection.. can u help me..
my email..
thank you

Ariana Drianne said...

Awesome Dr!
Actually i'm looking for something different about malay house and also selangor house.
Full of art!!
So, i hope you can share another info.

Unknown said...

Very useful..

Unknown said...

Very useful..