Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Typology of Shophouses in Malaysia

Early Shophouses Style
Early Transitional Style
Early Straits Electic Style
Late Straits Electic Style
Neo Classical Style
Art Deco Style
Early Modern Style
Source: Department of National Heritage, KeKKWa

Categories and Styles of Shophouses and Townhouses in Malacca and George Town, Malaysia

Within the Core Zone of the Historic City of Melaka there are more than 600 shophouses and town houses of different styles and influences, which can be divided into several categories, depending on their façade designs and such as:
  • Dutch Style
  • Southern China Style
  • Early Shophouse Style
  • Early Transitional Style
  • Early Straits Eclectic Style
  • Late Straits Eclectic Style
  • Neo-Classical Style
  • Art-Deco Style
  • Early Modern Style
Like the Historic City of Melaka, George Town also have large collection of shophouses and townhouses within its Core and Buffer Zones numbering more than 1700 buildings in different styles and types. All of these buildings normally have similar plan configuration as well as materials used. What makes them look different is their façade. These shophouses extend to the street without any forecourt. From the outside one can see only the concrete walls with long rectangular windows for the upper level and the roof which was made of tiles. The upper floor projects out to cover the verandah in front of the main entrance. The façade is often designed in a symmetrical organization in which the entrance is located in the middle with windows on both sides. There are several different architectural styles of shophoouses on the street. Some have stylistic trends of the different periods on the front façade. Architecturally, the shophouses and townhouses in the Historic City of George Town can be grouped into seven categories, depending on their façade designs. The seven groups are:
  • Early Shophouse Style 1800 – 1850’s
  • Early Transitional Style 1840 – 1900’s
  • Early Straits Eclectic Style 1890 – 1920’s
  • Late Straits Eclectic Style 1920 – 1940’s
  • Neo-Classical Style 19th – early 20th century
  • Art Deco Style 1930 – 1950’s
  • Early Modern Style Post war

The shophouses and townhouses in the Historic City of Melaka and George Town share similar spatial planning, form, architectural design and styles. Generally can be divided into at least nine major groups depending on their façade design and the period they were built; as follows:

Table 1 : Categories of shophouses and townhouses in the Historic Cities of Melaka and George Town

No of Styles at Melaka George Town
1. Dutch Style. (17th - 18th century) x
2. Southern China Style (18th – early 19th century) x
3. Early Shophouse Style (1800 – 1850’s) x x
4. Early Transitional Style (1840 – 1900’s) x x
5. Early Straits Eclectic Style (1890 -1920’s) x x
6. Late Straits Eclectic Style (1920 -1940’s) x x
7. Neo-Classical Style (19th – early 20th century) x x
8. Art-Deco Style (1930-1950’s) x x
9. Early Modern Style (Post War) x x

No 1 : Dutch Style
The Dutch style is the earliest type and can only be found in the Historic City of Melaka, mainly on Heeren Street. Originally built by the Dutch in the 17th century these type of shophouses and townhouses are either one or two storey height with simple façade design with limited openings on the upper floor, normally with only one centralized or at the most two symmetrical windows. The ground floor are mostly now being used as residential rather than shops, with symmetrical façade design of centralized door and two side windows The five foot way is not connected to the adjacent buildings therefore this type of buildings have private entrance porch. Structurally the walls are of dutchbrick and plastered with lime, the roof structure is of timber.

No 2: Southern China Style
The Chinese population in Malaysia generally and in Melaka particularly, mainly came from Southern China. Like for the Baba Nyonya Museum at Heeren Streets, the architectural tradition followed was a modified version of the "Chinese National" or northern style. This architecture embodies the spiritual notion of harmony with nature. This is manifested in the symbolism of the ornaments that are used to convey luck, directions, seasons, the winds and constellations. The fundamental concepts of Chinese architecture are the courtyard, emphasis on the roof, exposure of structural elements and the use of colour. Structurally the walls are of brick and plastered with lime, the roof structure is of timber.

No 3: Early Shophouses
The early form of two storey type of shophouses is built to the street edge with recessed ground floor forming a pedestrian walkway, generally simple in detail and relatively low in scale. With masonry dividing wall, they are normally built in rows with simple pitched roof. The façade is a means of filling the space between the two end walls. The upper floor façade supported by squat pillars project over the pedestrian walkway, and consists mostly of timber construction with continuous row of paneled or louvered shutters. The spandrel is of either timber (for the earlier type) or masonry while the upper beam is generally placed directly above the window opening, leaving no room for frieze and with exposed roof rafters forming an overhang and simple fascia board. The upper floor façade is bordered by plain masonry pilasters at each side and the ground floor has full width opening. Structurally, buildings of this style incorporate masonry dividing walls with timber upper floor and tiled roof.

No 4: Early Transitional Style
The two storey structures are built to the street edge and incorporate a five foot pedestrian walkway which is subsequently known as ‘five footway’ and is well entrenched in the style by the middle of the nineteenth century. Expressive gable ends to rows. Ornamentation is minimal with the upper consoles often enlarged and decorated with floral motifs, simple decoration to the spandrel 9eg. Green glazed ceramic vents) and plain pilasters. The usual orders adopted are the Tuscan and Doric. Upper floor openings, with a row of continuous timber shutters are common. Cornices or horizontal mouldings along the beam make the strycture appear heavy. Structurally, buildings of this style incorporate the use of masonry dividing walls with timber upper floor, tiled roof and timber beam.

No 5: Early Straits Eclectic Style
The transitional style is characterized by buildings with relatively restrained use of ornaments on its façade. Doors and windows remain predominantly timber framed and shuttered although the use of glass in small plates on the shutters later became common. Transoms are flat arched or semicircular infilled with glass. Vents are employed with an elegance of economy, architectural composition as squares or diamond between windows. Ground floor masonry walls have symmetrical double doors, a pair of window and bat shape vents above. The style incorporates many of the features of the ‘grand’ classical style, reinterpreted and adopted to suit the shophouses vernacular may include pediments, pilasters, keystones and arches. From 1910’s the use of reinforced concrete allowed wide roof overhangs and more elaborate cantilevered concrete decoration (consoles). This style exhibits almost exclusively a bipartite elevation order, i.e elevation with two windows. Structurally, buildings of this style incorporate extensive use of masonry with the introduction of reinforced concrete lintels and beams, timber upper floor and tiled roofs.

No 6: Late Straits Eclectic Style
This the most spectacular style particularly in the use of ornamentation. The tripartite arrangement of three windows on the façade reduces the actual wall space to the minimum and provides maximum ventilation. In later examples, the wall surface is replaced by columns or pilasters framing the windows. The constrained indigenous façade designs borrowed freely from the various ethnic traditions. Chinese panel frescoes are often combined with Malay timber fretworks that fringe the cape of the roof. Brightly coloured ceramic tiles and plaster delicately moulded into bouquets, festoons, plagues and other elaborate ornamentation bear testimony to the artistry of the shophouse builders. The development of reinforced concrete in the 1910’s enabled large spans to be achieved and more elaborate cantilevered details to be incorporated into facades. Structurally, buildings of this style incorporate extensive use of masonry with first floor timber fenestration and tiled roof.

No 7: Neo-Classical Style
The Last phase of European Classicism of the late 18th and early 19th century characterised by monumentality, a sparing used of ornament and strict used of the Orders Of Architecture. Studiously proportioned which sometimes incorporate portico, colonnade and cupola(s) in the design. Evidently, the style which was carried through into the early 20th century was influenced by Anglo-Indian Architecture through colonial British with East Indian Company which brought influences practical to their tropical experience, which are typified by high ceilings, large porches and painted in pastel or white finishing on exterior and interior walls that can be seen in the colonial government buildings and bungalows for European masters in all major cities such as buildings along Weld Quay. Most non-tropical forms used is the Palladian system of neo-greek column, pediments and fenestration, neo-Roman arches and domes, and Renaissance parapets, turrets, cupalos, quoins, espadanas, surrounds, staircases and balconies.

No 8: Art-Deco Style
Art Deco is a decorative style widely used between the 1930’s and 1950’s. The style is characterised by the use of straight lines (typically three parallel) arranged either vertically or horizontally in conjunction with other geometric elements, creating a strong vertical or horizontal emphasis to the structure. A granulated render adapted from and regionally known as “Shanghai Plaster” was introduced at this time and was commonly utilised. The exuberant classical decoration of earlier style became much more restrained and in many cases was stripped completely. Windows are arranged in groups rather than the typical three bays commonly observed in the earlier shophouses style (casement shutters). Highlighting the date of construction on the facade of the building as well as the use of metal frame windows is typical of this period of architecture. Structurally, buildings of this style are or reinforced concrete masonry rendered or Shanghai plastered. Development or reinforced concrete resulted in cantilevered sunshades and high pediment or parapet wall.

No 9 : Early Modern Style
Following the development in western art and architecture from the end of the 19th century to its pinnacles in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It actually embraces a wide variety of movements, theories, and attitudes whose modernity resides in a common tendency to repudiate past architecture. Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies Van de Rohe were the important figures in the general trend towards a radically ornamented, simplified approach to architectural style. Built with reason, form by character and the aesthetic quality of which came from the simplicity of their form and the abstract relationship of solid surfaces and large, clean cut openings rather than from applied ornament or decoration. The trend soon caught up in the country after the war. Although in moving design away from the quaint and craftsmanship, local influences were not disregarded but were adapted to form a unique modern style. Structurally, the buildings of this style use reinforced concrete.

Categories and Planning Principles of Shophouses in the Historic City of Melaka and George Town, Malaysia

In general the shophouses the Historic City of Melaka can be divided into
five categories and in the Historic City of George Town into six categories
depending on their façade design and the period they were built.
However, in term of internal planning, all these building share similar
characteristics.

Each shophouses is not a free standing building, rather it is connected to
several other houses to form a block. A block may consist several units
and they stand parallel with similar block along the same street. The
planning principles were traceable to Chinese origins which were austere
and formal. The principle underlying this is bilateral symmetry along
a single axis running north to south. All the primary elements are
arranged along this axis and the secondary elements developed
transversely to it. This automatically results in the typical shape of
Chinese buildings, either a rectangle or a square.

Houses built in the town are planned with a view to economise in
materials, space and street frontage, and to guarantee security against
theft. Even the general layout of a cluster of buildings was formal in
character. It was impossible to place minor rooms around an air well
because of the limited width of the building, therefore, the houses
resorted to a series of rooms after successive courtyards arranged
longitudinally.

The important elements of the house were the ancestral hall, the
sitting room and the air well. The ancestral hall was the most
important element in a Chinese building. It was here that ceremonies to
the dead were performed. The room consisted of an altar and straight
back chairs lining the walls. According to custom an air well must be
placed before the ancestral hall so that the first person to pray could call
in the spirit of the deceased. The sitting room came next in importance.
It was here where guests were received. It was usually along area that
was split in sections, for men and women.

In China the open courtyard with trees and bushes was an essential
element in a building. When this concept was brought to Malaysia it was
modified by paving much of the courtyard. Later, the whole area of the
courtyard was paved and made smaller, hence the term “open air well”.
According to the Chinese, air and water are symbols of wealth, peace,
tranquility and good luck which may be the reason why no attempt was
made to put a roof over an air well. Geomancy or "Feng Shui" (the art of
divining the future for good or ill-fortune based on prescribed principles)
played an important part in the orientation and the site planning
concepts. It is believed that bad luck would befall those who were too
ostentatious about exhibiting wealth, so these houses, though they were
virtual mansions, conformed modestly to their neighbors. Also, houses
were never oriented to face a back lane or a road junction because it was
considered an invitation for evil spirits to enter the house.

The decorations on the buildings had symbolic meanings and the figures
had mythical backgrounds such as:
􀂃 Dragon and Phoenix - emblems of royalty
􀂃 Bats - good luck symbols which signify loyalty and longevity
􀂃 Lion - emblem for loyalty and bravery. Often used to ward off
invisible forces
􀂃 Deer - emblems of status of high official position and wealth

These figures embellished ridges, eaves, gables, walls and columns. The
selection of a colour scheme was based on the principle of harmony and
composition, as well as the symbolic nature of colour:
􀂃 Blue signifies peace
􀂃 Red signifies good fortune and happiness. This colour is used
widely
􀂃 White signifies sorrow
􀂃 Black is used for outlining
􀂃 Yellow is seldom used in domestic buildings, being the colour of
the Emperor
􀂃 Gold is used for the fine details of the ornamental woodwork and
molding.

Lacquer is painted to the doors, windows, curtain walls and furniture for
renewing looks and to withstand weather:
• Dragon & Phonex are considerd as emblems of royalty
• Bat is believed to bring prosperity and good luck; and signify
loyalty and longevity
• Lion is the emblem for loyalty and bravery. Often used to ward off
invisible forces
• Deer is the emblem of satus of high official position and wealth.

Building Elements and Materials of the Shophouses in the Historic Cities of Melaka and Penang, Malaysia

The shophouses in the Historic Cities of Melaka and Penang also share
similar construction materials, techniques, ornamentations and elements.

1. Floors
The Chinese community introduced the use of granite as heel stones,
thresholds and the lower steps of staircase to avoid timber steps and
frames being contact with wet floor, as well as symbolizing permanence
and strength. Less prosperous houses raised their timber stairs on brick
and terracotta steps for the same reasons. Granite was also used as
edging along the street side of the five-foot ways, or as five foot ways
themselves, and entrances as seen in the godowns of Weld Quay and the
steps and paths across the open drains. The granite was quarried locally
though large pieces for temple and mansions came from China as ballast
in ships. A public five foot way or veranda-way in front of the buildings
was raised about two feet above the road level as the town was prone to
flooding.

Internally terracotta tiled floors allowed evaporation from the damp earth
beneath, cooling the ground floor rooms in the process. The later
fashionable use of decorative cement tiles reduced the effect though still
allowing some evaporation and cooling. The upper floors, of local timber
planks, were placed on timber joists between the main beams, which
spanned the width of the building. In more elaborate and larger
buildings, granite corbel were set in the brick wall to support the timber
beams of the upper floors, offering greater support.

2. Walls
Most of the buildings in the Historic City of Melaka and George Town
used soft burnt clay bricks. Varied in size over the decades, with the
two-inch brick, or thinner, being used in the earliest buildings.
Lime or chunam plaster and wash was applied as a breathable skin on
the brick and lime mortar jointed walls, allowing moisture to rise from the
base of the walls and evaporate, adding to the cooling effect. In more
noble edifices, the chunam was rubbed with granite blocks until a
polished finish was achieved. ‘Whitewash’ or pale yellow ochre lime wash
walls, of Anglo-Indian origin and typical of Georgian England, was used
to deflect the light and heat on both the interior and exterior walls. As
the fashion changed, indigo, blue and later a pale green were added to
the palette of lime wash colours.

The load bearing walls at both sides of the shophouse support the roof
load through timber purlins which span horizontally across the width of
the building. The party wall which separates each house was at least 15
inches thick from the ground to first floor and 9 inches onwards thick.
The white washed walls act as a backdrop for any architectural elements
which might be incorporated. The height of the walls at the courtyard
area 10 to 12 feet high. It introduces seclusion and introversion within
the protected confines of the enclosed courtyard garden.

3. Roofs
The early timber and brick buildings used easily available attap, palm
leaf, roofs though a series of devastating fires finally led to the
prohibition of its use in 1887. Unglazed terracotta roof tiles were
introduced possibly as early as 1787 as can be seen in Trapaud’s painting
of Fort Cornwallis of that year. These tiles are ideals in hot wet
conditions for their ability to absorb moisture, cooling the air space
beneath. These came in variety of forms, the rounded ‘pan-tiles’, possibly
influenced by the roofs found in what was Portuguese governed Melaka;
the Indian equal sized ‘V’ shaped tiles used mainly for Chinese temples
and shophouses. The more common Indian tiles continued to be
favoured until after the Second World War, though Marseilles tiles
became popular with their introduction in the 1900s. Post-war Indian
tiles tended to be thinner than their pre-war counterparts most likely in
the interest of economy and scarcity of materials.

Some terrace houses were designed with jack-roof overlaps to create
protected vents to facilitate ventilation to cool and reduce radiation
effects. The jack roofs found on most shophouses did not appear in
Malaysia until the British came in the 19th century. Their experience in
India where they used them on bungalows could have been the influence
for this innovation.

4. Windows and Doors
Early shutters were simple framed timber boards, which later took on the
embellishments and traditional carvings of the culture of their builders
and users. To allow both light and ventilation but to also afford privacy
and more importantly security, shutters began to incorporate moveable
louvers. The openings of tall, door-sized shutters, which rose from floor
level, were also embellished with decorative carved balustrades. These
later evolved into air vent spandrels below shorter shutters in the
shophouses and carved balustrade panels of the Strait Eclectic
shophouses.

Glass windows as a single layer, replacing shutters, were introduced in
bungalows built after the 1900s and were possibly added as an
embellishment to older more prosperous shophouses and bungalows,
though usually as a secondary layer with the louvered shutters
incorporated in the opening together with the glazed windows.
Open fanlights above the door and shutter openings allowed cooling
breezes to move through the buildings, also providing spaces for
development of fine carvings and were an extension of the glazed
cartwheel fanlight typical of Georgian England. Doors, significant in their
cultural meaning particularly for the Chinese, were again often carved,
the outer door with sections of lattice and open figures and landscapes
allowing both ventilation and a secure but private view of the street from
within. The inner, solid pivoted, timber doors, were bared only at night
against intruders. Thus the main entrance was a balance of fine and
delicate carving and monolithic slabs of solid timber.

Glass windows as a single layer, replacing shutters, were introduced in
bungalows built after the 1900s and were possibly added as an
embellishment to older more prosperous shophouses and bungalows,
though usually as a secondary layer with the louvered shutters
incorporated in the opening together with the glazed windows.
Open fanlights above the door and shutter openings allowed cooling
breezes to move through the buildings, also providing spaces for
development of fine carvings and were an extension of the glazed
cartwheel fanlight typical of Georgian England. Doors, significant in their
cultural meaning particularly for the Chinese, were again often carved,
the outer door with sections of lattice and open figures and landscapes
allowing both ventilation and a secure but private view of the street from
within. The inner, solid pivoted, timber doors, were bared only at night
against intruders. Thus the main entrance was a balance of fine and
delicate carving and monolithic slabs of solid timber.

5. Ornamentation of Shophouses
The multicultural heritage contributed to the eclectic mix of
ornamentation: the carved wood panels and fascia boards of the
indigenous and Indo-Malay forms; the elaborate and superstitious images
of the Chinese; the arches of Mogul India; and the neoclassical elements
of British architecture of the Georgian and Regency periods. Roof shapes
and gable ends were also ornamented according to the tradition and
culture of building ownership.