Tuesday, April 01, 2008

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.

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