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What is a SHOPHOUSE?

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” Shophouses are simple in their design, thick brick walls kept out the mid-day sun. Lime plastered walls and terracotta floors dispersed the cool moisture from the swamps beneath, whilst louvred shutters kept out the glaring sun and allow cooling breezes to take away the warmer air.

The earlier shophouses, later terrace town houses, were small, just one pitched roof  with a kitchen at the back under a single storey terrace, surrounding and open air-well which took away the heat from the charcoal fired stoves.

As more land was cleared and the wealth and needs of the owners grew, the shophouses became longer, separating each pitch roof with an air-well to help cool and ventilate the building. Originally built and used by migrant Indian and later Chinese population, they brought with them the influences from their homelands.

By the 1900s the European architectural and engineering professionals began to migrate from Singapore, Ceylon, India and later Shanghai and Hong Kong, bringing with them new technologies and building forms.

Owners of traditional shophouses, eager to adapt to modern styles, began to refashion their facades in the latest styles, whilst the strict hierarchical use of space within the shophouse remained. “

Extracted from George Town Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca – SPECIAL AREA PLAN 2014

The Shophouse can be identified with it’s distinctive features and diverse styles. To find out more on features and styles, click the links below:

The Shophouses of George Town 

The shophouse is an urban building form that dominates the built cultural heritage of George Town. George Town has the largest number of shophouses in Southeast Asia.

Built in rows with shared party walls, they were used as family dwellings (and ancestral worship), stores, commercial premises and mixed use of commercial with  families or workers living above.

Shophouses are characteristic of the urban architecture of towns in Asia from the 18th – 20th century. The early architecture was an amalgamation of cross cultural values, ideas, traditions of immigrants and indigenous builders, and the adaptation to the availability of building materials, skills, transportation, as well as appropriateness to the tropical climate.

By ,1900s the European architectural and engineering professionals came to Penang and brought with them new technologies and building forms influenced by the western architecture movement.

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Shophouses in Penang are long and narrow, with width ranging between 12-18 feet and length between 60- 140 feet. The longer shophouses have 2-3 pitched roofs (approx. 30 degrees gradient) punctured with air-wells between each pitched roof for ventilation.

Shophouses are laid out in rows or blocks.  Each block is bounded by a main street (at the front), side lanes and a back lane. Each block is also joined by a continuous sheltered five-foot walkway (kaki lima) in front to provide shelter from tropical weather conditions.

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  1. Pingback: Shophouses of George Town, Penang | A blog by Ayako Mathies