Sunday, March 7, 2010

Penang Shophouses

What is a shophouse?

The shophouse is an urban terrace house characteristic of Asian towns from the 18th – 20th century. The shophouse commonly incorporates a shop or business premise on the ground floor while the family resides on the top floor, providing both convenience and security. The shophouse may also be used totally as dwelling quarters.

Shophouses are built in rows and each row is arranged in blocks contained within a grid of main roads, backlanes and side roads. A shophouse is usually two or three storeys high and is long and narrow, sharing a ‘party’ wall with neighbours on either side. Each row of shophouses is fronted by a continuous sheltered five-foot way and a decorative fa├žade which reveals a historical style.

The Penang shophouse is a perfect example of a green building, using materials that are locally available (lime, clay stone and timber) and suited to local geology and weather conditions. A shophouse also possessing architectural features such as air vents and airwell that help with natural ventilation and cooling.

Earlier impressions which had endeared me to the city were (and are still) being challenged. This intrusion was (and continues to be) in the shape of …. new building forms (that are) out of scale, impersonal faceless buildings that gave neither clue or identity to their use, meaning or purpose”.

Khoo Salma in Preface to ‘Streets of George Town'

How to judge the ‘heritage value’ of your shophouse

Built heritage in George Town has ‘special values or significance’ related to history, use, aesthetics, building methods, design, material science, etc. If these special significance of built heritage is ignored or replaced then built heritage value is eroded.

Historicity: Get to know the historical period and style of your shophouse

Architecture: Learn about multicultural influences and symbolism on the structure, layout features and decorative elements of your shophouse

Materials: Familiarize yourself with the traditional building materials and building methods suited to the local Penang shophouse

For more information on shophouse, visit