Public Awareness of Old Shop Houses in Malaysia

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Malaysia architecture style has experienced the influence from pre-colonial through colonial period and later independence time. With time passed, Malaysia had apply these influenced element on their architectural development and formed a unique southeast colonial architectural style. The legacies and implications of British colonialism and race ideologies in Malaya are the main causes of the urban forms and architecture in Kuala Lumpur. The process of indigenisation of these colonial urban is caused by the process of finding the racial origin and exclusions.

In 19th century, Chinese trader and immigrants has footing on land of Peninsula Malaya. Kuala Lumpur is the state capitol of Selangor and it powered by the first Chinese Kapitol in Malaya - Yap Ah Loy. Shophouses was appear in that period. They bring their knowledge and method of house construction which then they adapt to the Malaysian urban shophouse. By the early 20th century, this urban form was to spread to every major town in the city.

These shophouses was characterized by one or more main street with lined shophouses. These shophouses usually two storey high or more than that by the lower floor usually as trading purpose while upper floor for residential purpose. They usually built in a row and continuously with uniform façade and covered by a five-foot way.

These shophouses were the strategy routes of economy in 19th century, they role as the old town center from the past. Now, the old shophouses has been clarified under heritage zone and some of them are no longer to be use. Most of these shophouses are private owned, the problem of these old shophouses become a significant problem toward the user and also related to the public.

This essay is to discuss the public awareness toward these old shophouses and the value of these old shophouses to public. The problems and issue that these old shophouses are facing are also part of research that we need to find out.

  1. Contribution of urban to surrounding

These town have developed stage by stage over the years. Although these building façade might look similar to each other but there are different architectural style spread all over different street.

2.1 Location

According to urban morphological and the history of civilization, human started their living off the river along its length. So do in Kuala Lumpur, Chinese started their business along the river. Most of the shophouses started their business nearby Gombak and Klang rivers due to transportation. Water transportation was the main transportation in that period and it is the cheapest fee to move heavier things. As the map below show that shophouses were aligned along the rivers.

2.2 Design and feature

After 1920s, the Malaysia old shophouses started the decorative style. These old shophouses are developed by stage accordingly to different style. These shophouses can be identified from which period by its own architectural style and characteristics. Basically shophouses after 1920s is the combination of European architectural style and local into Chinese architecture form. The decorative styles emerged on the facades of Malaysian shophouses thus varies from Neogothic, Baroque and Classical to Palladian.

These old shophouses mainly focus on detail design such as stucco designs of flower and birds decorate the wall below the window. Besides that, window appear with various shapes while some comprise square-topped opening with arch fanlight, other full-length windows with balustrades. Shophouses designed according Palladian style are usually symmetrical in a row and the whole façade is designed in block. The stage of development old shophouses can be known as Neoclassical in earlier 1920, late 1920s and follow by Dutch Patrician and Art Deco in 1920s.

Most of these shophouses are multifunctional which work as work place in the ground floor and living area in first floor or there are more floors than that. There have narrow street frontage and deep rear approximately 20ft of 80 ft. One of the reason they extend their backyard is due to the taxes and economic wise. The iconic and unique structure of these shophouses is the walkway in frontage of the shop. It called” five foot ways” which designed purposely to protect pedestrian in the hot sun and drenched rain.

One of the special feature of these shophouse is in the center of shop, there is a internal courtyard. It is an open courtyard or a space to admit efficient sunlight to interior. It also improve the air ventilation of the shophouses. Besides that, the colour of the façade is also one of the eye catching point to attract people. In these old town street, we would find that each of these shophouses are painted by different colour and there are no consequence between them. But in traditionally their shophouses were white in colour until mid-20th century, these shophouses were painted in pastel colour. However, strong colour such as red, violet and earth colour still are their favourite until now.

These shophouses were low rise building. They could have minimum one floor and adding up on it. Most of them were more than one storey, some were double storey but most of them were three storey due to centralisation of economy surrounding. These building height were identified by the level of prosperity and building technology.

Next, these shopouses were designed having a big door opening on the ground floor to attract customer. There are some people has misunderstanding the difference between terraced house and shophouses which the previous building ground floor door opening were smaller and there were windows beside it. Terraced houses are residential house which designed in multiple floors while shophouses were designed for commercial use.

  1. Awareness of public

The survey report show that most of the people prefer live in modern vertical city (69%) and some of them prefer to live in historical townscape (29%). Due to the convenience of transportation and higher living standard in city, most of the people prefer living in modern city. They can get their daily needs a stone’s throw away. Thus, there are a lot of young man are leaving town and moving to city to have a better living condition. From the perspective of agreement that Kuala Lumpur urban heritage is interesting, most of them rate average (35%) follow by rating disagree that Kuala Lumpur urban heritage is interesting (22%). For those rating disagree, they prefer Penang urban heritage instead of Kuala Lumpur.

For the opinion of refurbish colour of old shophouses is interesting than the original. There are 24% people agree this statement and 20% people rate average. Yet, there are 20% people strongly agree this statement and 20% people strongly disagree this statement. Thus, we can found out actually there are some who support the original colour and some support the refurbish colour which actually is eye catching. These colourful old shophouses area has become one of the attracting spot of tourist. Painted with unusual colour such as neon yellow or pink are physically and mentally attracting people to give a look on them.

Besides that, there are 29% people know that the historical background of these shophouses. On the other hand, there are 22% people do know any of them. Most of them stated they just know the existing of old shophouses are around them. This also show that the public has reach the education level of these shophouses story. Most of them agree that old shophouses should preserve to next generation (84%) and few of them disagree (14%). Opinions of those who disagree this statement are supporting to raise more skyscraper or commercial building in Kuala Lumpur to improve our country economy.

In fact, there are 75% people disagree that demolish the old building and replace with new modern building. In their opinion, they are proud of these heritage building are part of Malaysia urban (86%). In fact, these heritage building has become one of our country culture and life. These culture are identified internationally and improving our country tourism. These heritage building has also become our nation identity. Last but not least, they also feel that education of public awareness should be focus (92%).The importance of educate public to raise their awareness on these heritage building should be focus by government. They should spread the message to public of conserving these heritage building as it is part of our culture.

In our site, Jalan Tun HS Lee is facing these problem of getting neglection and abandoned by public. Jalan Tun HS Lee is a street next to our country China town, Petaling Street. It is a long historical background street in Kuala Lumpur. It named after the first nation’s Chinese finance minister Tun HS.Lee in his honour. With the rapidly growing of economy, these old shophouses has slowly been move out from our daily life. Since people can get their necessary and daily needs one shot in shopping mall or supermarket in more convenient way, people seldom get their needs in these shophouses.

Nowadays, not just shophouses along Jalan HS Lee are facing the problem under the threats of extinction and started their downhill in business. Problems of these shophouses facing are both nature and human factor causes such as lack of maintenance, lack of control of within the government and legalisation, ageing process and natural disaster. Apart of these major problem, there are some minor problem such as private policy of the owner are also causing these shophouses get less attention from public.

3.1Nature causes

These shophouses has been used since 90s, most of them were long historical and now they are facing problem such as lack of maintenance or fully abandoned by their owner. The ageing and weathering process make them look rugged and old. Some of them are neglected and having poor condition. These building has become the breading spot of mosquito and flies and surrounded by rubbish. They were neglected and ignore by public. These resulting the broken structure of building, the crumbling wall and building were surrounded by overgrown plant. These lack of maintenance shophouses may give a bad impression to tourist. Besides that, the poor condition of old shophouses may cause some natural disaster.

3.2Human factor

Modernisation movement such as more and more sky scrapper and commercial building rise up around these heritage area bring a different landscape view. These heritage building are covered by skyscraper and there is a line between it. We can see the difference between of skyscraper and heritage town by the picture below.

The needs of people towards modernisation is increasing, the desire to get more opportunity to earn more money by rising skyscraper for more commercial operation building is threatening the heritage buildings. These heritage buildings are built in vertical form compare with skyscraper which is in horizontal form is more save place. People are willing to pay the price to replace these heritage area to build more new skyscraper. For example, Pudu Prison which abandoned for years and has been replaced by new building.

Besides that, there are no specific rules and law that can protect against these old shophouses. The priority of historical value of these old shophouses should be consider than the economy value. Most of the people measure the land in monetary term but not the historical and culture value to next generation. The lack of education against public is one the problem of these heritage building facing. The young generation did not know the aesthetic and historical value of these heritage building brings to our country. They know land of these old shophouses can transform to more land to build more building and skyscraper which help our country economy.

Chapter 4.0 Current trend of these shopouses