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The Beauty of Malay Houses: A Glimpse into Traditional Architecture

CEO Khai Intela
Image: A Malay traditional house in Kedah, adorned with distinctive carved panels of the northern Malay peninsula. Malay houses (Malay: Rumah Melayu; Jawi: رومه ملايو) are the vernacular dwellings of the Malays, an ethno-linguistic group...

A Malay traditional house in Kedah Image: A Malay traditional house in Kedah, adorned with distinctive carved panels of the northern Malay peninsula.

Malay houses (Malay: Rumah Melayu; Jawi: رومه ملايو) are the vernacular dwellings of the Malays, an ethno-linguistic group inhabiting Sumatra, coastal Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. These traditional houses are renowned for their unique architectural forms and decorative elements that hold great cultural value in the region. Despite the challenges of maintenance, such as the effects of tropical weather and termite infestation, the traditional Malay house continues to captivate many with its beauty and cultural significance.

Construction

Using renewable natural materials like timber and bamboo, Malay houses are often built without the use of metal, including nails. Instead, pre-cut holes and grooves are used to fit the timber elements together, creating a 'prefabricated house.' This style of construction allows for easy dismantling and relocation, emphasizing the Malays' self-regenerating environmental culture.

Design

Traditional Malay houses incorporate design principles that still resonate in contemporary architecture, such as shading and ventilation. While each region and sub-ethnic group may have their own distinctive style, several common elements unite Malay houses: built on stilts, with stairs, partitioned rooms, a vernacular roof, and adorned with decoration.

Stilts

Most Malay houses are built on stilts, also known as "Rumah Panggung" or "stage houses." This elevated design serves multiple purposes, including protection from wild animals and floods, theft deterrence, and improved ventilation. The number of stilts in a house can even influence the number of dowry buffaloes in some regions.

Stairs

Traditional Malay houses require stairs to access the elevated interior. These stairs connect the land in front of the house to the verandah or porch. The staircase can be made of wood or brick structures covered with tiles, often featuring decorative moldings and vibrant colors.

Rooms

The interior of a traditional Malay house is partitioned into different rooms, such as the serambi (verandah), living room, and bedrooms. The main house, called Rumah Ibu, is dedicated to the mother or wife, while the simpler Rumah Dapur (kitchen annexe) is separated for fire protection. The proportion of the house is carefully considered to maintain a human scale, and a raised veranda (serambi) provides space for work or relaxation while preserving the privacy of the interior.

Roof

The roof of a traditional Malay house is designed to provide shade, protection from heat and rain, and ventilation. The gabled roof is a common design, featuring extended frames with decorative ornaments. This style is ideally suited to the hot and humid tropical climate. Different regions may have variations in roof design, such as curved roofs with boat-like structures or pyramidal pitched roofs.

Decoration

Each Malay region or sub-ethnic group has its own unique house style and preferred decorative details. However, most Malay houses feature a characteristic roof ornament: a crossed roof edge structure forming an "x"-like pinnacle. In certain areas, houses may have distinctive carved roof gable-end boards, reminiscent of Thai and Cambodian architecture.

Types and Preservation Efforts

There are several types of Malay houses found across different regions, each with its own distinct characteristics and styles. Examples include Rumah Limas, Rumah Lipat Kajang, Rumah Melaka, and Rumah Lancang, among others. While Malaysia's urban transformation has significantly reduced the presence of Malay urban wards, efforts are being made to preserve this architectural heritage. In Indonesia, traditional Malay houses still survive in rural areas, and in Singapore, a few houses displaying vernacular architecture can be found on Pulau Ubin.

A typical window of a Malay house with slanted wooden panels Image: A typical window of a Malay house with slanted wooden panels that can be adjusted for ventilation.

Malay houses are not just architectural structures; they are embodiments of culture, heritage, and a way of life. As Malaysia continues its process of industrialization, it's crucial to value and preserve these remarkable examples of indigenous architecture. By documenting and creating replicas, efforts are underway to ensure the survival and appreciation of this important part of the cultural fabric of Southeast Asia.

See also

  • Kampong Ayer
  • Malay culture
  • Architecture of Indonesia
  • Architecture of Sumatra
  • Rumah adat
  • Bahay kubo
  • Bahay na Bato
  • Torogan

References

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