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A terraced layout allows a row of shophouses to extend as long as a city block permits, as exemplified by this long row of double storey shophouses at Penang Street, George Town, Penang.

A shophouse is a building type served as house and shop, and for living and business. They exist all over the world, especially in urban area, where usually a family engage in own business[1]. However, they stand in line with arcades or colonnades, which form unique town-scape in Southeast Asia and Southern China. This article mainly deals with shophouses of this region.

Design and features[edit]


  • Site & Plan: Shophouse was very convenience facility for urban settlers, who wished to settle down there engaging in certain business with family members or companies. Therefore, in the process of settlement development, the area along the street was usually divided by narrow frontage so that many business opportunities could be ensured by the settlers/land leaseholder. The site was always narrow in wide and long in depth. Front area along the street was formal space for customers and ancestor, while rear area was informal space for family members, toilet, bath room, kitchen, well, etc.
  • Eaves: The merchandise was displayed in front of the house, and was protected by long eaves from rain and sunshine. The eaves also served as reception for the customers. So, space under the eaves along the street was importance area for house owner and customers, and called Kaki Lima in Malay language. Unless communal agreement, Kaki Lima was not connected each other to form public walkway.
  • Coutyard & Attic: The courtyard house is surrounded by masonry walls in its four sides, while the shophouse was usually built between parallel masonry side walls. The upper part of the house was used for attic or sleeping room. To ensure air circulation, the courtyard (air-well) was placed between the front house and the rear house.
  • Back Lane: As the shophouses were constructed from both sides, the owners used to block back side with masonry wall. To prevent fire and to facilitate fire extinguishing, back lane was arranged through the settlement improvement scheme.
  • As the Dutch colonial authority prohibited people to occupy trotoar (from French trottoir) and construct the overhanging over trotoar, each house owner arranged his shopfront by his own way, and never formed uniform town-scape except some cases.
Shophouses in Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam

Continued & Covered Passage[edit]

  • The 1822 Singapore Town Planning specified that each house owner had to provide "verandah open at all time as a continued and covered passage" within his lease land along the street to, (1) create regular and uniform townscape by arcade or colonnade, (2) hide miscellaneous commercial activities in shop front, and (3) form public walkways[2]. This was a solution of contesting values between European townscape oriented and Asian commercial oriented sense. Facade and pillar were decorated to attract customers. This regulation was applied for the Straight Settlements, where "Continued Covered Passage" was popularly called Kaki lima in Malay language and Five foot way in English. For town development in Taipei in the end of the Qing dynasty period, Taiwan under the Japanese occupation and Southern China under the Republic of China, such kind of the regulation was applied with much wider space[3].
  • The Hong Kong colonial authority allowed the lease owner to build overhanging above the verandah (public sidewalk in Hong Kong colony) in 1876 to provide more living space[4] without intention to create regular and uniform townscape.

Facade Design[edit]

  • Facade and pillar were decorated to attract customers. The facade ornamentation draws inspiration from the Malay, Chinese and European traditions.[5] European neo-classical motifs include egg-and-dart moldings and ionic or Corinthian capitals on decorative pillasters. The degree of a shophouse's ornamentation depended on the prosperity of its owner and the surrounding area; shophouse facades in cities and (former) boomtowns are generally more elaborate than spartan rural shophouses.
  • Masonry-heavy Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles would eventually prevail between the 1930s and 1950s. Modern variations through the 1950s up until the 1980s were devoid of ornamental decorations and tended to be designed with imposing geometrical and utilitarian forms inspired by International and Brutalist styles. Beginning in the 1990s, the buildings began to adopt postmodern and revival styles.


  • The front shop in most of cases served as commercial use such as shop, office, workshop, food and drink, etc. Of course, it might be used as reception, guestroom, and formal family room with ancestor altar.
  • As the settlement prospered and population increased, some professionals such as drugstore, clinic, law office, pawnshop, travel agent, etc, occupied the front shops.
  • The food and drink shop usually served economic food such as a variety of ready-cooked food of Chinese style, Padang style (Halal), or Siamese style. Cooking stalls rented a portion of space from the shop owner and served specific food such as friend rice, friend noodle, noodle soup, Indian pancake, etc. A variety of drinks was served by difference stall, sometimes shop owner. This kind of stalls are substituted by the food court.
  • Corner of junction was always the best location for food and drink shop.
Food & Drink Shops at a street corner, Georgetown, Penang, 1990.

Modern construction[edit]

A row of six reinforced concrete shophouses in Pekanbaru, Indonesia. The frame structure of the shophouses is clearly visible on the exposed right wall. The width of each shophouse is equal to the separation of two piers.

Modern shophouse construction is made from reinforced concrete. Loads are carried by beams and piers, built on a grid system. The spacing of the piers is determined by economic factors - wider beams require disportionately larger amounts of steel. A plot of land that measures 40m wide,and 12m deep, could for instance be used to create 10 shophouses, each measuring 4mx12m, or 8 shophouses measuring 5m x 12m, or something in between.

Walls are infill, which means that a row of shophouses can easily be reconfigured, to allow a business to occupy two or more shophouses, by simply removing the dividing walls.

A row of shophouses can be built in stages by exposing around 50-60cm of rebar in the left-right beams at each end of the row. When continuing construction, new rebar is tied to the existing rebar to allow the beam to be continued, thereby removing the need for new structural piers.

Singapore Shophouse[edit]

The shophouse evolved from the late 18th century during the colonial era. After the colonial era, shophouses became old and dilapidated, leading to a fraction of them abandoned or razed (by demolition work or, on occasions, fire).[6]

In Singapore, the Land Acquisition Act (Act) for urban development during the early 1960s, and amended in 1973, affected a great many owners of shophouses and worked a significant compensatory unfairness upon them when their shophouses were seized to satisfy redevelopment efforts.[7] Over the decades, entire blocks of historical shophouses in the urban centre were leveled for high-density developments or governmental facilities.

Owners and occupants of colonial shophouse in Malaysia underwent different experiences involving a series of rent control legislation put in place between 1956 and 1966.[8] Under the most recent 1966 Control of Rent Act, privately owned buildings constructed before 1948, including scores of shophouses, were subjected to rent price controls to alleviate housing shortages,[9] with the intent of providing the increasingly urbanised population with sufficient affordable housing. In the decades following the introduction of the Act in 1966, development of sites that the shophouses rest on were often unprofitable due to poor rental takings, leading to historical urban districts stagnating but being effectively preserved, although entire blocks of shophouses were known to be demolished for a variety of reasons during the upsurge of the economy (from government acquisitions to destruction from fires). With the repeal of the act in 1997, landowners were eventually granted authority to determine rent levels and be enticed to develop or sell off pre-1948 shophouses;[9] as a result, poorer tenants were priced out and many of the buildings were extensively altered or demolished for redevelopment over the course of the 2000s and 2010s. Shophouses have also been documented to be illegally sealed for use to cultivate and harvest edible bird's nests, leading to long-term internal damage of the buildings.[10]

Many shophouses in Singapore that escaped the draconian effects of the Land Acquisition Act have now undergone a revival of sorts, with some restored and renovated to house theatres, budget hotels and tea houses. Some shophouses are now considered architectural landmarks and have substantially increased in value, for example, in 2011 in Singapore, two of every three shophouse units sold for between S$1.7-$5.5 million (US$1.4-$4.4 million), while larger units sold for between S$10–$12.5 million (US$8–$10 million), a sharp increase from 2010, while average per-square-foot prices increased 21 percent from 2010. The median price in Singapore in 2011 was 74 percent higher than in 2007.[11]

Heritage Shophouse[edit]

while the preservation of historic shophouses have suffered substantially in heavily developed states like Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor, shophouses in Penang and Malacca (which state capitals, George Town and Malacca Town, have been gazetted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008) received more care and attention due to emerging historical preservation movements in both states, experiencing similar levels of rejuvenations as in Singapore. However, the gentrification of both cities has led to older tenants of shophouses driven out by the rising costs of renting or buying properties within historical districts. In 2012, the cost of buying a pre-World War II shophouse in George Town reached RM2,000 per square foot (US$660), equivalent to the price of the most expensive Kuala Lumpur city centre condominium units.[12]

Indonesian Shophouse[edit]

  • Shophouses have been very popular since the Dutch colonial period, particularly in pecinan (Chinese quarter in Indonesian language). Traditional shophouses are now substituted by modern one, called Ruko (rumah toko).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hideo Izumida, Machiya A Typology of Japanee Townhouse, 2011, Proceeding of the 1st TTCL Annual Symposium at Melaka, 2011.
  2. ^ Source *1, p.88-92.
  3. ^ Hideo Izumida & Huang Chu Min, Typology of Roofed Terraces and Covered Continuous Walkways, A Study on Colonial Cities and Architecture of Southeast Asia Part 2, Journal of Architectural Institute of Japan, No458, April 1994, pp.145−153.
  4. ^ Hideo Izumida, Settlement Improvement in the Former Hong Kong Colony According to Reports by Osbert Chadwick: A Study on colonial cities and architecture in South-east Asia Part 3, Journal of Architectural Institute of Japan, May 2003, pp.179-186.
  5. ^ "Malaysia: shophouses of Georgetown, where East meets West | Minor Sights". Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  6. ^ Kaye B., Upper Nankin Street, Singapore: A Sociological Study of Chinese Households Living in a Densely Populated Area, University of Malaya Press, Singapore, and Oxford University Press, 1960.
  7. ^ Han, Sun Sheng, Global city making in Singapore: a real estate perspective, pp. 77-83, in Progress in Planning 64, pp. 69–175, Elsevier, 2005. Accessed 2012-3-30.
  8. ^ What is the law relating to the control of rent in West (Peninsular) Malaysia?,, 2001-5-31. Accessed 2015-3-6.
  9. ^ a b Why is the Control of Rent Act 1966 being repealed? Why is Control of Rent (Repeal) Act 1997 being introduced?,, 2001-5-31. Accessed 2015-3-6.
  10. ^ Kuar, Manjir (24 February 2011). "Unesco warns Penang on swiftlet breeding shophouses". The Star. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  11. ^ Property Guru, Shophouses increasingly popular among investors, Yahoo! News, 2012-3-27. Accessed 2012-3-30.
  12. ^ Wong, Johnni, Skyrocketing shophouses, JOHNNI WONG , The Star, 2012-3-21. Accessed 2012-3-30.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee Ho Yin, "The Singapore Shophouse: An Anglo-Chinese Urban Vernacular," in Asia's Old Dwellings: Tradition, Resilience, and Change, ed. Ronald G. Knapp (New York: Oxford University Press), 2003, 115-134.
  • Davis, Howard, Living Over the Store: Architecture and Local Urban Life, Routledge, 2012. ISBN 978-0415783170
  • Chua Beng Huat (Chua, B.H.), The Golden Shoe: Building Singapore's Financial District. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1989.
  • Lee Kip Lim. The Singapore House, 1849-1942. Singapore: Times, 1988.
  • Goh, Robbie, Yeoh, Brenda, International Conference on the City, Theorizing The Southeast Asian City As Text: Urban Landscapes, Cultural Documents, And Interpretative Experiences, World Scientific Pub Co Inc., 2003. ISBN 978-9812382832
  • Yeoh, Brenda, Contesting Space: Power Relationships and the Urban Built Environment in Colonial Singapore (South-East Asian Social Science Monographs), Oxford University Press, USA, 1996. ISBN 978-9676530851; and published by the Singapore University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-9971692681
  • Ongsavangchai Nawit, Funo Shuji, Spatial Formation And Transformation of Shophouse in the Old Chinese Quarter of Patani, Thailand, Journal of Architecture and Planning, Transactions of AIJ, V.598, pp. 1–9, 2005. ISSN 1340-4210
  • Ongsavangchai Nawit, Formation and Transformation of Shophouses in Khlong Suan Market Town, Proceedings, Architectural Institute of Korea, 2006.
  • Phuong, D. Q. and Groves, D., Sense of Place in Hanoi's Shop-House: The Influences of Local Belief on Interior Architecture, Journal of Interior Design, 36: 1–20, 2010. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1668.2010.01045.x
  • Chang, TC and Teo, P, The shophouse hotel: vernacular heritage in a creative city, Urban Studies 46(2), 2009, 341–367.

External links[edit]