Malaysia is a country rich in land, natural resources, human capital, culture, and history. It comes as no surprise, then, that so many different types of architectural styles can be found in houses all over the country. From East to West, the abundance of culture that surrounds Malaysian architectural history is something that we should treasure and preserve so that future generations will be able to admire, learn, and understand the importance of diversity and harmony.

Rumah Melayu (Traditional Malay house)

Traditional Malay houses are light timber-framed structures with elevated floors and sloping thatched roofs made from atap (nipa palm) leaves. They are usually built on stilts, which allow the dual benefits of ventilation in hot tropical weather and mitigating the effects of floods.

Traditional Kampung House (Source: wikipedia)

Traditional Kampung House (Source: wikipedia)

Minangkabau house

In the state of Negeri Sembilan, you can find Minangkabau houses, also known as rumah gadang. They are the traditional homes of the Minangkabau ethnic group from Indonesia. Minangkabau houses are easily recognized from their dramatic curved roof structure reminiscent of buffalo horns. Another unique aspect of these houses are that they are built of hardwood and without using any nails.

Negeri Sembilan State Museum (Source: JMM)

Negeri Sembilan State Museum (Source: JMM)

Chinese house with indoor courtyard (四合院)

When you mention traditional Chinese architecture, intricate and vibrant temples come to mind. Traditional Chinese homes are rarely so colourful, and were relatively simple in terms of design. However, one distinctive aspect of big traditional Chinese mansions were the indoor courtyards (四合院), which act as a skylight and communal area for residents. The indoor courtyard designs are now integrated into, and only seen in, Baba-Nyonya (Peranakan) houses.

Inner courtyard in Baba Nyonya house (Source: Baba Nyonya Museum)

Inner courtyard in Baba Nyonya house (Source: Baba Nyonya Museum)

Peranakan house

One of the most colorful and eclectic styles of traditional houses found in Malaysia today, Peranakan houses refer to homes built by wealthy Baba-Nyonya communities in Melaka and Penang. Many old heritage houses in Melaka and Penang are built in the Baba-Nyonya style, which include Chinese indoor courtyards, colourful English tiles, Malay carved wooden panels, and décor from all over the world.

(Source: Penang Peranakan Mansion)

Traditional Peranakan house (Source: Penang Peranakan Mansion)

Longhouse (Sarawak)

Visitors to Sarawak are always fascinated by the longhouses (rumah panjang) that are the traditional dwellings of many native tribes such as the Iban, Bidayuh, and Orang Ulu. A longhouse consists of many separate dwellings covered by one roof, and built on stilts. Communal activities are carried out on the ruai (verandah), and each longhouse has its own tuai rumah (headman).

Traditional Longhouse

Traditional Longhouse (Source: Wikemedia Commons)

Kampung Air (Water Village)

A trip to Labuan, Sabah would not be complete with a visit to one of the two Kampung Air (Water Village). The houses are built right at the water’s edge into the sea, made of wood, and are quite large with cool decorated verandahs. These houses sit atop high stilts and are joined by a maze of wooden walkways. The residents are a predominantly fishing community, with each family owning a boat.

Water village houses in Labuan

Water village houses in Labuan (Source: Tourism Malaysia)

British colonial buildings

The British, who colonized the Malay Peninsula in the 18th century, brought with them beautiful colonial structures that are still standing and in use until today. Take a drive around Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru or any other major city in Malaysia, and you will see many quaint British colonial-style buildings.

Colonial building in Ipoh - Ipoh Town Hall

Ipoh Town Hall (Source: Wikipedia)

Although not a residential building, one of the most significant landmarks built and left behind by the British is the Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur, which served as the Colonial Secretariat offices during the British administration and proudly overlooks Merdeka Square. It is instantly recognizable by its unique architecture and prominent location in the heart of the city.

Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur

Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur (Source: Wikipedia)

Dutch & Portugese colonial buildings

Melaka, once a thriving international port, is heavily influenced by many styles and cultures. The Stadthuys, located in Melaka Town, with its heavy wooden doors, thick red walls and wrought-iron hinges is the most imposing relic of the Dutch period in Melaka. Built between 1641 and 1660 it is believed to be the oldest building in the East.

Dutch Square in Melaka

Dutch Square in Melaka (Source: Wikipedia)

As for Portuguese architecture, the most notable example is the A’Famosa fort. Built in 1511, it was destroyed by the Dutch, and now only a small part remains on the hill overlooking the historical town.

A'Famosa fort

Remains of A’Famosa fort in Melaka (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Tourism Malaysia
Pinang Peranakan Mansion