Adaptation of Terraced House in Malaysia and Singapore

Originated in Europe in the 16th century, characterised with properties connecting directly in a row, terraced house also known as shophouse, was adopted in Malaysia and Singapore due to British Colonial rule. This essay aims to compare terraced houses in Malaysia and Singapore with traditional terraced houses,and then analyse how morphological structure and layout play a role in facilitating the adaptability to changes.

Terraced House in Britain

Terraced house was firstly  introduced  in  London from  Italy in the 17th century and became popular   in the 19th century with the process of urbanization and increasing population. Considering economic factors, by sharing the party walls, terraced house was the optimal solution to accommodate a considerable number of people in a constricted area. A typical terraced house in Britain is normally two-storey high. The ground floor is where the more public programmes like parlour, reception room, dinning room and kitchen locate. With the house front facing the main street, some terraced houses can also have rear yards, which act as more private living area. On the upper level, there are usually two or three bedrooms and bathrooms.

Figure 1: Most frequently used terraced house design
Figure 2: A 3-bedroom house in Adelaide Road, Ealin, London

Shophouse in Malaysia and Singapore

With the influence of Colonial architecture, terraced houses in Malaysia and Singapore, also known as shophouse, were built based on the design of British terraced house. The original idea for Shop house was to solve the issues of both housing and livelihood. (Ashley Wagner,2017) In Singapore, according to Urban

Redevelopment Authority (2017), there are more  than 6500 preserved shophouses which were built between the 19th and 20th century. Compared with British terraced house, except from having the shop on ground level, shophouse has similar layout. More public spaces like reception room, living room and dinning room are arranged in front while private space like bedrooms are located at the back or on   top floor. However, influenced by local climate and cultures, with the development of economy and population growth, changes were made to better adapt to the local context and different lifestyles.

Figure 3: Perspective section of a typical shophouse

Adaptations to Tropical Climate

Since Malaysia and Singapore are tropical countries,changes were made to adapt to the hot and humid weather conditions. In terms of structure, the rhythms of sloping roof, for example, help to facilitate airflow and drain away rainwater. Besides, airwells are incorporated to introduce light in as well as facilitate airflow. And the number of airwells are considered upon the depth of shophouse, with the purpose of sustaining good interiorconditions. Moreover, Five-foot-way was introduced to protect both occupants and pedestrians from rain and block sunshine. To better ventilate the interior, most non-load-bearing walls have been removed. Even for full height walls, they hardly separate rooms entirely and it is common that the ground level remains fully open. As for layout, not just because it is more public so the ground level is the place for business but considering the humid weather, living quarters were arranged to upper level. Also for better lighting and ventilation, bedrooms were purposely located at the front and back since there is no window on both sides due to shared party walls. Washrooms were placed at ground level usually at the rear court to avoid mold of the structure.

Figure 4: Introduction of airwell and removal of partition walls for better ventilation

Adaptations to Local Cultures

In both Malaysia and Singapore, terrace houses were mainly influenced by traditional Chinese cultures. The roofs with rounded garbled ends can be one example of Chinese influence (Nurdalila Binti Saji,2012). It can also be exemplified by the airwell or the courtyard space. Just like traditional courtyard house in China, also called Siheyuan in Chinese, it not only acts as open space for people to enjoy the sunshine and green, but also a central hub that connects the family members together. In terms of layout, due to polygamy in Chinese cultures, the long shape of shophouse makes it possible for the wives and their children to occupy different sectors along the length of the building (Ashley Wagner,2017).

Figure 5: Comparison between traditional Chinese courtyard house and shophouse blocks in Georgetown

Evolutions with Economic Development and Population Growth

With a focus on trade that motived by economic development, commercial nature was expressed in shophouse. To better conduct business,  shophouses in both Malaysia and Singapore were normally placed along trade routes. For economic considerations, the narrow shape of shophouse was formed due to taxing according regarding street frontage instead of total area. (Japheth Lim,2012) Concerning layout, the front of the shophouse normally faces the main street to attract customers while the rear court connecting to another road makes it possible for goods transportation and storage. During the period from 1840 to 1900, the most common shophouses in Singapore were normally one or two floors high. Due to economic development and  population  growth,  shophouses  with  larger  size and better quality were built. To accommodate more people, three and four storey shophouse were massively built during in the 20th century.

Figure 6: Shophouse typologies from 1840 to 1950 in Singapore

With regard to structures, there were more openings for better ventilation and balconies were introduced on the upper level for people to interact with their neighbors. In terms of layout, all changes made were to increase the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, or enlarge kitchen, dinning room and living room. With increased wealth, more poeple began to own private cars. As such, it became common to change the rear courts to car garage.

Figure 7: Layout of a Modern Shophouse in Singapore
Figure 8: Two types of shophouse in Malacca, Malaysia

That morphological structure effectively facilitate ad- aptability to domestic changes in families can also be exemplified through another two types of shophous- es, partitioned shophouses and combined shophouses in Melacca, Malaysia. As the families growing, there could be two scenarios. One scenario was that the families members demanded more privacy, in this way, the partitioned shophouses was formed by adding new walls and separate rooms. Another was to extend the shophouse by combing with adjacent units to form a larger house so the inner space is rearranged.

cultures. With the influence of economy boost and population growth, there was an evolution progress making shophouses become more open, diverse, modern and inclusive to serve new uses. And shophouse as a housing typology that is human-scaled and allows room for modification still remains its charm in Singapore and Malaysia today, when high-rising buildings dominate the cities.

References Figures

Konstantinos Ioannidis (2005) “Decoding the London Terraced House”, University College London, pp 9-10

Urban Redevelopment Authority (2017) “Your Shophouse: Do It Right”, pp 3-4

Ashley Wagner. (2017) “Malaysian Shophouses:Creating Cities of Character”, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, pp 13-23

Nurdalila Binti Saji (2012) “A Review of Malaysian Terraced House Design and the Tendency of Changing”, Universiti Sains, pp 2-10

Wang Han (2016) “Urban Morphology of Commercial Port Cities and Shophouses in Southeast Asia”, the University of Hongkong, pp190-196

Japheth Lim (2012) “Chinese ShopHouses – The South East Asia Urban Vernacular Architecture Wonder”, http://blog.


Figure 1: British terraced house floor plan – Source: https://www.

Figure 2: A 3-bedroom house floor plan in Adelaide Road, Ealin, London- Source: an-terraced-house-plan.html

Figure 3: Perspective section of a typical shophouse – Source: context=archuht

Figure 4: Section plan with ventilation anlysis – Source: http:// t=archuht

Figure 5: Traditional Chinese courtyard house and shophouse blocks in Georgetown – Source: viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=archuht

Figure 6: Shophouse typologies from 1840 to 1950 in Singapore

– Source: tion/Best-Practices

Figure 7: Layout of a Modern Shophouse in Singapore- Source: ideas/stunning-design-shop-house-floor-plans-homes-zone/

Figure 8: Two types of shophouse in Malacca, Malaysia

– Source: S1877705816003957