George Town, Malaysia shophouses allow fine-grained mix of artisans, culture, and tourism

20,000 views!  From Expat Online: "George Town is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with the new boutique hotels that are opening.  But no city can survive on crumbs from tourists alone.  George Town has historically been a place of artisans and merchants.  Without this mix of trade and tourism, George Town could run the risk of becoming a sterile ‘theme park’, paying homage to a culture no longer alive. "Francis Light, the founder of George Town, planned the first streets as a ‘mosaic of ethnic quarters’ and this pluralistic approach has persisted into the 21st century.  The architectural features of the shophouse, are as diverse and yet harmonious as its residents. The basic design is perhaps Chinese, particularly the series of open courtyards, and fan-shaped air vents. The Malays brought their expertise in wood carving and fretwork, the Indians their skilled construction techniques and recipe for durable plaster, the Europeans their French windows, louvered shutters and decorative stucco.

"Shophouses are designed to extend backwards from the street some thirty metres. They were designed as highly practical working/living spaces. The narrow frontages, often no more than six or seven metres wide, give onto a covered ‘five foot’ ways, or kaki lima, often exquisitely tiled, making it possible to walk down the street protected from both sun and tropical rain.

"The downstairs front room, giving onto the street, was where business was carried out. A carved screen protected the rooms behind. Lit by the central wells, these were more private family spaces, such as ‘dining halls’, kitchens and bedrooms. As they were designed with ‘through drafts’, open grilles which encouraged air to circulate, they were surprisingly cool and environmentally friendly buildings.

"George Town is poised to become an imaginative, edgy city if creative people can be encouraged to make it their base. The flexible and trusty shophouse, renovated for contemporary needs, could continue to provide a great working and living space for cultural arts."  Full article here.