PHOTO: Chinese Shophouse Row in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Chinese Shophouse Row in George Town Penang Malaysia

Chinese Shophouse Row in George Town, on the island of Penang, Malaysia. The “Early Straits” eclectic architectural style of this block of buildings signals that they were likely built between 1890 and 1910. Such shophouses began to appear in the Old Town district of George Town in the 1790’s. Initially, they were built of wood by Indian and Chinese artisans who were brought in as laborers. Over time, local residents who became wealthy from trade began to embellish the properties with brick, lime plaster, clay roof tiles, decorative ceramic tiles, and even cast iron.

The shophouses of George Town used a simple design, with shops located on the ground floor and proprietors living above. Thick brick walls, louvered shutters, and terracotta floors ensured that the interior stayed cool, even during the sweltering midday temperatures. They were laid out side-by-side in rows that faced a main street, with a continuous arcaded walkway in front to provide shelter from the sun and heavy rains. Facades often featured decorative vents and, later, elaborate carving and artwork. Due to its large assortment of colonial and Asian eclectic architectural styles, George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

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