Traditional-inspired Malay home in the urban area

Picture by 123rf

You'll be unlikely to find a classic Malay-style kampung house, also known as "rumah kampung, anywhere in the metropolis. Design trends modelled after western homes and promoted to us as contemporary, utilitarian, and trendy have taken over since a long time ago. There is no better design for our culture and climate than the traditional Malay home, if we focus just on the functional element of things. Take a trip around one of these houses to understand what we're talking about. 

The traditional Malay kampung houses were constructed by the indigenous ethnic Malay people of Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. These homes were created to express significant community features such as offering your home to others and living in harmony with nature, in addition to being a home.

Kampung houses can vary in design and architectural inspiration depending on the state in which they are built. There are a  few distinct types that you should be aware of, which includes the Rumah Bumbung Panjang (can be seen throughout Malaysia), Rumah Negeri Sembilan (Negeri Sembilan), Rumah Gajah Menyusu (Penang), Rumah Perabung Lima (Kelantan, Terengganu and Perak), Rumah Serambi Melaka (Melaka), Rumah Limas (Johor) and Rumah Kutai (Perak).

Traditionally, these communities consisted of a cluster of houses within a compound — the word "compound" itself is derived from kampung, by the way! How cool is that? These homes were frequently surrounded by the pastoral environment of rice fields, fruit orchards, and fishing jetties, which provided the community with a source of income.

The Malay house is a structure elevated on stilts high above the ground with thatched roofs and wooden walls in its traditional form. The size, shape, and ornamentation of the dwellings are determined by the family's size, income, and social status. This tropical house design was built to protect families from wild animals, floods, and to provide more ventilation. 

The typical house layout includes partitioned rooms, front steps, and a vernacular roof. The wood carving designs based on Malay motifs that adorn the Malay House are its most distinguishing characteristic.

Malay Houses Have A Long History

Buildings in Malaysia were traditionally designed with our tropical climate in mind, until air conditioning became a necessity! Houses were built on stilts out of wood, with wood or bamboo walls, and were located in a vast complex surrounded by masses of vegetation – nature's own air-conditioning. Traditional Malay houses are built with consideration for socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental factors. It has plenty of room for expansion as families grow, as well as open spaces for hosting community members during Hari Raya and weddings, as well as a pleasant environment.

Built With a Purpose in Mind

1) Attap, or Roofing

The importance of ventilation cannot be overstated. Starting with the roof, it is covered with a light but effective thermal insulator made of palm fronds, which must be waterproof. It doesn't retain much heat throughout the day and cools down at night. The gables, or triangular part of the roof between the crossing sides, are fitted with screens to guard against severe downpours while also providing ventilation.

2) Lots of huge windows

The main feature of a kampung house are the walls, especially in the hall, are full-length windows that allow magnificent views of the surrounding environment and make it pleasant for huge meetings. The openness of these dwellings represents the actual nature of the Malay people, who are, to put it mildly, inviting and hospitable.

3) Elevated floors

Being in a tropical climate with high humidity of over 75% and having developed communities near bodies of water like rivers and coasts, it was necessary to raise the house on stilts to avoid ground moisture and flooding, which would hasten decomposition. The high flooring allowed for better ventilation through holes in the floors and walls, as well as protection from wild animals.

4) Interior with a Longer Length

Traditional Malay homes have an open plan layout that ensures ample ventilation throughout the entire house with minimum walls that would otherwise prevent air from reaching the back of the house.

5) Overhangs that can be used for a variety of purposes

Large overhangs shelter the eyes from glare and provide protection from heavy rains. This permits the windows to stay open regardless of the weather, allowing for constant ventilation throughout the house.

Picture by 123rf

What's the difference between old Malay houses and new Malay houses?

Traditional Malay houses were constructed without the use of modern architectural materials and construction processes, yet they require more upkeep than modern constructions. The tropical climate of Malaysia, as well as the presence of termites, can make it difficult to maintain a wood-based Malay home.

As a result, modern Malay houses have begun to incorporate more modern house design aspects in order to make them easier to maintain in the long run. This includes fortifying the foundation and certain areas of the house with cement blocks, as well as tightening important junctions with nails and screws to make them more robust in the long run.

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