Traditional Malay architecture employs sophisticated architectural processes ideally suited to tropical conditions such as structures built on stilts, which allow cross-ventilating breeze beneath the dwelling to cool the house whilst mitigating the effects of the occasional flood. High-pitched roofs and large windows not only allow cross-ventilation but are also carved with intricate organic designs.
Traditional houses in Negeri Sembilan were built of hardwood and entirely free of nails. They are built using beams, which are held together by wedges. A beautiful example of this type of architecture can be seen in the Old Palace of Seri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan, which was built around 1905.
Another truly magnificent example of Malay architectural creativity is the Istana Kenangan in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Built in 1926, it is the only Malay palace made of bamboo walls.
Today, many Malay or Islamic buildings incorporate Moorish design elements as can be seen in the Islamic Arts Museum and a number of buildings in Putrajaya – the new administrative capital, and many mosques throughout the country.
In Malaysia, Chinese architecture is of two broad types: traditional and Baba-Nyonya. Examples of traditional architecture include Chinese temples found throughout the country such as the Cheng Hoon Teng that dates back to 1646.
Many old houses especially those in Melaka and Penang are of Baba-Nyonya heritage, built with indoor courtyards and beautiful, colourful tiles.
A rare architectural combination of Chinese and Western elements is displayed by Melaka’s Terengkera mosque. Its pagoda-like appearance is a fine example of Chinese-influenced roof form, combined with Western detailing in its balustrades and railings.
With most of Malaysian Hindus originally from Southern India, local Hindu temples exhibit the colourful architecture of that region.
Built in the late nineteenth century, the Sri Mahamariaman Temple in Kuala Lumpur is one of the most ornate and elaborate Hindu temples in the country. The detailed decorative scheme for the temple incorporates intricate carvings, gold embellishments, hand-painted motifs and exquisite tiles from Italy and Spain.
The Sikhs, although a small minority, also have their temples of more staid design in many parts of the country.
Indigenous Peoples of Sabah & Sarawak
Two unique architectural highlights of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are longhouses and water villages.
Homes to interior riverine tribes, longhouses are traditional community homes. These elongated and stilted structures, often built of axe-hewn timber, tied with creeper fibre and roofed with woven atap or thatched leaves, can house between 20 to 100 families.
Rustic water villages built on stilts are also commonly found along riverbanks and seafronts. Houses are linked by plank walkways with boats anchored on the sides. Transport around the village is usually by sampan or canoe.