The search for innovative ideas and sustainable solutions for urban housing in Southeast Asia as well as other parts of the world should include reexamining and rediscovering traditional urban dwellings such as the shop-house. Based upon the author’s observation in many parts of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, new housing for lower income populations in urban areas have tended to be high-rise or walkup multistorey flats with little or no commercial space within the developments. These high-density urban dwelling environments have the usual problems associated with large-scale high-rise housing projects. They are impersonal, monotonous and boring, and they do not allow much room for individual expression, expansion or personalization of the dwelling. In these planned housing schemes, residential and commercial activity is usually separated. In Southeast Asia where mixed-use urban settlements have been the tradition for generations, the separation of residential and commercial activity usually does not work. Strict and constant supervision is required or else open space around housing areas is soon occupied by unauthorized commercial activity. In the older and more traditional sectors of urban settlements in Southeast Asia, commercial and residential activi-ties coexist together usually in the same building–the shophouse. In older sections of Southeast Asian cities, shophouse neighbourhoods, although seemingly crowded, are lively environments that give cities in the region their distinctive character. An analysis of the traditional shophouse of the Malay Peninsula is described here and is proposed as a model for better urban housing environments, which can sustain traditional ways of urban life Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Housing, shophouse, southeast Asia, sustaining tradition, urban design
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