Malay houses are traditional dwellings, originating before the arrival of foreign or modern influences, and constructed by the indigenous ethnic Malay and Orang Asli peoples of the Malay Peninsula and their related Bumiputra tribes of East Malaysia.
Whereas peninsular Malays have single extended-family houses, many of the Borneo people built rumah panjang or "long house" hosting many families, each in its own 'apartment' with a common wide veranda linking the front.
Traditional architectural forms, such as tropically-suited roofs and harmonious proportions with decorative elements are considered by traditionalists to still have relevance. However traditional buildings require significant maintenance compared to modern construction. These traditional skills are gradually being lost as Malaysia continues its process of industrialization.
Using renewable natural materials including timber and bamboo, the dwellings are often built without the use of metal including nails. Instead pre-cut holes and grooves are used to fit the timber elements into one another, effectively making it a ‘prefabricated house’. In Sarawak and Sabah rattan ropes were used to fasten bamboo pieces together.
Although nails had been invented and in later houses used minimally for non-structural elements (for example, windows or panels), structural flexibility was a benefit which nailing inhibited. Without nails, a timber house could be dismantled and reconstructed in a new location.
Each state or ethnic group has its own regional or group style of house or preferred details. For example, in Melaka the staircase is always decoratively moulded and colourfully tiled. In Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, many houses have distinctive carved roof gable-end boards akin to those in Thailand and Cambodia.
Negeri Sembilan House
It’s simply can be recognized by the design of the roof. It is the only house on the Malay to have a curved roof reminiscent of the Minangkabau roof of Sumatra. They are long and at the two ends of the roof are the gable ends, which arch upwards. The house is much smaller compare to other traditional house.
Rumah gadang (Minangkabau "big house") or rumah bagonjong (Minangkabau : "spired roof house") are the traditional homes (rumah adat) of the Minangkabau. The architecture, construction, internal and external decoration, and the functions of the house reflect the culture and values of the Minangkabau. A rumah gadang serves as a residence, a hall for family meetings, and for ceremonial activities. With the Minangkabau society being matrilineal, the rumah gadang is owned by the women of the family who live there - ownership is passed from mother to daughter.
The houses have dramatic curved roof structure with multi-tiered, upswept gables. Shuttered windows are built into walls incised with profuse painted floral carvings. The term rumah gadang usually refers to the larger communal homes, however, smaller single residences share many of its architectural elements.
It can still be found in the whole of Malacca today. It is only traditional Malay housed which mainly can be recognized by its glazed and multicoloured tiles on the staircases which are imported from Europe and China. Flowers are a common motif. The house evinces a mixture of architectural influences, which mainly adopted from the traditional Chinese house.
Traditional Malacca Malay houses can be seen especially in the Merlimau area about 20 km south of Malacca City on the coastal road to Muar and Johor. A unique feature of the Malacca Malay kampung (village) house is its concrete and attractively-tiled front stairway. Most Malays are very “house proud” and you can see the effort put into up-keeping and gardening.
The traditional Malay house in Perak is called the ‘Rumah Kutai’ was first built more than 200 years ago. ‘Kutai’ means old. Rumah Kutai only located by the banks of the Perak River such as the district of Kuala Kangsar, Perak Tengah and Pasir Salak. The main materials used are wood and bamboo. Wood is used for the posts and roof framework whilst the walls and floor are made of bamboo and the roof covering is from the sago palm. Rumah Kutai or Kutai House is a traditional type of Malay house that is indigenous to Perak, and has been in existence since the 1800s.
Every Kutai house must face the river and the construction, site, size, and, layout of the house must adhere strictly to the Undang – Undang 99. The traditional Kutai house consists of just one core structure called the rumah ibu (main house). The floor of the house is raised to about two metres from the ground and is usually made of wood from the Ficus plant species. There are gaps of about 2cm at the floor so that the house does not float away in the event of flood. The house sits on 12 or 16 main pillars called tiang seri or tiang adapt which are made of cengal, merbau, or damar wood and come in different shapes; round, square, or octagonal.
The interesting thing about Kutai house is that the pillars are not planted into the ground but just laid onto a base made of cut stone, bricks, or concrete. With pillars that are placed onto a base, not cemented or nailed, it is very amazing that these houses can still stand tall after so many years. The Kutai house was built so that the structure could be lifted en masse and moved to another area. Originally, the house has a long and high roof that is made of sago (rumbia) or nipah palm. Nowadays, many Rumah Kutai owners have replaced the palm roof with zinc roofing as it is easier to maintain. The walls in the meantime are made of either strips of plants (bamboo or kelarai) or from timber panpelled planks which sometimes include carvings.
The traditional Rumah Kutai has two entrances, one for male and the other for females. The sliding doors are made low so that the guest will has to bow when he enters the house as a sign of respect to the house owner. These traditional houses are fast disappearing as they are exposed to extreme weather, termites and high cost of maintenance.
Pulau Pinang House
The Penang Long-Roofed House. The long roofed houses in Penang come in two varieties, the Rumah Serambi and Rumah Seramby Gajah Menyusu. The Malay word “serambi” means veranda or balcony, while “gajah menyusu” pertains to an elephant suckling her young. From this Malay name you could imagine a Malay mother breastfeeding her baby on the veranda.
Malay traditional timber houses of Kelantan normally adorned with decorative carved components which represent excellent carvings in its specified design motif, shape, size and layout. Various carved components with specific features are fabricated according to its placement and configuration in the interior as well as exterior setting of the houses. Woodcarving as an embellishment is a significant unifying architectural element between the house forms and its building components.
Most of the Kelantan’s houses revealed that several types of carved components with distinctive visual forms in two and three dimensional composition were placed in certain orders within the fabrics of the houses. Wall, door and window ventilation panels, railings, gate panel and stringers are types of components characterized by the shape of perforation and incision with relief and/or non-relief carvings. These components were crafted in relation to the house form and architectural elements such as wall, door, window, stair and gate. The significant aspect of the placement of the carvings in the houses is that it enhances beautiful ambiance and signifies regional identity to the vernacular architecture of Kelantan houses.
Longhouses are ancient residential structures which were usually constructed with the use of wooden material. Evidence of such houses has been found in various parts of the world such as Europe, Asia and North America.
Structurally, these houses consisted of one large living area, as the purpose of these houses was to provide shelter from the forces of nature and animal attacks. Native Americans and several Asian tribes were able to perfect the art of building longhouses which were remarkably sturdy and long lasting. Some of these houses are quite amazingly similar to modern residential designs showcasing the architectural prowess of these ancient civilizations.
These houses are testament to the innovative thinking of the natives and the engineering skill which they perfected mainly through trial and error. The Bidayuh Longhouse which was built with the use of bamboo is one of the residential structures that you will come across while at the Sarawak Cultural Village. Visitors will be able to see amazing carvings, musical instruments and much more while exploring the interiors of the houses.
The Iban Longhouse is built on stilts which protect the interior from floods and animal raids. Built by wood and held together with strong creepers, these houses are structurally quite sound and have been known to exist for several years, if not more. The Orang Ulu Longhouse, one of the tallest of its kind, can also be found at the Sarawak Cultural Village. As the Orang Ulu tribesman lived near riverbanks their houses needed to be elevated from the ground to ensure that an increase in water level will not affect them.
One of the traditional Malay houses are found in Terengganu is the’ Rumah Limas Bungkus’, which means five-roofed house. It is popular among the Terengganu Malays since the 20th century. Unfortunately, none are found today and those exist today date back only 40 or 50 years. The house can be easily recognized. The roof consists of a straight central ridge with four shorter ridges projecting down to the four edges of the roof. The edging immediately beneath the roofing is decorated with wooden carvings.
Terengganu traditional house are usually being builted by cengal wood (Malay Hardwood) and the roof covered with "Singhorra Tiles" name after the town Songkla, where the tiles originated. Peles (gable ends) are fitted to the end of the roof. The "Sobek" woodcarving with beautiful patterns of flora and islamic symbol made Terengganu house to be the richest cultural and heritage of the Peninsular Malay state. The house floor raise nearly 2.5 meters off the ground give the impression of animals with many legs. The high post also work as prevention from flood water during the monsoon rain as the house normally located not far from river bend.