The Peranakan Cina, better known as the Straits Chinese, are not only known for their special cuisine but also the Straits Eclectic style of architecture seen on the shophouses and magnificent colonial bungalows in their communities. Developed between the early 19th and early 20th century, Straits Eclectic architecture brings together Eastern and Western elements like ceramic artwork and elaborate plaster works.
A Peranakan Cina shophouse, or row house, would have two or more storeys, with the doorway on the ground floor usually preceded by verandahed walkways. Tenants usually use the first floor for commercial purposes and reside in the upper floors. These shophouses were built in neighbourhoods to create town squares found in many urban areas in Malaysia today.
There are several different architectural styles of shophouses. Some have stylistic trends of the different eras on the front facade while others have been renovated. Generally, there are four architectural styles of shophouses in Malaysia, which are Early Shophouse (18th Century), Traditional Shophouse (19th Century), Straits Eclectic Shophouse (1900 – 1940), and Art Deco Shophouse (1940 – 1960’s).
Unlike the early and traditional shophouses, which have a continuous row of windows, the Straits Eclectic style developed with the breaking of the facade into two or three openings. In some shophouses, the spaces above the arched transom were decorated with plaster renderings such as bouquets of flowers and fruits, and mythical figures. Similar motifs were beautifully carved into the windows and door panels as well. These highly intricate carvings are one of the main differences that differentiate a Peranakan Cina shophouse from a Chinese shophouse.
It is difficult to prescribe a specific example of a colonial bungalow that represents the true architectural style of the Peranakan Cina. However, the architectural styles, grandiose scale, decorative building elements, and lavish interiors of the bungalows became the distinctive characteristics of the rich and elite Straits Chinese communities, including the Peranakan Cina. In the early 1900s, some of the Straits Chinese elite gave up living in their shophouses and moved into these colonial bungalows.
Typical characteristics of the colonial bungalows built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries include raised structures, porches with arches, high ceilings, wide verandahs, French windows, plastered brick walls, and roofs with short ridges. In these bungalows, there were marble floors, coloured tiles, magnificent chandeliers, mother-of-pearl inlaid Blackwood furniture, and sturdy teak cupboards filled with Nyonya wares.
Today, many of these shophouses have been converted into coffee shops and restaurants serving delicious local coffee and delicacies. So if you are planning a trip to Malaysia, do look out for these ornate buildings found in the old town centres of Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Melaka, and Ipoh.
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