Shophouse façade designs in the port towns of the Andaman Sea and Malay Peninsula

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Pat Wongpradit
Kreangkrai Kirdsiri
William Chapman


This study investigates the transformation of shophouse façades through the trade connection among the port towns of Southern Thailand and Malaysia. Focusing on four port towns - Kantang, Phuket and Takuapa in Thailand and Penang in Malaysia - during the 18th - 20th centuries, this research emphasises the role of field surveys and measurements to examine the physical characteristics and styles of buildings. The development of shophouse façades reflects a fusion of cultural influences from China, India and Europe, intertwined with local predispositions. The findings show that shophouse façades among port towns are similar in terms of architectural features and structural systems. In the early period, the local influence and Chinese immigrant culture were the major factors contributing to shophouse designs. Most of the buildings surveyed were simple in form and structure. The early shophouses were modest in size and height and were designed to suit the climate and environment. They also effectively employed local materials. Later in the 1890s, following the flourishing of marine trade in the era of tin mining and rubber, shophouse designs in the Southern port towns of Thailand began to be influenced by Penang, exhibiting
an increasing adaptation of Western styles. Modern hydraulic cement was also introduced in construction from that period. It was not until the 1930s that new
styles was influenced by architectural ‘modernism’ and the development of in-land transportation began to supersede earlier examples. This development was due in part to the intensification of trade routes, such as Thai southern railways and roads. Thereafter, shophouse designs returned to a simpler form again. The Art Deco and International Style, characterised by geometrical forms and built-in steel and glass combined with reinforced concrete, became the dominant materials for construction. As a result, the ornamentation, construction and styles of shophouses in Kantang and Takuapa were further amplified due to limitations in budget and artisans.


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