5 types of traditional Malay houses in Malaysia


Interested to know more about the different types of traditional Malay houses in Malaysia and what makes them so unique? Start here.


© lim_atos | 123rf

Read the BM version here. 

With more people buying link houses, condominiums, bungalows and townhouses here in Malaysia, we sometimes forget that our true architectural heritage is really the Malay house or ‘kampong’ house.

Traditional Malay houses have a strong relation to our roots here in Malaysia. They represent a certain aesthetic—a connection with nature, a shelter away from the bustle of a city and an ode to Malay culture and tradition. The style of architecture has changed over time based on the evolution of Malay customs, culture, and religion.

Most people in this country may be aware of ‘kampong’ houses and how they look like, but how much about them do we really know? Here are some facts about Malay houses.

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What is a traditional Malay house?

Traditional Malay houses or ‘rumah kampung’ were constructed by the indigenous ethnic Malay people in Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. These houses not only represent a home but were designed to reflect strong community aspects such as opening your home up to others and living in harmony with nature.

In its classic iteration, the Malay house is a structure raised on stilts high above the ground with thatched roofs and wooden walls. The size and sophistication of the home were synonymous with the size and wealth of the family residing in it.

What does a traditional Malay house look like?


© fuadstephan | 123rf

As mentioned, traditional Malay houses are usually built with timber. They sit on stilts and have thatched roofs as cover. This tropical house design was constructed this way to protect families from wild animals, floods, and to increase ventilation. The house layout usually has partitioned rooms, stairs at the front of the house and a vernacular roof. The most distinctive feature of the Malay House is the wood carving designs that adorn the home, based on Malay motifs.

What are Malay houses made of?

Typical Malaysian ‘kampong’ houses are usually constructed using renewable and natural materials such as timber and bamboo. More traditional Malay houses were built without metal parts such as nails, making a lot of them prefabricated houses—this means parts of the house are cut and sized perfectly so they join nicely like Lego blocks without needing nails and screws. This was done so that houses can be dismantled and reconstructed easily in a new location.

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What is a ‘serambi’?

The ‘serambi’ is an important characteristic of the ‘kampong’ house design. It is basically the porch or verandah area at the front of the house that welcomes people into the Malay home. It was often used as a social and ritual space.

What is the difference between Malay houses built in the past and now?

Traditional Malay houses were built without using modern architectural materials and construction methods, but these structures require significant maintenance compared to modern buildings. Malaysia’s tropical weather and the presence of termites can be challenging for the wood-based Malay house.

As such, modern Malay houses started incorporating more modern house design elements to ensure they are easier to maintain over time. This includes using cement blocks to fortify the foundation and certain sections of the house, plus the use of nails and screws to tighten certain key joints so that they are more durable in the long term.

What are the types of Malay houses in Malaysia? 

The design and architectural inspiration of Malay houses can differ between different states here in Malaysia. We’ve picked 5 unique types that you should know.

1. Rumah Bumbung Panjang


© Pavel Sipachev | 123rf

‘Rumah Bumbung Panjang’, translated to “house with long roofs”, can be considered one of the original iterations of the Malay house. This Malay house style predates even the arrival of the Dutch to these shores. These houses are characterised by the tall and long slopes that the roof is shaped in.

2. Rumah Negeri Sembilan

It’s clear where this style originated from. The Rumah Negeri Sembilan style is considered one of the more unique designs for Malay houses. The main feature of this Malay house type is the curved shape of the roof design which bears a strong resemblance to the Rumah Minangkabau. This is due to the ancestral history of the Malay people in Negeri Sembilan, many of whom migrated from Sumatra. The Rumah Negeri Sembilan also features elaborate woodcarvings on doors and window.

3. Rumah Perabung Lima

Rumah Perabung Lima got its name due to its distinct roof design that resembles a five-sided pyramid. The design borrows a lot from ‘Belanda’ (Dutch) house architecture style. This style of Malay house can be found more commonly in states such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Perak and this design style was favoured by royal families for their palaces in those parts of Malaysia. A good example of this is the Istana Kenangan in Kuala Kangsar.

4. Rumah Limas

Rumah Limas, or sometimes known as Rumah Potong Belanda is predominantly found in Johor, where it is also known as Rumah Muar. Malay houses built using this style uses stone piers instead of wooden stilts and features a Dutch-style roof that resembles a pyramid. This roof style is commonly used in government buildings and famous landmarks in Malaysia, most notably Muzium Negara.

5. Rumah Kutai


© Khairil Azmi | 123rf

Rumah Kutai is also known as Rumah Tua (‘Kutai means ‘old’ in the local Perakian dialect. This style of Malay house is mostly found in Perak, specifically near Kuala Kangsar where the royal family was located. That is why this luxurious style is characterised by the elaborate and complex carvings on the door, porch, awnings, and windows.

These are just some of the types of Malay house designs you can find across Malaysia but there are plenty more, each of them influenced by its own unique history. Malay or ‘kampong’ houses are a testament of a rich architectural heritage here in this country and we should not allow it to fade away with modernisation.

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