Vernacular Architecture – Relating Environmental Issues to Cultural Conventions.


Figure 1. Malay Vernacular House.[1]

Vernacular defines the built environment as structures created by non-professional individual which is responsive to the local living environment and available resources. To the contrary, the construction idea of designing a Malay vernacular house demonstrates a series of local architectural knowledge and human cultural as the house is being designed and built by local craftsmanship.

The traditional housing process offers much scope, possibilities and lessons in relation to the massive housing problems faced especially by developing countries. The autonomous housing process of the traditional Malay house removes the middlemen (architects, developers, contractors and other professionals) in the housing process and places control in the hands of the user. This not only produces a better fit with the user’s needs, it also removes the role of the intermediaries, thus removing the extraction of profits by them in the process.[2]

Malay vernacular built form nonetheless affects the social relations by relating environmental issues to cultural convention. A comprehensive knowledge of nature’s approach and ecological balance was predominant clinched in traditional societies as the Malays depended heavily on nature for most of their resources. With foremost concerns taking into considerations about the development of Malay vernacular house, it is important to understand the interaction between environmental issues and cultural convention.

Malay Vernacular House

Malay house is well designed to suit the climate in Malaysia. The climate of Malaysia is classified as warm-humid equatorial with an average of temperature between 22°C and 34°C. The monthly rainfall and temperature in Malaysia from 1990 to 2009 falls at an average between 100mm to 300mm throughout the year (as shown in figure 2).[3]

Figure 2. Average Monthly Temperature and Rainfall of Malaysia from 1990-2009.[4]

Malay vernacular house typifies traditional and responsive architecture solution on the building structure under the profound effect of the climate. One of the design solutions towards the environmental issue is to raise the house on stilts. This approach results at the thermal, functional and safety point of view which is to prevent floods, increase thermal airflow and provide structural stability for strong winds.[5] It also raises a platform where social convention is taken into place when someone visits a Malay house. Traditionally it has been regarded as a good manner to stop at the bottom of the steps to announce the guest’s presence.[6]


Figure 3. Malay Vernacular House Built on Stilts.[7]

Full length openings and gable roof structure are important features of a Malay vernacular house to allow good ventilation throughout the house.


Figure 4. Gabled and Double-Gabled Roof Structure.[8]

The openings on both sides of the gable roof allow air flow into the roof space and create cooling effects in the spaces.  Besides, large overhangs and low exposed vertical areas provide shading, protection against driving rain and allow the windows to be left open for ventilation. These characteristics of a Malay vernacular built form prevent stack effect by providing sufficient cross horizontal and vertical ventilation.[9]


Figure 5. Climatic Design Elements of a Malay Vernacular House.[10]

From above, it can be seen that a Malay vernacular built form has been made for physical and environmental determinism that shapes a man’s culture to express the local identity and sense of belonging which can’t be replaced by others. And now they seem to be another symptom of honesty in contemporary architecture design values. The vernacular and contemporary architecture are augmenting to produce hypothesis to describe the architecture as the collective notions of different ideology.  What can we learn from vernacular architecture built form that may inform a contemporary design?  If the characteristics of Malay vernacular built form could be taken into consideration in contemporary architecture design, it will be both functionality and culturally recognisable and achieve a successful level of sustainability in a tropical country that faces profound climatic factors throughout the year.



[1] “Rumah Kampung Malaysia,” Imagekind Online, accessed 19 March, 2017,

[2] “Theorizing Vernacular Architecture in Malaysia,” Connor Janzen of Design, Creation and Being, accessed Marh 18, 2017,

[3] “Average Monthly Rainfall and Temperature for Malaysia from 1990-2009,” Climatic Research Unit (CRU)

Climatic Research Unit (CRU), University of East Anglia, accessed March 19, 2017,

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Theorizing Vernacular Architecture in Malaysia,” Connor Janzen of Design, Creation and Being, accessed March 18, 2017,

[6] Raktim Debnath, “Malay House, Vernacular Architecture of South-East Asia,” The Issuu Publisher, accessed March 16, 2017,

[7] “Architects? Really?,” The Gardenweb, accessed March 19, 2017,

[8] “Malaysian Vernacular Architecture and Its Relationship to Climate,” A.Mohd Sahabuddin, accessed March 18, 2017,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.


Leave a Reply