The Resilience of Tradition – Allusions to Malay Cultural Forms and Values in Contemporary Architecture




How and to what extent is contemporary Malaysian architectural identity influenced by Malay culture, values and forms? How is the Malay Modern situated within the discourse of contemporary tropical architecture? How does the evolution of Malay architecture answer the challenge of developing climatically appropriate eco-architecture?

Such questions are being asked in Malaysian universities, and in international conferences looking at modernism, post-modernism, regionalism, traditionalism, tropical architecture, green building and sustainability. Malaysia is gradually raising its position as an environmental advocate in the global arena while the world is also waiting to see how Malaysia can preserve and express its local cultural identity within its city centre. Globally, there is growing awareness that vernacular strategies are intrinsically highly environmentally-conscious, and that local forms in architecture and culturally-responsive strategies can be aligned with rising sustainable standards in buildings and urban development.

Currently, there are no guidelines on what constitutes Malay identity or Malay architectural expression in architecture, especially in the urban context. While the principles and language of the Malay vernacular have been actively advocated and widely published and disseminated as a sustainable traditional building typology, less is known about the abstract interpretation of this principle in formal and spatial terms, especially its modern interpretations. As Malaysia adopts more stringent sustainable standards, the principles of traditional architecture have the potential of being developed into design guidelines.

Some of the most sustainable principles, construction and design are embedded and expressed in the local and traditional architecture of a region or nation.  However, the Malay vernacular tradition is essentially a timber-based architectural tradition. Hence, the transposition of such forms and principles onto modern construction and methods using modern materials such as steel, masonry and concrete is not straightforward. Past efforts and innovative strategies which have alluded to cultural traditions by abstracting cultural expressions and remodeling them into modern structures.

The realisation of ideas generated in this book can achieve both critical agendas – the sustainability agenda and the cultural agenda – involving the industry, cultural experts and sustainable experts – in order to ensure that sustainability in Malaysian cities such as Kuala Lumpur is intrinsically linked to socio-economic agendas and the local population’s long-term interest. The strategy is to assess the sustainable long-term impact of cultural identity ideas and strategies in the built environment and enable rank and weightage attributes to be assigned as a balance between both sustainable, low carbon criteria and cultural expressive criteria.


About the Authors

Shireen Jahn Kassim (BSc Architecture (Hons), MSc Design Building, PhD Architecture) is an academic and a practitioner based at the Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design (KAED)’s Department of Architecture in the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). She specialises in the implementation and development of sustainable standards in buildings including performance simulations using computation technology. Her field experience includes advising industry players such as the Malaysian Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) and Malaysian Department of Public Works (JKR), involvement in steering committees from the Construction Industry development Board (CIBD) and JKR in developing and documenting integrated carbon-based, sustainable assessment system of large government projects in Malaysia. As the founder and leader of IIUM’s research cluster called the EAVR unit (www. eavr.wordpress) which focuses on both sustainability and cultural heritage in architecture as well as IT applications, she teaches and writes about sustainability, critical regionalism, Islamic architecture and bio-climatic design. Formerly the Head of Department for Building Technology and Engineering and supervisor of several masters and doctoral students, her knowledge in cultural, climatic and environmental fields have led to her appointment as a member in the editorial committee of Elsevier’s International Journal of Sustainability in the Built Environment. She is an accredited member of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Qatar Sustainable Assessment Accreditation for Buildings.

Norwina Mohd Nawawi (BA Architecture (Hons), MA Arts Health Facility Planning, Dip. Islamic Revealed Knowledge, PhD Built Environment) is an associate professor, IIUM’s coordinator of Islamic Architectural Heritage Research Unit (ISArcH) and its first Head of Department of Architecture with over 18 years of teaching experience. As a professional architect formerly with JKR for 29 years specialising in public health architecture, she is recognised by the industry as a health facility planning consultant for various JKR projects. A Fellow of the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM), she represents PAM in the Architects Regional Council Asia (ARCASIA) committee for social responsibility and the International Union of Architects (UIA) in public health and ‘Architecture for All’ work programmes. She has been a reviewer on the editorial board of the Malaysian Construction Research Journal (MCRJ) of CIDB for over ten years. She teaches history, construction, heritage studies, Islamic architecture, mosque architecture, healthcare architecture, architectural design and theory of architecture. She has written about her experiences in the practice of architecture, particularly in the public service in Malaysia. With her recent interest in the origins of Malay architecture and particularly on mosques as Islamic architecture in the context of Southeast Asia or the Malay archipelago or the Nusantara, Dr Norwina procured a research grant to study sustainability and development of theoretical frameworks of more culturally-rooted mosque architecture in the Nusantara region.

Noor Hanita Abdul Majid has been an associate professor for the past 15 years. She is particularly known for her publications which combines the scientific and cultural analyses in conflating sustainability concerns and cultural identity concerns, in particular, her research on climatic and comfort analysis of vernacular architecture. Her recent work also includes the analytical studies to develop daylight characterisations and indices for Malay ornamental wood-carving panels. Dr Noor hanita was previously attached to An Nizwa University of Oman, during which she co-advised on the submissions and developments of concepts for an Eco House that reflects the cultural identity of Oman while demonstrating climatic performance. She also actively publishes in the area of 3D modelling about Malaysian architectural heritage and Malay vernacular architecture, primarily palaces and houses. Her latest paper outlines the reconstruction research and 3D reconstruction of a renowned Malay palace in Perak.


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