The mercantile communities of the Straits of Malacca were patrons of a distinctive architecture which flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Western advances in technology combined with Eastern tastes, craftsmanship and local ways of building to create distinctive habitats appropriate to the tropical climate. As the island’s wealth grew, the buildings constructed by military engineers for the British East India Company were surpassed in size and beauty by the grand homes of the colonial and local elite. European architects such as Henry Alfred Neubronner, James Stark, John McNeill, Charles Geoffrey Boutcher, David McLeod Craik and Joseph Charles Miller were pioneers in the practice of modern architecture in early twentieth-century Penang, laying the foundations for future generations of local architects.
The development of Straits architecture is succinctly expressed in the evolution of the Penang house. More than just a home, the house in this mercantile community was a statement of wealth, influence and cultural affiliations. With the inscription of George Town to the UNESCO World Heritage List, the heritage of the Penang house – noted for its architectural flair, inventiveness and stylistic diversity – is now world-renowned. This lavishly illustrated book is an important landmark study of a glorious chapter in Malaysia’s architectural history.