The architecture of Penang

I spent the hottest part of the day wading through the thick humidity of Georgetown on a walking tour of historic Penang. My guide, a Scotsman named Mark who has called Penang home for the last seven years, amiably sweated through the day with me as he taught me about why the city earned UNESCO World Heritage accreditation in 2008 and the positive impact the status has had on restoration and development.

The best part of the tour was learning about the different architectural styles of the Chinese “shophouses,” which have evolved over the decades from simple wooden fronts to elaborate columns and shutters. The shophouse architecture weaves together the multi-cultural and multi-faceted history of the island. We also stopped in a few of the Chinese kongsi, or clan temples and meeting houses which seem to pop up on every corner and boast elaborate glazed ceramic multi-colored dragons and floating red paper lanterns.

Chinese shophouse architecture

One of many Chinese kongsi

Inside another Chinese kongsi

Without a practiced eye to help me understand what I was seeing, the colorful buildings had simply been pretty. With context and history, I was able to begin to understand how the Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities have interacted across generations in this diverse city and how they have shaped the architecture accordingly.

Famous street art in Penang by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic

I think Los Angeles could benefit from this too!

Sexiest advertisement for construction gear that I've seen!

Additional information:
Walking tour guide:


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