Malaysian architecture today is a fascinating fusion of tradition and modernity, a reflection of Asia's many styles, cultures and religions. From traditional mosques and temples in towns and villages, to shop lots lined along the streets of every state that have been present for decades, even before Malaysia achieved independence. Cities and suburbs are filled with skyscrapers and high rise buildings. These buildings are influenced by the Hindu-Indian, Arab-Muslim, Chinese, and European culture. Portuguese, Dutch and British colonization have also have also influenced local architecture. Now, the country embraces an independent modern Malaysian vision whilst staying true to its rich culture and heritage, creating wonderfully diverse architecture in Malaysia.



Traditional Malay architecture employs sophisticated architectural processes that are suited to complement the tropical climate in Malaysia. Malay traditional houses are mostly built on stilts, which allow cross ventilating breeze beneath the dwelling to keep the house cool and also to alleviate the effects of an occasional flood. These houses have high-pitched roofs and large windows also to cool the house. These houses do not only serve as a place to be lived in, but is also a work of art, possessing intricate organic designs that are carved onto the house. Contrary to the modern way of living, these traditional houses do not have fences around them.

Traditional houses in Negeri Sembilan were built of hard wood and entirely free of nails. They are built using beams, which are held together by wedges. These houses require superb craftsmanship as each piece of wood and beam has to be cut in the exact dimension to be wedged in the exact required position. A beautiful example of this type of architecture can be seen in the Old Palace of Sri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan, which was built around 1905.

Another prominent structure in Malay architecture is the many mosques dotted around the country. There is an array of mosques in the country, including vernacular mosques, mosques with colonial influences and the modern mosque.



Among all these mosques, the Tranquerah Mosque is one of the unique ones. This mosque is situated in the state of Melaka, where the Malay Sultanate was born. The mosque was built around the year 1748. The Tranquerah Mosque is a Sumatran-style building with a three-tiered wooden roof. It is one of the few mosques with a pagoda instead of a minaret. This clearly shows assimilation of Chinese architecture.


Traditional Chinese architecture, mainly Buddhist temples can be found in villages as well as in small towns and cities. These structures possess significant characteristics which contribute to the Southern Chinese architecture. A typical Buddhist temple will have overhanging eaves made of clay tiles jointed by mortar, ornamented figures of people, angels, flowers or animals located on roof ridges; a big entrance door in the middle, windows of simple geometrical shape; and colourful mosaic tiles. The historical factors play an important role in the Southern Chinese architecture. Many traditional buildings have adapted the local and colonial architecture into their building facades. Some have arches and classical columns to support the building structures. Large openings are provided for ventilation purposes.

The Yap Kongsi temple is situated in Georgetown, Penang and exudes the aesthetic value of a traditional Chinese building.


Hindu temples display the amazingly colourful architecture of southern India, as most Malaysian Hindus’ ancestry originates from the southern part of India.


One prominent traditional Indian structure is the Sri Mahamariaman Temple, located in Kuala Lumpur. This inspiring structure was built in the late nineteenth century, exhibiting an extremely ornate and elaborate architecture. The detailed decorative scheme for the temple incorporates intricate carvings, gold embellishments, hand-painted motifs and exquisite tiles from Italy and Spain. The intricate carvings are products of a superb craftsmanship. It is evident that there is assimilation between the Chinese and Hindu culture through the architecture and structural designs of these buildings.


The Sikhs also have their temples of more staid design in many parts of the Country.

Homes to interior riverine tribes, longhouses are traditional community homes. These houses are known as “rumah panjang” in Malay. These elongated and stilted structures are often built of axe-hewn timber, tied with creeper fibre and roofed with woven atap or thatched leaves. The

A Modern Iban Longhouse in Kapit Division

Indigenous Peoples of Sabah & Sarawak

One of the unique architectural highlights of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak is the longhouses. 

stilted structure, like Malay houses, facilitates air circulation, keeping the building cool. Also, the stilted structure of the longhouses prevents the house from being flooded should a flood occur because of its elevated structure, which is similar to those of a traditional Malay house. This architecture is unique because it is divided into a more or less public area along one side and a row of private living quarters lined along the other side. These houses can house from 20-100 families, creating a very strong sense of community among its inhabitants.