What is the Shophouse?

A shophouse is a building type serving both as a residence and a commercial business. It is defined in dictionary as a building type found in Southeast Asia that is “a shop opening on to the pavement and also used as the owner’s residence”, and became a commonly-used term since the 1950s. Variations of the shophouse may also be found in other parts of the world, in Southern China it is found in a building type known as qilou. They stand in a terraced house configuration, often fronted with arcades or colonnades, which present a unique townscape in Southeast Asia and south China.

Design and features

Site and plan: Shophouses were a convenient design for urban settlers, providing both a residence and small business venue. Shophouses were designed to be narrow and deep so that many businesses can be accommodated. Each building’s footprint was narrow in width and long in depth. The front area along the street was formal space for customers, while the rear areas were informal spaces for family members, toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, and infrastructure.
Veranda: Merchandise was displayed in front of the house, and was protected by a veranda from rain and sunshine. The veranda also served as reception for customers. The veranda along the street was an important area for the house owner and customers. Unless there was a communal arrangement, verandas were not connected to each other to form continuous colonnades.
Courtyard and upper floor: Traditional shophouses may have between one and three floors. The shophouse was usually built between parallel masonry party walls. The upper part of the house was used as living quarters. To ensure air circulation, an inner “courtyard” (air-well) was placed midway between the front and rear of the house.


The front of the shop on the ground floor in most cases is used for commercial purposes, while the upper floors are intended for residential use. The ground floor may serve as food and drink shops, offices, shops, or workshops. If the ground floor include living spaces (usually located at the back), it may be used as reception, guestrooms, and formal family rooms with ancestor altars.[citation needed] As the settlement prospered and population increased, some front shops were put to professional uses such as clinics, drugstores, law offices, pawnshops, travel agencies.[citation needed] Food and drink shops usually served economical selections, such as a variety of ready-cooked food of Chinese style, Padang style (Halal), or Siamese style. Cooking stalls rented a portion of space from the shop owner and served specific food such as fried noodles, fried rice, Indian pancakes, noodle soup. A variety of drinks was served by a different stall, sometimes by the shop owner. Such stalls have been replaced by food courts.[citation needed]

Street corners were prized as the best location for food and drink shops.


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