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Reclaiming the five-foot walkways

At the front of many shophouses in the George Town area, you will see a sheltered walkway specially designed for pedestrians. This unique feature is known as the five-foot way or simply “kaki lima” by the local community.

As the name suggests, the walkway was a clever design from the British administration where all shophouses had to be connected by a covered sidewalk with a minimum width of five feet across. The main function of the walkway was to provide pedestrians relief from the hot sun and frequent downpours.
 
Most of the original five-foot walkways are lined with intricately-designed tiles. Each decorative pattern is distinctive and timeless.
As a child, the geometric tiles became the source of many hopping games on and between the lines. It served as our playground in the shade as we waited for the school bus.
Another tile art form can also be found adorning the shophouse wall, creating a colorful tapestries on the doorsteps.
Unfortunately now, the five foot walkways are claimed by private shop owners even though they are public space. Many modern businesses pour cement or place dull colored tiles over the top of the original tiles because it is a cheaper alternative than fixing it.Other owners may keep the original tiles, but place fences around the walkways to prevent public usage.

With guidelines and resources available on shophouse restoration, we can now hope that modern architects are starting to pay attention to the original designs of the walkways and to protect this unique heritage feature.

4 comments:

Christina Schweighofer said...

The tile patterns are so beautiful. I love the color combinations. Makes me want to visit Penang... Thanks for sharing!

Reese said...

Thanks Christina! I get hypnotised by looking at the gorgeous motifs. Hope you get a chance to visit Penang!

Mary said...

they look like Robyn's quilts! Beautiful!

Christina Schweighofer said...

The tile patterns are so beautiful. I love the color combinations. Makes me want to visit Penang... Thanks for sharing!