Challenges in the conservation of the Negeri Sembilan Traditional Malay House (NSTMH) and establishment of a conservation principles framework
Sulaiman, Mohd Sabere
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The survival of vernacular architecture in the world, and particularly in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, is under threat due to rapid modernization, urbanization, socioeconomic transformation, loss of its characteristics resulting from changes and development, and misinterpretation of its typology as well as serious issues of abandonment. Most Negeri Sembilan traditional Malay houses (NSTMH), in some cases over one hundred years old, are unprotected and are becoming derelict. The vernacular value of these houses and their preservation for future generations are therefore threatened. To date, little research has been undertaken into the challenges posed in the conservation of NSTMH from the perspectives of house owners and professionals, and how the changing patterns of their form, fabric, and function have shaped the challenges of preserving them. To explore this from a more holistic approach, existing local heritage legislation that protects traditional Malay houses in particular or timber vernacular architecture in general, and international charters were reviewed, as also successful cases of preservation of similar heritage. This research employs a multi-method qualitative approach by examining as a purposive sample selected 19th-century long-roof-type NSTMHs. The research methods consisted of semi-structured interviews with house owners and conservation experts, on-site survey of the houses’ changing patterns of form, fabric, and function, as well as reviews of the conservation heritage legislation context (national/ local) and international charters. Interview data were analysed using thematic analysis, while the accepted concept model of cultural heritage was used for analysis of the patterns of changes in the cases examined. Documents were reviewed using template analysis. Findings from the research outline the main challenges that include a lack of appreciation and understanding of heritage among house owners, lack of traditional building skills, lack of government support as well as insufficient documentation. Nonetheless, there is no legislation in place at either a national or local level to protect the traditional Malay house. All of the findings were triangulated prior to the development of the initial framework and further expert validation was obtained to establish the final framework. This research makes a significant contribution in expanding the existing body of knowledge, through exploration of how the house owners understand, value, and appreciate heritage within their environment, in addition to including conservation experts’ perspectives in this regard. Moreover, the main contribution of this study is the provision of a Conservation Principles Framework for the NSTMH that may be used by house owners, conservation experts, officials, the Village Security & Development Committee, academics, and students as a form of guidance to the implementation of conservation works. It is also hoped that it may act as a starting point for the Negeri Sembilan state government to develop guidance aimed to safeguard this valuable Malaysian heritage.