Five foot way

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Kaki lima or five-foot way along Braga Street in Bandung, Indonesia, occupied by street artist selling paintings.

Five foot ways (Malay/Indonesian: Kaki lima) are sheltered walkways or covered sidewalks, originally five feet (1.524 metres) in width, forming the frontage to a row of commercial properties. This feature can be found in many shophouses (and buildings of similar structural design) all over the world, and also in some office buildings.[1][2]

Five-foot way in Singapore

Examples of five foot ways can be found in former colonial Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, for example, in Old Batavia in Jakarta, Phuket City in Thailand, Braga Street in Bandung, Georgetown in Penang and Shenton Way in Singapore. In Indonesia, the term kaki lima has become synonymous with street food, since in the country numbers of warung humble tent shops or gerobak food carts often occupy them.[3]


A a five-foot way along a row of shophouses in Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.

The term "five-foot" describes the width of the covered sidewalks. The overhanging canopy, roof extension or projected upper floor on top of the five foot ways provides a cover to shield pedestrians from the sun and rain. As the ground floor of most commercial buildings in downtown areas is occupied by shops or eating places, the five foot ways also function as corridors for people to window-shop or look for refreshment.

As the name implies, five foot ways originally had a consistent width of five feet, but the guideline has not been applied universally, as certain five foot ways are wider or narrower depending on the age, size and function of the building.[1]


The requirement for arcades in urban plans may be found as early as 1573 in the Royal Ordinances by Philip II of Spain.[4] The five-foot way itself may have been inspired by the presence of verandahs, footways and continuous eaves in Batavia dating to the Dutch colonial period that were observed by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles where he lived in 1811–1815 as a governor during the British Java period.[5] Sidewalks along the main streets of Batavia of 1 foot high and about 5 feet wide may have been built at the time of Raffles.[6]

However, it was in Singapore that the five foot way became firmly established as an architectural feature of the region, when Stamford Raffles included this and other details in his Town Plan of 1822.[7] Raffles stipulated that the buildings in the newly established colony should be uniform, and should be built of brick and tiles to reduce fire risks. He added that:

... a still further accommodation will be afforded to the public by requiring that each house should have a verandah of certain depth, open at all times as a continued and covered passage on each side of the street.[8]

This became the five foot way, and this feature of shophouses in Singapore was observable by the 1840s from the drawing of Singapore John Turnbull Thomson. Ordinances and by-laws requiring such verandah walkways were then enacted from the mid-19th and early 20th century in the Strait settlements; however, the term "five foot way" was not specifically mentioned in such ordinances and by-laws, rather words as arcade, verandah or verandah-way or five-foot-path were used. The term may have been coined by builders in response to the minimum width of the walkway. The walkway would become an integral feature of many settlements in neighbouring British colonies in the Malaya peninsula, and by the later half of the 19th century became a feature of the distinctive "Strait Settlement Style" buildings.[5] It remains a prominent element in modern architecture in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. Although it was planned as a public walkway, the five foot way would also become a place for hawkers to trade, and it was used as retail, storage, and even living spaces. Attempts in Singapore to clear the walkways of hawkers who were obstructing the walkway in the 1880s led to the so-called "Verandah Riots".[9]

This architectural feature also spread to other South East Asian countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines, and Burma after the mid-19th century. Such feature may have been introduced to Bangkok after the visit of Rama V to Singapore in 1871, while towns in southern Thailand were influenced by their proximity to Malaya.[5] They also appeared in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other cities and market towns in South China in the early twentieth century in the form of qilou.[10][5]


The Indonesian usage of kaki lima is interchangeable with trotoar (from French via Dutch: trottoir), as both refer to walking paths or sidewalks. In Indonesian, the colloquial term pedagang kaki lima references street hawkers that often occupy the five foot ways. The kaki lima in Indonesia historically offered a potpourri of goods such as shirts, socks, blouses, pots and pans. Nowadays, they are often occupied by small eateries and stands.[6]

The Malay term for "five foot way", kaki lima (literally "five foot"), is also used generally to refer to corridors or verandas, regardless of their width.[6]

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External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Christopher Torchia; Lely Djuhari (2015). Indonesian Idioms and Expressions: Colloquial Indonesian at Work. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 235–236. ISBN 9781462916504.
  2. ^ "kaki lima". Online Indonesian - English Dictionary.
  3. ^ "Most popular 'kaki lima' in Jakarta". The Jakarta Post. Jakarta. 18 June 2016.
  4. ^ Mai-Lin Tjoa-Bonatz (1998). "Shophouses in Colonial Penang". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. LXXI Part 2 (2 (275)): 122–136. JSTOR 41493367.
  5. ^ a b c d Lim, Jon S.H. (1993). "The Shophouse Rafflesia: An Outline of its Malaysian Pedigree and its Subsequent Diffusion in Asia". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. LXVI Part 1 (1 (264)): 47–66. ISSN 0126-7353. JSTOR 41486189.
  6. ^ a b c Suryatini N. Ganie (19 December 2010). "The 5 feet story of Thomas Stamford Raffles". The Jakarta Post. Jakarta.
  7. ^ Singapore: A Pictorial History 1819-2000, By Gretchen Liu
  8. ^ Charles Burton Buckley (1902). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore. Singapore, Printed by Fraser & Neave, limited. p. 84.
  9. ^ The History of Singapore, By Jean Abshire
  10. ^ Jun Zhang (2015). "Rise and Fall of the Qilou: Metamorphosis of Forms and Meanings in the Built Environment of Guangzhou" (PDF). Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review. 26 (2): 26–40.