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The House in Indonesia
Between Globalization and Localization


By Peter J.M. Nas

Published in Bijdragen voor de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, vol 154, no 2, pp. 335-360, 1998.



The main postulate of the theory of globalization is that during the past few decades a 'third' culture has emerged which transcends national cultures and cannot be explained simply by looking at national states and their interrelationships. In this article I will explore the oppositeness of this postulate in the field of dwelling architecture. The question at issue is whether the house in Indonesia should be considered part of world-wide culture or not, and, should this be the case, whether this is just recently so. I will deal with this question in three parts, developing the argument from the local to the global. I will begin by describing a number of present-day vernacular habitation styles to show their great variety, based on the diversity of local cultures in Indonesia. Some of these forms of dwelling architecture are still wide-spread, but many of them have already disappeared or can be classified as endangered. In this section the local roots of dwelling architecture will take centre stage. Moving on, I will present the Hindu, Islamic, and colonial influences on the house to show that world-wide cultural elements, not just those founded on the dual relations between states but also of a more general character, were not only present, but were characteristic, exerting very powerful influences. Globalization is not just a recent phenomenon and often has strong regional connotations. Moreover, the so called third culture should not be seen through Western eyes only, because Asian variants abound. In my final phase, I will analyse the post-Independence foreign influences. In this period the diffusion of habitation styles has certainly been speeded up by new means of communication and the intensification of their use. In some cases this diffusion has been based on particular concepts discussed on a world-wide scale and propagated by influential international institutions. In this section the localization effects of this intensification of globalization as well as the phenomenon of hybridization are also taken into account.

Vernacular Habitation Styles

The main stream of dwelling architecture in Indonesia is clearly rooted in vernacular forms. In large parts of Indonesia, especially in the rural but by no means absent in some urban areas, these have been and still are predominant, although a marked decline has set in since at least the beginnings of this century. Nowadays these vernacular forms are often found in the midst of other buildings ranging from simple wooden structures to modern brick dwellings, and even high rise condominiums in cities. Where they are found, they often still have a function in the maintenance of the traditional culture. It would be too laborious to present an overview of all the traditional forms of architecture in Indonesia in this essay, but it is possible to provide a limited but insightful sample from which some main principles of spatial specification can be deduced. I will restrict myself to twelve examples presented in a loose geographical order from west to east; some well-documented, such as the Javanese, Balinese and Atoni cases, and some less well-documented, such as the Aceh dwelling architecture, the limas house in Palembang, and the Savunese house. Because of these differences in the sources available and the necessity for short characterizations, the cases presented include only the principal elements. So, when a certain element is found in the description of one house type but not in another, it does not always mean that it is not present. I hope that these cases will supply sufficient material to give an appreciation of the local roots and variation of vernacular architecture in Indonesia, as well as for the deduction of basic principles underlying these habitation styles.

The Aceh House (Sumatra)

In Aceh the traditional houses all face north or south, never east or west. Jacobs (1894) supposes that this is probably a pre-Islamic feature as in Hindu belief the house entrance should not be oriented towards the sunset which marks darkness and is associated with black, the colour of death. Nowadays, borrowing from Islamic teaching the front gable is considered to be oriented towards Mecca. Snouck Hurgronje (1906) says that the grown boys, men, and strangers without a wife used to lodge and sleep in the meunasah, the community building of the village which is often deserted nowadays (Dall 1982).

The traditional house in Aceh is built on high stilts so that people can walk around and work underneath it. The most sacred place is the roof in which the family heirlooms are kept. The middle part is the real house which is divided into three parts from the front to the back. The first part is a platform which is usually open in front and at the sides or is in any case well-ventilated. It is the place to receive guests and partake of religious meals. The second part is elevated about half a metre and contains the bedroom, a corridor, and a storage place. The third part lies on the same height as the first part and is made up by a back gallery often containing a kitchen. Here the daily meals are taken. The children sleep here and it is where the women receive their female guests. All sorts of furniture and utensils are found here, such as mats, pots, lamps, and so on. This back gallery, according to Damsté (1920), is very private, although the bedrooms are, of course, more so. In former times the stairways were often situated in the middle of the front of the house, where the water jar was placed so that the visitors could wash their feet before entering. Sometimes a separate female entrance is found leading to the back gallery.

The Sakuddei House (Mentawai)

The Sakuddei house on Siberut, one of the Mentawai islands, has been described by Schefold (1979/80). The main dwelling, the uma, is a longhouse, built on stilts and inhabited by five to ten families. It belongs to one local group and expresses its unity symbolically. The uma generally consists of an open entry platform, a covered front gallery, a first and second inner room, and another platform at the end. One of the inner side pillars, which is used to hang up the group fetish, has an important ritual significance. The whole house is related to the cosmos and is considered to be a ship encompassing the whole society. The open, airy verandah with the notched tree-trunk stairway is the place for the men to work on tools and store these. The covered front gallery is an important place to meet each other and host guests. For the males, it is a favourite place to sleep under mosquito nets. The board on the upper inside of the front is decorated. Animal skulls are tied to the roof. The inner room is entered through a door. It has the communal hearth in the middle with behind it a board dance floor. On the right side of this floor are places for sacred objects and personal belongings. This is where the very prestigious gongs are stored and rituals take place during feasts. It is the religious centre of the house where the main protective fetish, a bundle of holy plants, is preserved. The second inner room is divided into bedrooms for the women. In a large uma these are rooms occupied by one family each. Generally the mother sleeps there with the children and unmarried girls. The platform at the end of the uma is used by women to do their work. Visiting women who come alone enter the building here.

The emphasis in the Sakuddei longhouse is laid on the group as a whole and not so much on the individual family. Ship metaphor and cosmic analogy are considered to be the main principles of ordering.

The Limas House (Palembang)

The limas house consists of one wooden building on piles oriented towards the river. The floor has six platforms, of which the first four rise stepwise from the front, while the floor level of the last two drops down again. The platforms of the fourth and fifth section have small rooms on the left and right side, such as the bride's room, the room for the family-in-law, and the women's room. The sixth section is used as the kitchen.

The main ordering principles of this house seem to be intimacy and hierarchy which are expressed by linearity. Intimacy increases from the front to the back, from the outside verandah to the kitchen, and is expressed horizontally. Hierarchy is expressed vertically by differences in floor level and during ceremonies persons are allowed to occupy the higher platforms depending on their status. On these occasions guests are received in either the first or second section. Family gatherings take place in the third section and the elders use the fourth and highest section in accordance with their high status (Nas 1995).

The limas house clearly resembles the above-mentioned Aceh house: the main ordering principles of both types being intimacy and hierarchy expressed by horizontal and vertical linearity.

The Javanese House

The upper-class Javanese house, according to Prijotomo (1984), consists in principle of three structures constituting a whole, namely the open pavilion (pendapa) in front, the walled living quarters (dalem ageng) at the back, and in between a connecting passageway (pringgitan). The living quarters contain several sections, namely the general part, the (two) bedrooms and the most sacred place of the house (krobongan), which is used for rituals and meditation.

The main ordering principles of the Javanese house are centrality and linearity. Centrality dominates the open pavilion, which has its focus in the middle, and the house as a whole where the duality of the pavilion and the living quarters are synthesized by the passageway. Linearity is dominant with respect to the most sacred place in the house, which is situated at the middle at the back of the living quarters. Centrality and linearity principles express the difference between sacred and profane, associated respectively with the krobongan and the rest of the house, and with the central part of the pavilion and its peripheral parts. In this latter case the centrality is also expressed vertically by the trapezoidal roof supported by four pillars (saka guru) which mark the more sacral area of the pavilion. A further differentiation between private and public opposes the living quarters to the open pavilion where guests are received in a formal way.

Around this basic structure of the house other rooms, such as the kitchen, bathroom, guest room, and dining hall, may be found. The whole compound is encircled by a fence. The Javanese house can be considered basically to be a form of open space architecture, which consists of a walled compound with several buildings and open spaces in between.

Prijotomo (1984) presents a short description of the Javanese house based on the works of Maclaine Pont and Rassers among other authors. He concludes from these studies that the essence of the Javanese house at the beginning of the twentieth century resembled the core of the house in the Hindu-Javanese period.

The Balinese House

The Balinese dwelling is likewise a form of open space architecture. The orientation of the house upstream towards the holy mountain Gunung Agung plays an important role. This direction is considered sacred, while its opposite is profane. The territory of the house is divided, on the one hand, into mountain (head), land (body), and sea (legs), and, on the other hand, into the rising (head), zenith (body), and setting (legs) of the sun. The combination of these two divisions results in nine cells of which the mountain/sunrise (head/head) combination is the most sacred and oriented towards the holy mountain. The sea/sunset (legs/legs) combination is the most profane. All the cells are graded in this elaborate system and designated for particular use, such as the family temple, and accommodating the unmarried girls, parents, boys, granary, kitchen, and so on.

This means that the Balinese house is dominated by anthropomorphic and cosmic principles combined in gradation from sacred to profane (Nas 1995).

The Laboya House (Sumba)

The Laboya on West Sumba, according to Geirnaert-Martin (1992), conceptualize their house as a buffalo. It is a more or less square construction built on piles which support bamboo floors. Buffalo horns are fixed to the wall at the front of the house. The house has three levels, namely the upper part for the ancestors and sacred objects, the middle level for the inhabitants, and the lower part on the ground between the four main pillars (legs) for the domestic animals. The roof has a trapezoid shape topped by a construction resembling buffalo horns. It is thatched with elephant grass which is considered to be the hair. The heirlooms are kept under the roof in a sacred cupboard in which the spirits of the patrilineal ancestors are believed to dwell. The buffalo horns of the house represent the protection of the ancestors. The sacred place under the roof is decorated with snake and flower motifs symbolizing wealth and procreation and formerly contained the trophy heads of enemies. The part used for the living has a front verandah which is the most public part of the house and is sheltered from sun and rain by the grass hanging from the roof. There are two doors, one for the men (right) and one for the women (left), corresponding with the male and female parts of the house. The verandah and the doors are considered to form the face of the buffalo house. The inner part of the house consists of several rooms located around the square fireplace (navel of the buffalo house) in the middle contained within the four main pillars which are related to specific activities and classified as either male or female. Other elements are the cupboard, pots, nets, and so on. The opening to the roof is located at the male side of the house.

Using the framework of this animal metaphor as basic principle for the conceptualization of the Laboya house, Geirnaert-Martin also discusses analogies to the digestion process which constitute the differentiation between the front and the back of the dwelling.

The Tana 'Ai House (Flores)

The lepo house of the Tana 'Ai on East Flores is described by Douglas Lewis (1988). This house does not mirror the cosmos directly, but models the social group that is made up by it. The lepo is part of a compound containing several constructions such as a granary, pig sty, and temporary pavilion. The area of the compound is encircled by bamboo and tree branches. The house has a particular orientation with the inner door 'upslope towards the mountain peaks' and the house ladder placed at the 'uphill and left' corner of the house. The dwelling space is strongly graded: the forest outside the compound, the swept area within the compound, the area around the house below the eaves, the verandah reached by climbing a ladder and entering the outer door, the inner door leading to the area between the two hearths, the great inside space, the inner area which is demarcated by a floor beam, and the bedrooms on both sides of the inner parts of the house. Reliquary baskets hang from the principal roof beam and the wealth of the house such as swords, cloths and so on are stored in the inner area.

Entering the house means that a series of boundaries has to be trespassed each of which leads to a series of spaces with a different centrality. This act of entering the house is considered to be in keeping with a ritual circular movement coming in from upslope, entering the house to the right, reversal inside the inner visitors area, and turning upslope facing the hearths.

Douglas Lewis says the lepo presents a factual sexual organization of space, but conceptually is not divided into male and female areas, nor is it marked by strong dual categories. However, the house as female and domestic is contrasted to the forest as male, both synthesized and mediated by the garden in which they meet.

The Savunese House (Savu)

The Savunese house is built on poles and is perceived of as both a living being and a ship. According to Kana (1980) designations such as head, tail, neck, cheeks, chest and ribs reveal the parallel with a living being. As well as this anthropomorphism the front beams are also formed into the shape of the bow of a perahu and the terminology includes concepts referring to the masts and the hull. The house comprises three levels, namely the platform at ground level, the floor platform, and the loft platform. The floor platform especially is associated with the perahu because of the joined curved pieces of wood which form a half circle. The roof on either side is characterized by the traditional leaf-neck associated with the buffalo head.

Although Kana presents the ship metaphor as the main ordering principle of the Savunese house, the buffalo metaphor is also inherent, which makes this a case of mixed character.

The Atoni House (Timor)

In his famous article on the Atoni (Amarasi) house of Timor, Cunningham (1964) presents the order of this house which is generally inhabited by an elementary family in minute detail. It is considered a residential, economic, and ritual unit oriented towards the south and consists of several units such as the inner section (not for guests, and the sleeping place for unmarried sons and daughters), the outer section (for guests and work), the great platform on the right side of the inner section (used as a bed, bench, table), the sleeping platform on the left side of the inner section (for the older males and females of the household), the serving platform near the hearth (for cooking), the hearth, the fixed water jar, and the mother and chicken posts.

Essential to the division of space in the house are the four points of the Atoni compass, the four corners of the chicken posts, the four places of respectively the water jar, the sleeping platform, the door, and the great platform, the four mother posts, and the central hearth. Cunningham claims that these elements are linked in two ways, namely by concentric circles, each circle representing the distance to the centre of the house, and by crossings projecting various configurations of points on the different circles. The house conceived both as model of the cosmos and as part of it, is also divided into halves of greater wholes or oppositions encapsulated in larger dualities, that is the house is divided into two parts and these together are opposed to outside, and so on. 'In all of these oppositions - dry land and sea to the sky, male sea and female sea to the land, right and left sides of the "house centre" to the yard, right and left sides of the inner section to the outer section, and inner and outer sections of the house to the attic - a conceptually subordinate pair is opposed to a super ordinate unit.' (Cunningham 1964: 50).

The house as a model of the cosmos also expresses the social order. It incorporates the status differences of the various groups into a whole. The main underlying principles of this order are unity and difference. Besides this ordering of the house in relation to the structure of the cosmos, in note 23 Cunningham also refers to the fact that human body symbolism is quite common with regard to the house.

The Toraja House (Sulawesi)

The Toraja house is famous for its conspicuous roof construction and under the influence of modern tourism it is developing into a monument less and less suitable for actually living in. In fact sometimes it has already been abandoned as a place of residence as people have chosen to construct dwellings closer to ground level alongside these tongkongan, which have been extensively described by Kis-Jovak, Nooy-Palm, Schefold and Schulz-Dornburg (1988). In the analysis by Nooy-Palm, the tongkongan is considered to be the image of the tripartite cosmos specifying the roof and triangular, heavily decorated northern gable section as the sacred parts of the house or the upper world; the living quarters represent the earthly part of the house where the humans live as the middle world; and the space under the house is the under world. Free from any association with the under world is the pillar under the centre of the house which is the navel post symbolizing the creation of the house. The central post in the house itself is considered to be the axis of the world. Besides this three-fold partition of the world, there is also a twofold cosmos-related orientation. This refers to divisions between north and south, and east and west. The flow of the river from the north is associated with life giving, the source of the water, and the growth cycle of rice, while the south is associated with the ancestors. The east is related to food and life, and the south and west bear reference to death. Some scholars think that ship symbolism plays a role in the Toraja house. The tongkongan is inhabited by an extended family and every person in Toraja society is related to several houses on his mother's and father's sides.

The House on Dawera and Dawelor (Maluku Tenggara)

Ship symbolism dominates the world view of the peoples on the islands of Maluku Tenggara. De Jonge and Van Dijk (1995) present elaborate descriptions of these cultures and point out the fact that nautical concepts have always been and still are important in Moluccan village and house lay-out, including those on the islands of Dawera and Dawelor in the western region.

In former times settlements on these two islands used to be located on high, inaccessible crags, like eagle's eyries, and were conceptualized as ships. The inhabitants, who constituted one descent group, were seen as the crew. The 'holy' or 'big' house in which this self-sufficient group lived was built on long poles with a bamboo floor covered by a roof of coconut leaves at a height of two metres. The construction and decoration of the roof referred to the shape of a ship. The house was considered to be sailing from east to west following the course of the sun and the spaces were differentiated parallel to this movement into the right and left 'pilot's rooms' and the right and left 'helmsman's rooms'.

At the end of the nineteenth century the location of these villages was changed under influence of colonial policy and nowadays they are situated along the coast. Despite the change in location the boat model was used as a frame of reference for their new lay-out, although in some cases several villages were combined into one settlement as if they were 'two or three ships sailing together'.

In the twentieth century the principle of endogamous marriage has lost its force in these societies. Under missionary influence the house construction was changed in such a way that the horizontal measures have been reduced, the posts have become shorter, and the ground, instead of the raised floor, became the living space. Nowadays, people live in one-family houses around the greatly reduced 'big' house, which is inhabited by the descendants of the 'right helmsman' only.

The Tobelo House (Halmahera)

The house of the Tobelo in North Halmahera has been described in fine detail by Platenkamp (1988). It consists of three parts, namely the great house containing the bedrooms, a large bamboo bench in front of the house, and a construction at the back of the house with the kitchen. The position of the house is not determined by any fixed spatial orientation, but the houses are oriented towards the road. The front wall is decorated by a big shield symbolizing male protective force. Strangers and male relatives are expected to approach the house from the front. This front part is open and faces the street, in contrast to the kitchen which is hidden from public view and associated with the women. People not related to the house, except women of neighbouring houses, are not allowed to approach the house from the rear. From the front to the back, that is from front porch, via the bedrooms, to the kitchen, the spaces grow more and more protected.

The structure of the house, according to Platenkamp, suggests an analogy between the house and the human body. It consists of a more durable wooden frame covered by perishable bamboo walls and a thatched roof, paralleling the human body composed of a skeleton and flesh. In contrast to the symmetry of the human skeleton, the structure of the house is based on the principle that space never must be divided into two equal parts. This discontinuity shows hierarchy, a contrast implying that the house protects the people, that the body of the house (with unequal divisions) protects the human body (with equal divisions).

Principles of Spatial Specification

From these examples it is possible for us to conclude that Indonesian 'traditional' houses are very diversified and that it is difficult to determine constants, and for example claim that they are generally built of wood on posts with differences in floor levels, saddle-backed roofs, and decorated gable-ends and gable-finials. After due consideration I believe in order to grasp the diversity of house types in Indonesia, in the first place it is possible to classify these buildings according to certain dimensions, such as single construction versus open-space architecture, on piles versus earth-bound, wood versus stone, round/oval versus square, communal versus non-communal, and so on.

A second way to come to grips with the wide field of vernacular, but also useful for other and even modern types of architecture, is to construct Weberian ideal-types of sub-categories of houses, that is the traditional Austronesian house, the open-space architecture dwelling, and even the colonial mansion, the shophouse, the modern dwelling, and so on.

Employing this way of reasoning the ideal-type of the traditional Austronesian house has several characteristics which can be derived from Blust (1976), Fox (1993), and Schefold (1996). The linguistic research of Blust indicates that the Austronesian house is a raised structure on posts, with a notched ladder, a hearth with storage rack, rafters, a ridge-pole, and a thatched roof. Fox defines the posts, ladder, ridge-pole, hearth, and encompassing roof as the main characteristics. And Schefold mentions the tripartite house, the multi-levelled floor, the outward slanting gable, oblique walls, gable-finials, the saddle-backed roof, and differential treatment of root and tip in the uses of timber. From these three examples of ideal-type constructions it becomes clear that no agreement on the basic characteristics of the Austronesean house, many of which can also be found in the work of Waterson (1990), has yet been reached. However, it could be said that this house is basically a raised wooden structure on posts with a ladder, a hearth, and a ridge-pole.

These ideal-types are methodological constructions which do not need to exist in reality as they are derived from various buildings. This does not mean that such an ideal-type will never be encountered somewhere in Indonesia. It could even turn out to be a prototype from which many of the existing vernacular Austronesian houses are derived.

The ideal-type of the open-space architecture dwelling house comprises such attributes as a walled or fenced space, several detached or semi-detached buildings generally arranged by traditional value systems, and various open spaces often with a larger open space somewhere in the middle.

The colonial mansion could be characterized as a spacious dwelling with a front and a back verandah, situated in a large garden dotted with white flower pots, and with rooms for servants at the back opening out on to a patio. It has high ceilings and small grids high on the walls to allow natural ventilation.

The ideal-type of the shophouse should include such characteristics as terrace-house construction, with a shop or semi-private space at ground level opening on to the street, a covered footpath, and living apartments on the first floor.

The modern house frequently encountered in present-day new town development around Jakarta, is a terrace house, completely reliant on air conditioning and with special room to meet guests. Small corners are reserved for plants or a fish pond, and room with separate lavatory for servants is located near the kitchen.

Besides this classificatory exercise working with dimensions or ideal-types, the Indonesian house as a whole may also be considered to be a configuration of spatial entities that are diversified and marked. So, seeking a third way to analyse this dwelling house several cultural, social, design and building principles may be distinguished as relevant to this process of spatial specification and gradation.

Cultural mechanisms which mark space by means of metaphors are:

  1. the human (anthropomorphic) or animal (e.g. buffalo) body;
  2. the cosmos by reference to the sun, the points of the compass or often other sacred reference points, or the use of opposing pairs (male-female, day-night, high-low, upstream-downstream, trunk-tip); and
  3. the ship.

Socially this spatial specification results in distinctions and gradations of space from:

  1. private to public;
  2. male to female;
  3. sacred to profane;
  4. low status to high status;
  5. consanguinal to cognatic relationships; and
  6. group to elementary family.

From the point of view of design, differences in space are marked through:

  1. open-space versus single structure architecture
  2. delimitation by means of extension or encapsulation often in combination with ornamentation;
  3. horizontal and vertical linearity (including elevation); and
  4. centripetality (synthesis).

The principles of building and building materials can also be considered important for the specification of space:

  1. H-construction versus box-construction;
  2. piled versus earth-bound structures;
  3. round/oval versus square;
  4. wood versus stone construction; and
  5. natural ventilation versus air conditioning.

These cultural, social, design, and building principles used for demarcation in all sorts of combinations result in a differentiation of spaces which is often quite intricate, gradual, and occasionally situation-bound. Sometimes different principles are combined, such as ship, buffalo, and bird symbolism, or cosmological and dualist specifications of space, but clear cut cases of interpretation according to just one principle are also not unknown. The Rindi analysis by Forth (1981) is an example in which all sorts of principles are used, but it is not clear whether or not this mixture is of emic or etic origin. The differentiation of space is also related to the categories of people allowed to enter certain rooms, the use of the spaces, and the behaviour required of the person in that space.

The vernacular house forms presented above are generally described in quite a static manner, although some authors (such as Platenkamp, and De Jonge and Van Dijk) also discuss some changes in modern times and their supposed meanings. It should be stressed that these 'traditional' houses have their own endogenous dynamics and that many regional and local variations are occurring and hybridization is sometimes encountered in the border areas between different cultures. One example of endogenous dynamics is the adaptation of granaries for housing. Moreover, though often under the threat of dilapidation, in some areas 'traditional' houses are still being built anew nowadays, as they are important media in the transmission of traditional communal values. While this is a welcome phenomenon, social change does not leave the principles mentioned untouched and they may modify inconsistently causing disharmony.

Early Foreign Influences

It is difficult to decide to what extent forms of vernacular architecture are 'purely' traditional, because foreign Hindu, Islamic, Chinese, and European influences have all been paramount at one time or another in the Archipelago.

Hindu influences are often so strong that under this head it is appropriate to consider the distinction between open space architecture, consisting of a compound with several open and closed constructions, and compact architecture made up by one building as crucial. Open space or compound architecture is still characteristic of Bali and forms the core of the Javanese house, even when nowadays it is often completely walled. Notwithstanding this clear distinction between these two architectural forms, Hindu influence on compact architecture should not be excluded, especially in the systems of reference used. One example of this is the suggestion by Jacobs (1894, II) mentioned above who supposes that the orientation of many kampung houses in the Archipelago towards the north or the south, and never to the west or the east, can probably be considered a pre-Islamic phenomenon. Dall (1982) mentions the pre-Islamic practice of avoiding an orientation of the house towards the sunset, because this is associated with darkness and death. In Hinduism, the east is associated with new life and the west with death. He also thinks that in former times the Aceh house had an open roof and detached walls revealing open space architectural influences which disappeared after the arrival of Islam.

Islamic influences are related mainly to orientation towards Mecca (mosques, praying, burying) and decoration avoiding the depiction of the human body, although this rule is not always strictly followed, and abstract human forms may be found in calligraphic art and apparently floral patterns. Prijono (1984) says that to a large extent the first Muslims utilized existing Hindu-Javanese architectural forms to express their Islamic ideas and meanings. The meru form, for example, was accepted as manifestation of sacredness by both the Hindu-Javanese people and the Muslims. Conversely, the fragmented space of the Hindu-Javanese temple differs from the unity of the self-sufficient space of the mosque.

The Colonial Civilization Process

Colonial influences on vernacular architecture were manifold covering the fields of religion, hygiene, comfort, the use of money in house construction, specialization of tasks in the building process, and the diffusion of new materials and house types.

In the general run of things many Dutch in the colony did not appreciate traditional houses at all. They were not considered very comfortable, and were characterized as dark and humble. Hamerster (1916), for example, wrote that the Alfur people in the Minahasa lived in large groups in awful, dark, musty houses on stilts which were built in a disorderly fashion in inaccessible places. Jacobs (1894) stated that Acehnese villages were not very attractive and that what one came across was a mass of uniform, dirty hovels. There were those people who clearly appreciated traditional architecture, especially the methods of decoration and construction. This led to the use of traditional ornaments in colonial wood and brick architecture, and experiments in house design adapted to the climate and culture. One of the most famous of these experiments is the building of the Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB) designed by the architect Maclaine Pont.

As a representative of the colonial government Middendorp (1922) stressed that economically speaking traditional Batak house construction was very wasteful. There was an overabundant use of materials, such as wood and roof cover, and because of this an army of labour was needed for construction activities. Such houses could only be built when scores of people were prepared to offer their services. Attitudes changed with the penetration of the money economy which found people far less willing to do so. This meant that the organization of house construction changed completely with the introduction of money in this sector. Referring to Great Aceh at the end of the past century, Jacobs (1894, II: 36) points to the role of the war and more general causes of deforestation which made local wood for housing scarce. Fewer people were working with wood and the art of woodcarving decreased. Ever larger quantities of wood had to be imported and woodworking was a trade taken up by Chinese carpenters who replaced the local craftsmen.

Missionaries often fostered negative opinions about traditional houses which were inhabited by several families together and associated with all sorts of heathen beliefs and rituals. Platenkamp, for example, writes that nowadays the Tobelo village house only contains one nuclear family, as a result of

'initiatives taken in the past by the Dutch missionaries, who were convinced that the traditional house - containing a larger group of relatives - would give rise to indecent, "immoral" behaviour.' (Platenkamp 1988: 56).

Hygiene stood very high on the list of government officials, particularly after the plague epidemics that occurred during the colonial period. This led to a policy that was clearly anti-traditional house abhorring their high roofs which gave shelter to many rats and other vermin. Many of these houses were torn down. Wagenaar describes the consequences.

'The control of the plague had far-reaching consequences for local populations. It was virtually impossible to exterminate all domestic rats. What could be done was to prevent the rats from nesting under the floors of houses or living in the palm-leaf thatch (atap) roofing. The latter was particularly dangerous because rat fleas could fall from the bodies of dead rats and cause a real threat to the health of the people living below. The result of all this was that a rehousing programme was set up. Homes considered unfit were evacuated, demolished and burned down. The new houses had to have roof tiles which meant that the local population had to learn a new skill - tile production. This is evidenced in a telegram sent on 22 December 1911 .... from Malang to the resident of Pasoeroean, which says that "at present strong measures are being taken on the property of Djoengo (Gabes). The coolie huts are all being evacuated and then burnt down, and then rat-free houses will be built. The locals are becoming increasingly skilled in making roof tiles. In the period from 1 to 15 December they produced 4,618,000 tiles".' (Wagenaar 1995: 6).

Nooteboom (1939: 222) points out that the incidence of deaths caused by hookworm was disproportionately high in the traditional oval houses in Manggarai (West Flores) and that other diseases like dysentery frequently were catastrophic for the population. He believed that as far as hygiene was concerned the continuance of the use of these buildings could not be defended, citing the low space beneath them heaped with excrement and rubbish, and the high alang-alang roof without any openings for the smoke from the many inside fireplaces to escape. These houses were dark during the day and very crowded with people who were often ailing. He adds that the government did indeed destroy these buildings and substituted new model houses of set minimum and maximum dimensions and with a model toilet for them. This policy led to a strong decline in the incidence of hookworm.

Referring to Flores, Lehmann added to this that for the sake of public health the Dutch government destroyed the round houses and had new houses built on poles. Despite such good intentions, the indigenous people did not appreciate these constructions which were bound to deteriorate rapidly (Lehmann 1934: 275).

Tillema was one of the most active advocates of the improvement of housing and living conditions in the Netherlands East Indies. His works were focused on the improvement of the health situation and it was he who pointed out that the technical element was not sufficiently stressed in the experimental measures taken against the plague. Tillema (1922, V: IX) considered the traditional house to be an important breeding ground of illnesses and stressed the need, and indeed the obligation to improve the housing conditions of the indigenous population: to keep the houses plague free, to achieve good light and ventilation, and to take care of proper sewage and garbage disposal.

All these ideas and regulations concerning housing, which ran counter to existing habitation norms and values, can be characterized in part as a civilization offensive on the habitation styles in Indonesia trying to bring them in line with the European example. And they were in part the result of a process of a general diffusion of new ideas, techniques and materials, such as taking account of sanitation, the use of corrugated iron roofs, and bricks and concrete in construction. In some areas the housing civilization process was promulgated more rigorously than in other, which might be one explanation for the great regional differences in present-day conditions of vernacular architecture. This housing civilization offensive can be considered an early form of globalization as it was part of the brainchild of general Western conceptualizations of health and hygiene and was implemented in all the colonies.


Sometimes new forms of 'traditional' architecture were designed in order to submit to new norms without completely abandoning traditional architectonic forms. An example of this is the experiment of Van Bendegom (M.J. 1919) who had a house erected in Karo-Batak style. He considered it a transitional house and was very well aware of the fact that it in no way really resembled an original Batak house, but was just a dwelling house in Karo-Batak style. This house was designed because the old Batak house had to be eliminated. It was meant to integrate European and Batak architecture by means of combining European requirements of light, air and space arrangements with Batak roof form and decorations. Its function was to serve as an example from which other new forms of Batak architecture could be developed.

We are also familiar with this type of development and hybridization from early colonial architecture. At first, stepped gable and other classic Dutch house types were introduced to Batavia. As time passed Dutch culture and houses were adapted to the local conditions resulting in the long run in what is called the Indische culture and the Indische mansion. This roomy mansion was situated in beautiful flower gardens and had spacious front and back verandah's which were the scene for the social life. It is an architectural form that is neither Dutch nor Indonesian, but truly colonial and it is found only in Indonesia. The Indische mansion cannot be considered part of a 'third culture' in the sense this occurs in the globalization theory because it is primarily an offspring of Dutch and Indonesian cultures. In the late colonial period the Indische mansion lost ground and smaller houses for the European middle and lower classes began to feature more prominently in city extension.

Another example of hybridization is the so-called shophouse. It is generally built in terraces and combines both ground floor spaces for shop activities opening on to the pavement with a first floor residence more frequently than not used by the proprietor. Lim (1993) claims that Sir Stamford Raffles was the initiator of the shophouse, which he calls 'Shophouse Rafflesia', and this was part of a grand vision for tropical town planning.

China is often mentioned as one of the areas where prototype models of the shophouse are found. However, the shophouse has its roots in the building-line regulations guaranteeing free passage along a footpath, arcade or verandah-way with a width of five-foot (or kaki lima) in front of the shop. Such building-lines were implemented at an early phase in Batavia and these probably formed a prototypical model for Raffles.

Lim (1993) argues that shophouse architecture in Penang, Singapore, and Malacca followed three phases, namely: foundation (1786-1866); consolidation (1868-1926); and regulation by the Architecture Ordinance (1927-1963). It developed in various styles from long rows of atap-roofed sheds with eaves projecting to shelter a pathway into the so-called 'Straits Settlement Style' with eclectic use of ornamentation on the first floor irrespective of the arcades or arches at the ground floor level. In the third phase reinforced concrete was introduced and the shophouse achieved its modern shape.

Diffusion of the shophouse through Asia occurred on a large scale and was mainly determined either by administrative policy (e.g. Burma, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines), or personal patronage (e.g. Thailand, Medan in Indonesia). So, in contrast to the Batak house experiment of Van Bendegom, the shophouse, whether or not of the 'Rafflesia' type, is an explicit example of early globalization in the field of architecture, as part of an Asian 'third' culture. Notwithstanding its Western, colonial connotations with regard to the restriction of the use of the street for work and private activities, that is its colonial civilization character, the shophouse forms part of a widely spread 'third culture' of Asian origin.

In the colonial period and especially in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, new architectural styles were introduced, some dominated particularly by Dutch schools, but others rooted in the international architectural domain. In the booklet Het Indische Bouwen: Architectuur en Stedebouw in Indonesië (Netherlands Indies Construction: Architecture and City Building in Indonesia), which was published to accompany an exhibition in Helmond, the main architectonic schools of the colonial period, such as neo-classicism, eclecticism, neo-gothic, neo-renaissance, rationalism, traditionalism and Americanism, the Amsterdamse School, art nouveau or Jugendstil, De Stijl, functionalism, and the Delftse School are listed. Undeniably some of these were induced particularly by Dutch architectonic developments, of which some by the way have become part of 'third culture' such as De Stijl. Others belong definitively to the 'third culture' in the field of architecture, such as Jugendstil, functionalism, and so on. This means that the 'third culture' phenomenon is not really as recent as is probably supposed. In the field of architecture and housing especially such a culture has long been in existence, albeit preceded and paralleled by all sorts of foreign influences on a more limited scale leading to hybridization and completely new architectural and housing forms.

An example of the hybridization of colonial architecture is the house of a Chinese landlord (istana tuan tanah) in Tangerang, West Java (Karawaci), which combines Dutch, Javanese, and Chinese elements. In the 1970s this rural mansion was inhabited by several Indonesian families. The front consisted of a large building with a red tiled roof with a Javanese form and a verandah with heavy white columns supporting the roof. From the rear the impression of the house was completely different dominated by overwhelmingly Chinese wood construction and ornamentation. This rural mansion is a clear example of individual hybridization, which can be contrasted to collective hybridization when this tendency is backed up by government policy as is often the case nowadays.

A present-day example of hybridization is the propensity for Minangkabau roof architecture found on public buildings in Padang and Bukittinggi. In this area, government policy obliges all public institutions, such as banks, public organizations and so on, to put a Minangkabau-shaped roof on their often Western-style building. These roofs are replacing the traditional houses as an ethnic symbol, which means that the decline of private symbolism of Minangkabau dwelling architecture is being counteracted by the implementation of at least one aspect of this symbolism in the public domain. This results in conspicuous hybridization at a collective level which imposes traditionally shaped roofs made of modern materials on modern style public architecture.

As in the Minangkabau area, in Bali nowadays government policy tries to protect traditional culture by fostering Balinese ornamentation on public buildings, but in this context the results cannot be characterized as hybridization. Balinese culture and craftsmanship have developed new artistic expressions to give a direction to the social change fostered by modernization particularly under the influence of tourism. This has given birth to harmonious architectural forms.

The Toraja are also acquainted with the phenomenon of hybridization, a fact illustrated when the exceptionally high roof construction is combined with brick architecture or is used as a symbol on top of monuments, public buildings, and Western-style houses. This is nothing new as Schefold (1988) has shown how the original Toraja house style changed in the course of time. The tongkongan was built higher and higher, stressing the vertical aspect and consequently the curvature of its roof became more and more pronounced leading to a spectacular architectonic image. The sensational visual effect took its toll. The body of the house became truncated, narrower, and more elevated with a larger distance between the living space and the ground. The construction was rendered more fragile with less massive but more numerous bearing parts. The high roof lost its shadow function for the area in front of the house. The whole structure, according to Schefold, gives a more elegant but also a less stable impression. The changes have led to the installation of additional lower roofs for shading. Many people have also completely abandoned their traditional houses, leaving them to be used as meeting and ritual places while they choose more comfortable, modern, and less impressive small houses nearby. The new style tongkongan are being officially promoted to boost the tourist industry and are losing their habitation function, being relegated to the status of monuments.

Flats and Core Housing

Beside the successful kampung improvement programmes implemented in the nineteen seventies, which were mainly directed towards the environment of the house and not to the house itself, other post-Independence examples of 'third culture' influences in Indonesian low-cost housing are flats and sites-and-services projects often combined with core housing.

The sites-and-services projects were mainly implemented by Perumnas, the state housing corporation, which was set up to tackle the low-cost housing problem and given the wherewithall to do so by a self-revolving fund. In the seventies and eighties this led to extensive housing project activities which targeted the lower social strata. One of the modalities of these projects took the form of sites-and-services, in which the sites were prepared (roads, drainage and so on) and the cores of the house with the wet cell were constructed. As the costs had to be recovered and requirements for regular income had to be set, these projects were generally not suited to the poor. Still these projects offered housing opportunities to the lower middle class with a permanent job, particularly state and local functionaries. In the Jakarta area many examples of such schemes are found, such as in Klender, Tangerang, and Depok.

This type of housing scheme has to be considered part of the 'third culture' as it is extensively discussed in scientific literature at a world level and forms part and parcel of the policy of many public and private international institutions such as the World Bank and housing developers. These schemes are implemented in many Third World countries and their results are compared in order to improve their performance.

In the nineteen eighties urban flat construction became - though only in an experimental way - one of the means by which to supply low-cost housing. Notwithstanding the supposed cultural alienation resulting from flat construction, as Indonesians are accustomed to live in houses on the ground or on stilts and want to have a garden at their disposal for fruit trees and chicken, high-rise building has been continued on a larger scale. One early example of flat construction in the heart of Jakarta is documented by Jellinek (1991). She described the change in the area of Kebun Kacang from a rural woodland kampung to a high density inner city kampung, inhabited by people who had ample income opportunities from central city development, but had to live in deteriorating housing conditions induced by increasing population densities. Finally, the kampung which had turned into a slum was cleared and flats were constructed. However, many of the original inhabitants of the kampung, notwithstanding the compensation received, did not want or could not afford to move into these flats.

The flat as habitation style also pertains to the 'third culture'. It originated from the US where, in first instance, it was a prerogative of the rich. Later it dispersed through society and was also made available to lower-income strata. Finally, it became a general habitation style found all over the world and occupied by all strata. In some cases, such as Singapore and Hongkong, beset by space restrictions, it became the dominant habitation style. Although scarcity of land does not apply in the same way to Indonesia, nevertheless these cases clearly influenced public housing policy in Indonesia with regard to the role of flats in low-cost housing.

Condominiums and Modern Urban Compound Development

More recently in the framework of enabling strategies launched by the central and local governments, private initiative in housing construction has enjoyed strongly promotion. In the first place, this has pushed condominium construction, often combined with shopping malls and other services and, in the second place, has stimulated modern Western-style urban compound development, both aiming mainly at the provision of high class housing environments. This increase in real estate development has triggered off an advertising boom organized to sell the houses and apartments. The presentation of these 'great works' of the 'private initiative period' in urban development seems to be very informative.

One such advertisement for so called Greenview apartments offers a present-day, modern and cosmopolitan life style with a classic nuance for which all the facilities, such as swimming pool, jogging track, tennis court, and attractive spaces for festivities and formal meetings, are present. This is rounded off by a fully equipped business centre with telephone and fax facilities, and meeting rooms. All this located near the city centre and in the middle of the prestigious area of South Jakarta. Really a perfect investment.

This advertisement comprises a drawing of a number of high-rise buildings with the swimming pool mentioned in the middle and the edges decorated with parrots. It also has pictures of people playing tennis and golf and of other people busy jogging. These people are all Europeans. Do they constitute the target group or the reference group?

In the advertisement 'Town house for rent. Enjoy living by the sea from as little as US $1500.-. Complete with service and facilities', an elegant Indonesian girl is portrayed diving into the water near the Waterfront Housing Estate which, because of the European-like, single family dwellings as some sort of a 'horizontal condominium', is probably better adapted to the Indonesian housing desires.

The 'Luxury Prapanca Apartment' advertisement does not refer to the target group. Under the tall high rise building one reads:

'A better place to stay. Virtually everything you look for in a spacious luxury apartment is right here in the heart of Prapanca Area - Kebayoran Baru. With elegant atrium, fully equipped fitness centre, swimming pool, squash court, whirlpool, sauna, mini tennis court, mini golf driving range, golf putting green, and 24-hours security and maintenance services, we have truly set the standard for a better place to stay.'

A compound development delivering free-standing, single family dwellings is found in East Jakarta and advertised as a garden area. The small mansions have concomitantly small gardens and the whole ward gives the impression of a European garden city area. Other compound developments have terrace housing which heightens their Western ambience.

These condominiums and modern compound developments transform the city into a conglomerate of protected islands owned by the rich in a sea of kampung and offices with a connecting infrastructure that leaves much to be desired, and this type of development can be characterized as the privatization of public space. The advertisements for office buildings and services related to these dwelling developments also provide rich insights into the urban context.

'Had enough of 3-in-1?

Sick of power cuts?

Want more telephone lines?

Fed up with traffic jams?

Do yourself a favour and check out the new four-storey building at the Cilandak commercial estate.

100%-plus stand-by electric power for all needs including air conditioning.

Excellent communications. As many telephone, telex, and facsimile lines as you want, and available immediately.

Ample parking and tight twenty-four hour security.

Attractive swimming pool, tennis, squash courts and saunas, open both day and night.

Resident courier service, post office, bank and travel agent.

No traffic problems, as you are moving against the traffic flow, both coming and going.

Strategically located. Less than 15 minutes from Kebayoran Baru and 10 minutes from J.I.S.

Two restaurants serving economically priced European and Indonesian food.

Professionally managed by an old-established PMA joint-venture that really looks after your needs.'

By its positive contrast this advertisement put out by PT Bhumyanca Sekawan clearly shows the defects of the urban environment in which this self-contained unit is located.

The global influence in urban development in Jakarta is also beautifully illustrated by the new town Lippo City near Bekasi, which is intended to house one million inhabitants. The master plan for this 'city of tomorrow which is here today', according to one of its fancy brochures, is 'the work of internationally recognized city planner Meng Ta Cheang, whose award-winning designs for new cities in the Netherlands, Germany, China, and Malaysia have had substantial impact in the field. His Singapore-based firm is associated with OD 205 Architects, a firm which has its headquarters in the Netherlands and is now involved in major urban development projects around the world.' This city is completely devoid of alun-alun or Indonesian decorations and symbols.

This picture of modern and global, urban development should be completed with the phenomenon of the mall. Many of these have been developed in cities such as Jakarta and Denpasar. One example is Metro Pondok Indah in South Jakarta. This is an enormous, three-storey complex with luxury shops, restaurants, a cinema complex, and video games hall. The shops cover almost all possible sectors from electronics to furniture, clothing to toys and office equipment. There are shops for Western wedding frocks and sports shoes. They are modern and colourful. Like the real estate projects, they almost all have English names: Shop in Body Care; Sports Station, the Sport Supermarket; 101 Shoes Shop; Royal Textile & Tailor; Sizzle Steak, Seafood, Salad; California Pizza. One exception is the French café Oh La La. The toilet area is indicated in English as 'restroom' and the doors have 'man' and 'woman'. The shopping centre is most frequented by young people. They stand there, talking in groups, eating ice-cream, looking over the balustrade at the escalators and at lower levels of the building. Couples date there and young families enjoy their day out. Everybody is nicely clothed, sometimes even extremely well-dressed, but always attired, sometimes the visitors wear leisure clothing but they are never dirty or slatternly. The building is very clean with shining tile floors. There is an abundance of services and guards are found in every nook and cranny. In front of the main entrance on request somebody loudly calls the drivers with their cars to pick up the owners, so that they do not need to walk any distance or to search for their vehicle. All around the building are beautiful lawns and extensive parking spaces. Informal sector activities are completely banned from the scene. There are no kaki-lima within sight or sound of this shopping and recreation palace for the elite and the rising middle class as well as their offspring.

In 1995 a policy was launched to call a halt to the proliferation of English names, encouraging the use of Indonesian names in malls and real estate advertisements. This policy is a nice example of reaction to globalization tendencies, in this case of a national character.

In my view the condominium, mall, and high-rise office complex can be considered a unity and that is why the mall and high-rise office have to be included in this article on the house.

It will be clear that because of global influences the cultural, social, design, and building principles mentioned above in the section on traditional habitation styles do not apply in the same way in the urban context of sites-and-services areas, flats and condominiums. In the city status, for example, is linked not only to the decoration and scale of the house, but also to the type of ward. Wards often have a particular reputation, so that status can be inferred from name and location. The contents of real estate advertisements are clearly directed towards creating high-class ward images. On the other hand, certain principles such as the separation of private and public spaces in the house still have to be considered relevant in the urban context. Unfortunately, it should be pointed out that any thorough knowledge about the ordering principles, meaning, and use of the modern dwelling in the city has still to be accumulated.


From this description of the pluriformity of vernacular architecture in Indonesia and its underlying principles, the colonial civilization offensive with regard to housing, the diffusion and hybridization of global architectural styles in this period, the modern implementation of world-wide ideas on low-cost housing (sites-and-services areas and flats), as well as the present-day boom in the global condominium, annex mall and high-rise office complex, we have to conclude that the globalization process defined as 'third culture' dynamics has quite a long history. It has strong roots in the colonial period, in fact because architecture has always been a world-wide phenomenon with high diffusion potentialities and levels. Moreover, Asian variants of early globalization with regional connotations have to be acknowledged. Notwithstanding these results, which in part relativate the timeliness of globalization theory, it should be recognized that the process of globalization has gained greatly in significance during the last few decades. The influence of global ideas on 'proper' housing in Indonesia - backed up by transnational organizations particularly (like the Worldbank), international operating building companies, and the supranational academic circuit of urbanists - has clearly been strengthened both in the fields of low-cost and well-to-do segments of society. It is one merit of the globalization theory that it raises the scholar's sensitivity to this new accelerating pace of this phase in the present-day globalization process and to the reactions stressing local cultural identity that they set in motion.


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