Finding Its Place in Modern Times

January 19th, 2010, 10:53 AM by Rumah Joglo

Finding Its Place in Modern Times

Life in Yogyakarta has returned to normal since a massive earthquake devastated the province three years ago.Many new homes have been built to replace the damaged ones, but there is one thing that is hard to bring back - the loss of hundreds of limasan homes, the Javanese-style traditional home.Before the earthquake, the sight of many limasan homes in a row was a particular feature of rural Yogyakarta and its surroundings.

These buildings were part of the area''s heritage and were handed down from generation to generation. Their average age was more than 50 years.The earthquake in 2006 completely changed the face of rural life here. The rows of limasan homes have gone, to be replaced by rows of modern homes. "Even here, there are no more limasan houses. Now almost all the houses are loji (big buildings), reconstructed houses," says Martopo, 43, from Dodotan village in Bantul, Yogyakarta.

In the catalogue of Javanese architecture, the limasan house is the model for most residential buildings.The book Javanese Architectural History, by G.A. Atmosoebroto and published by Pusaka in 1954, note that before the 1970s, most Javanese people''s homes were built in the limasan style.Other styles, such as the joglo or loji for instance, were only affordable to certain groups, usually aristocrats and the middle and upper classes of society.The word limasan refers to the style of the roof, shaped like a limas (pyramid). The major characteristic of such a house is the design of the duduran (the building''s frame).The highest wall reaches an average of 4 meters. The average size of a building is around 12 by 20 meters.

Other characteristics include a front section that consists of a full-size open veranda. This functions like a porch, a meeting place or a place for other social activities. The layout inside the house is generally like a shed, with no interior walls and no permanent partitions.When Yogyakarta was hit by the quake, a large number of homes that collapsed were those built in the limasan style.In the area of Bantul where the most serious damage occurred, about 37,500 limasan homes were reduced to rubble, according to data from the Persada Foundation.

Of that total, only about 1 percent were rebuilt in the original shape, although the designs were altered to resemble modern homes. This was because the reconstruction aid from the government that amounted to Rp 15 million (US$1,400) per house was not enough to rebuild a limasan house."Moreover, the reconstruction program at that time had a deadline. The permanent homes had to be finished within two months," says Wina Kartikawati, 37, coordinator of the Persada Foundation, which is based in Jetis, Imogiri, Bantul.

In the same manner as many other old buildings, the limasan-style houses in the area of Yogyakarta were actually the most susceptible to earthquake damage.That was mainly because they were old and the building materials had largely become brittle. Apart from that, 90 percent of the limasan houses were built without reinforced concrete, and so could not withstand an earthquake.The disappearance of limasan homes cannot be blamed entirely on the earthquake. The other factor has been the change in community tastes.

Since the early 1980s, many owners of limasan homes have had their buildings demolished and then rebuilt in the shape of modern houses.Some have even sold their homes and then rebuilt a new house in a different shape. They consider the limasan house out of date."Actually, there has recently been an appearance of modern buildings in the limasan style. They look good and their structure is strong. But the number isn''t too big," Wina says.The threat of the extinction of limasan architecture is not a serious concern for the government. At present, there is no protection at all in place for the preservation of limasan homes.

According to Wina, the regional regulations regarding the preservation of houses does not involve the architectural style, but only the building''s historical value. So protection is reserved for buildings that actually have historical value.But she says there are people who actually care about and make an effort to preserve that style of house.For example, residents of Tembi, Bangunharjo, deliberately prevented construction of some buildings because they considered the cultural heritage of the old buildings was part of the houses'' artistic value.

But a limasan house does not necessarily represent an antiquated notion.The limasan home of Gunawan and his wife Ima Listiani in Glondong village in Bantul is a fine example. A long time ago, it was already a large old building, a two-story limasan house.When the earthquake hit, the house totally collapsed. When it was rebuilt, the owners deliberately retained the limasan shape, although the new house is not as big as the old building.

"Actually, limasan buildings can withstand earthquakes, but they must have steel reinforcement. Besides, houses built in the limasan style can be made safe for the occupants if they are hit by an earthquake. That's because the limas-shaped roof has a cavity that can help save people if the house collapses," says Gunawan, a professional building consultant.

"A large number of people became victims of the earthquake when the slopes of the mountain slipped down."Gunawan is one of the people making an effort to save the heritage of his ancestors. He is showing that modernity does not need to change an architectural style. The limasan homes, if improved, can perform well and still look elegant.The decision to maintain the limasan style means that we are looking after the heritage of our ancestors'' culture.

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