Javanese traditional house

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A joglo-type roof in Central Java pavilion, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, modeled after Mangkunegaran palace

Javanese traditional house (Javanese ꦲꦺꦴꦩꦃꦲꦢꦠ꧀ꦗꦮ omah adat Jawa) refers to the traditional vernacular houses of Javanese people in the island of Java, Indonesia. The architecture of a Javanese house is characterized by its dominant hierarchical rule reflected in the form of its roof and its layout. Javanese traditional houses can have very similar layouts, but the shape of the roof determined the social and economic status of the house owners.[1]

The architecture of Javanese traditional houses heavily influenced the architecture of Dutch colonial architecture in Indonesia and contributes to the development of 20th-century modern architecture in Indonesia.


Javanese people are descendant from Austronesian peoples. Temple relief in 9th-century Borobudur shows Javanese houses that were archetype of Austronesian houses: pile foundations, pitched roofs and an extended roof ridge. While these reliefs suggest houses on piles were in common use from the 9th to 12th centuries, between the 13th and 14th century the preferred Javanese style (east and central Java) was to build on the ground with a raised floor, the form of Javanese house that we know today.[2] This new form resembles the vernacular architecture of eastern Indonesia such as Balinese and Sumbanese houses.[1] Excavations at Trowulan (East Java), the probable site of Majapahit's capital in the 14th century, have uncovered remains of dwellings with permanent materials such as brick floors, foundations for walls and tile roofs.[3]

The arrival of the Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries heralded the adoption of brick and masonry in house construction. In 1610 the Dutch were attempting to create a base in Jayakarta, a port town controlled by the pepper trading Sultanate of Bantam. In 1615, the prince of Jayakarta approved permission for Jan Pieterszoon Coen to build a two-storey warehouse in white coral stone. Sultan Agung, ruling from Kota Gede in Central Java, saw this as a threat and decided to attack. By 1619, after withstanding a siege of their warehouse-fort, the Dutch decided to sack Jayakarta and established a new port city named Batavia.[4]

Landhuis Depan in Batavia is a Dutch Indies country houses which had completely assimilated with the Javanese house style.

With the sample of Batavia, Javanese local rulers discouraged masonry buildings whenever possible. On the other hand, the form of Javanese traditional house had begun to influence the development of Dutch colonial architecture in Indonesia. At first, Dutch colonial country houses simply imitated the generous eaves of Javanese houses. By the beginning of 19th-century, Dutch Indies country houses resembles more like Javanese houses, due to its ability to counter the intense tropical heat and heavy rain while allowing air to flow into the interior. This style of Dutch colonial architecture, known as Indies Style (Dutch Indo Europeesche Stijl[5] or Indische stijl[6]), is a sample of complete assimilation of Dutch architecture into local indigenous Javanese houses. Unfortunately not so many houses of this type survived in Indonesia, and most surviving houses are deteriorating.

As colonial government grew, wealthier Javanese people began to make use of Western elements e.g. masonry walls. Neoclassical Indische Empire style were implemented in the Javanese palace (kraton). Eclectic combination of western and eastern architecture also appears in house of wealthy Javanese people: the kalang house, many still standing in the Jagalan Subdistrict of Kotagede.

At the beginning of 20th-century, Dutch architects began to study the local architecture tradition of Indonesia. The study develops the traditional architecture of Indonesia (often Javanese) into a new style of modern architecture known as New Indies Style which persisted until the World War II.

Hierarchy of roofs[edit]

In accordance with the structured Javanese society and tradition, the Javanese traditional houses are classified according to their roof form—from the lowest to the highest: kampung, limasan, and joglo.[1]

The kampung roof is identified with the house of the common people. Structurally, kampung roof is the simplest. It consists of a pitched gable roof erected over four central column and braced by two layers of tie beams. The ridge of the roof is supported by king posts and is typically aligned on a north–south axis. The basic kampung-style houses can be enlarged by extending the roof, at a lesser inclination, from the eaves of the existing roof.[1]

The limasan roof is used for the houses of higher status Javanese families. It is the most common type of house in Javanese houses.[7] In a limasan-style houses, the basic ground plan of kampung-style's four house posts is extended by adding a pair of posts at either gable end; rafters running from the end of the ridge beam to these outer posts transform the pitched roof into a hipped roof with a trapezoidal longitudinal section and five roof ridges. A verandah running around the outside of this structure extends the habitable space still further. This form begins to give an emphasis to the central area between the four innermost columns.[1]

Joglo roof is the most characteristically Javanese roof form and the most complex. Joglo roof is associated with the residences of nobility, traditionally reserved for Javanese palace (kraton, official residence, government estate, and the house of Javanese aristocrats (ningrat). The main roof is much steeper and the four ridge greatly reduced in length. Joglo roof does not use king posts as does the limasan or kampung roof, rather the four innermost main house columns are sometimes taller than the outer ones. These four innermost house columns support a roof that is the steepest of all type of Javanese roof; almost forming a pyramid, except that it comes to two points rather than a single one. These four innermost main house columns is surmounted by a unique structural element known as tumpang sari. A tumpang sari is basically layered beams structure; the outermost band of beams support the rafters of both the upper and lower roofs, while the heavily-ornate inner band of beams create a vaulted ceiling in the form of an inverted stepped pyramid. The basic joglo-type houses can also be increased in size by adding extra columns and extending the roof area outwards.[1]

Javanese roof form is developed even further for the architecture of sacred places such as mosque. Javanese mosques developed the joglo roof form into an immense multi-tiered roof structure supported by immense pillars and topped with a pyramidal roof form (reserved only for sacred spaces and never for houses). This multi-tiered pyramidal roof form – also known as tajug roof, is often topped with an architectural decorative element known as mustaka.[8]

Javanese hierarchy of roof form
An extended kampung-type roof in a house of Javanese common people.
Limasan-type roof associated with higher status Javanese families appears in this house in a village near Salatiga.
Joglo-type roof appears in this residence of the head of a village in Jepara.
Tajug-type or Meru-type roof is always reserved for sacred spaces such as this mosque in Yogyakarta.

The house compound[edit]

Layout of an ideal Javanese house compound. Legend: 1. lawang pintu 2. pendopo 3. peringgitan 4. emperan 5. dalem 6. senthong 7. gandok 8. dapur (kitchen)

Like Balinese houses, Javanese houses are usually built in a walled compound. The material for the perimeter walls is either masonry for the wealthier, or split bamboo or timber. In rural areas, these walls are sometimes made of interlinked trees or vines. As most houses of Indonesia, symbolism of the cardinal point is important; Central Java houses face south towards the sea wherever possible, and they are laid out on a north–south axis.[7]

The ideal Javanese residence consists of three main structures—the omah (house), a pendopo (pavilion) and a peringgitan—enclosed by a brick wall or low fence. Gateways create connection between the house compound and the outside.[9]

The pendopo (or pendapa) is a pavilion situated in the front part of the compound. This constitutes the public domain of the household, mainly used for receiving guests, social gatherings, or ritual performances.[9] The pendopo uses the joglo roof and only appears in wealthier houses. If there is no permanent pendopo, a temporary one can be erected. In some crowded urban areas, masonry walls might be erected around the pendopo.[7]

The peringgitan is a space which connects the pendopo with the omah. It is the place for the ringgit, meaning wayang or shadow puppet play.[7] When a wayang is commissioned during a ritual or a festive occasion, it is performed in the peringgitan. The peringgitan has either a kampung or limasan roof form.[9]

The omah is the proper house. The word omah is of Austronesian root, and is expressed in the Malay rumah, "house".[7] The omah usually has a square or rectangular layout with a raised floor. The central part of the omah make uses of the limasan or joglo roof form. The omah is organized as a progression from front to back, divided by wall panels. The first is the emperan, a semi-veranda which is used for public activities. The emperan can be closed with movable wooden panels. There is often a large bamboo bench used for reclining or sleeping during the day. A wide ornate door in the front wall connects this veranda with the inner domain (dalem).[7]

The dalem is an enclosed structure, typically subdivided along a north–south axis into different domains. In kampung and limasan models, this is a simple distinction between the front and rear parts of the omah, but joglo houses have more complex division of the front, middle, and back of the house. The dalem is often dark, lit only by light from the doorway. The eastern part of the front portion of the dalem is where family chores are performed and where all the members of the family sleep, on a large bamboo bed, prior to the puberty of the children. The middle section of the dalem in joglo houses is defined by the four principal house posts which forms the tumpang sari of the joglo roof. In the modern era, area has no specific usage, but this area was traditionally where incense was burnt once a week to honor the rice goddess Sri. The space below the tumpang sari is also the place where the bride and bridegroom are seated during their marriage ceremony.[9]

Side entrance to a gandok in the Omah UGM, Kotagede

The rear portion of the omah consist of three enclosed rooms called senthong. The western senthong is used as storing rice and other agricultural produce, while the eastern senthong is used to store farming equipment. The central senthong is typically very small, build with a raised floor, lavishly decorated, and often curtained off from the house proper; resembling an enclosed bed than a room. Traditionally the central senthong was the abode of Sri herself. It is the room where incense is burnt for ceremonies, and in some areas the first rice grains of the harvest are placed here. In wealthy village houses in Central Java, the central senthong is flanked by a pair of mirrors and a pair of cabinets for holding important textiles.[7] On the floor in front of the senthong is the loro blonyo, a statue of male and female in bridal attire, representing Sri and her male companion Raden Sadono. Also decorating the front of the central senthong are paired spittoons, textiles, and Madura wooden geese.[7] The central senthong is also used as a sleeping room for newly married couples.[9]

In the rear of the compound, outside the omah, are a number of outbuildings such as kitchen and bathroom. A well is typically placed on the eastern side. The well, as the provider of water, is identified as the source of life and is always the first thing to be completed when building a new house compound. As the size and wealth of a family grows, additional structures (gandok) may be added.[9]

See also[edit]


Works cited[edit]

  • Gunawan Tjahjono, ed. (1998). Architecture. Indonesian Heritage. 6. Singapore: Archipelago Press. ISBN 981-3018-30-5.
  • Het Indische bouwen: architectuur en stedebouw in Indonesie : Dutch and Indisch architecture 1800–1950. Helmond: Gemeentemuseum Helmond. 1990.
  • Schoppert, P.; Damais, S. (1997). Java Style. Singapore: Didier Millet. ISBN 9625932321.