Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Traditional Wooden Houses In Indonesia

"Joglos And Jigsaws"

Several months ago I found a jigsaw. I mean a real jigsaw, 1,500 pieces each with squiggly edges you have to put together to make one of those pictures with endless acres of trees and sky that numbs your brain. It was the sort of jigsaw that becomes a work in progress and makes the kitchen table unusable for around 3 months. Once committed you curse yourself for ever starting it but you won't give up until the very last piece is in place. Did you know that researchers in America (they are always in America aren't they?) are searching for the gene that makes people become addicted to jigsaws.

My mother loved jigsaws. She'd get started on the living room table and anyone passing would join in, put a few pieces in then move on to finish what they were doing. Everything was fine for many years until a younger brother (he always was a somewhat smart bottomed person) realised that if he hid the last piece he could let everyone else do all the hard work then with a flourish he could always insert the last piece. Everyone got quite bored with it all after that and jigsaws were forgotten.

So it was with trepidation I found the jigsaw, cleared the kitchen table and made a start. Corners first, then the edges, I spent several hours sorting pieces and putting them in piles then I started assembling the edges and after a while went to bed.

I got up the following morning, the table was clean! All the pieces were put away neatly in the box. An absence of demeanor overtook me. I looked at the great Sri busy in the living room.

“Selemat pagi” she said cheerfully.

I thought it an appropriate time to practice my ventriloquist skills. “Selemat pagi Sri” I replied, my teeth clenched in a determined but rather unconvincing smile. An image of John Clease beating a broken down car with a tree branch came to mind.

Two days later I had another go. After a couple of hours work I retired to bed leaving the pieces sorted into piles with the edges starting to take shape. Once again in the morning a clean table and the pieces all neatly put away in the box.

I can't imagine what was going through the faithful Sri's mind as she carefully put the pieces back in the box. The jigsaw probably confirmed her idea that all foreigners are a little strange to say the least. Imagine finding a nice picture, sticking it onto cardboard, spending three weeks cutting it into small squares with squiggly edges then assembling it all back together again on the kitchen table.

On second thoughts she's wrong, we are not a little strange – we are, in fact, stark raving loonies

Perhaps most Indonesians simply don't understand jigsaws but recently I came across the Javanese equivalent. It is called a Joglo. Ah and you thought a Joglo was a kind of traditional wooden house didn't you.

It is a little known fact that the Joglo was created by frustrated Javanese fathers to keep their sons off the streets.
“I'm bored”
“ Ah, I have just the thing for you son. You see that pile of wood over there?........”

A friend of mine is building a new house and has bought a traditional timber Javanese house to make up the main central portion of the building. Clever design means that the main living area of the house has a high vaulted roof supported by large carved wooden beams and four splendid looking columns with comfortable modern rooms around it. The wood is old Teak with a straight grain and an aged appearance.

I always find it sad when people lose their heritage and selling off the old traditional house may well be something they will regret later. Unfortunately money can be very persuasive and using old Joglos has become very popular amongst expatriates, so much so that a number of entrepreneurs have become involved and are buying up old Javanese houses and bringing them to Bali. Quite a number are being sent overseas. It used to be very cost effective but exploitation is taking it's toll and prices the dealers are now charging are 10 to 20 times what they used to be when buying directly from the original owner. As the shortage of wood across the world becomes more and more acute we can only expect prices will continue on their upward spiral.

This particular Joglo has been an interesting exercise and quite a few lessons have been learned along the way.

The Joglo arrived on the site as literally a pile of timber that had at one time been a house. To make matters more complicated a second smaller house had been bought and both buildings were in a single pile. The second house was to provide additional wood for the main structure and for a bale. There were no instructions (not even in bad, chinese english).

It was a jigsaw with no picture. Remember the joints are all hand made and every one is different, finding out where each pieces goes is no easy tas. It appeared a very difficult job and one that would have been easier if the pieces had been marked before the house was dismantled in Java. Some master Javanese jigsaw experts were brought in and were able to make sense of it all and both the house and the bale have gone together relatively easily.

The piles of wood had to be stored on site for some time before use and, of course, make a very tempting target for our little underground friends with a voracious appetite for all things cellulose. Steps had to be taken to make sure the wood was protected during storage.

It is also a good idea to have the wood checked for termites before buying the house in the first place.

The design of the house made it necessary to increase the height of the original columns and this was achieved by building reinforced concrete plinths to raise the columns 0.8 metre above the floor level. These were built before the Joglo was erected. Unfortunately traditional builders did not have the benefit of tape measures, levels and squares and when the wooden structure was rebuilt it was found that the columns were not perfectly square and so did not match the plinth positions.

Of course this will be the case right through a Joglo structure with beams not being horizontal, lengths varying and widths and thicknesses of similar structural elements such a roof beams not being uniform. For we expatriates, used to a regimented society where a 1 millimetre variation in the thickness of a plank can result in execution at dawn, such problems can send us babbling naked around the streets at midnight but Indonesians take it in their stride. In that nether twilight world of architecture, however, care must be taken when tradition meets technology and it is important to allow for flexibility in the positioning of the wooden structure within the house.

Another factor not too well understood by your local workforce is the fact that this particular wood will be fully exposed in all its glory, to be worshipped on a daily basis by the proud new owner. The gnarliness of the grain will be admired and discussed endlessly over bottles of red wine late into the night. A local tukang, on the other hand, sees a wooden column or beam as a convenient place to hammer a bleeding great six inch nail so he can hang up his underpants to dry. Before you know it your beautiful Joglo, shipped with loving care all the way from Java, has become a christmas tree of nails.

A final, but important, consideration is the slope of the roof. Traditional Joglos have a steeply pitched central roof with more gently sloping roofs around it. The central roof is no problem but the pitch of the outer roofs is usually well below the 37 degree optimum for tiled roofs and most Joglos are tiled. This can mean that strong winds may blow rain up the tiles and into the roof. It is advisable, therefore, to properly design the roof with a waterproof membrane to prevent water coming through. Of course the high vaulted roof will be exposed underneath so as a decorative finish under the roof insulation and waterproofing a good material is a very fine gedeg (woven bamboo) which, if you search, can be found in some very attractive designs.

Now where's that jigsaw? The great Sri must have hidden it, she probably thinks it better if I don't start it. She's probably right.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

8 February 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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