Next installment!! (building a house/home)

In the past few days, I have already started researching for my next installment. I don’t have a title yet for this installment, but it will be about building a house/home.

We have to agree that javanese architecture is amazing. They can build a joglo without using a nail! Physics expert or whattttttttt!!!

The only downside, is that there is no book which solely talks about building a house. The knowledge is passed from generation to generation. So different from balinese; they have an architecture dictionary, you know… So easy to research!

End of January, when I was in Bali, I was talking to Diane Butler. She graduated from Juilliard loooong time ago and now she hold a PHD from Udayana university and teaching there as well. In fact, she is the first foreigner to take a PHD in Udayana university. She is currently translating the Balinese architecture dictionary. She has reached the alphabet M, i think. It’s only a matter of time before the university publishes the dictionary. She told me how every tiny thing in a balinese house has meaning. But what interests and amazes me is how they do the measurement of the house using their body parts, such as their thumb, their index finger, the whole palm stretched out, their limbs, etc. She told me that the width of the entrance gate of a traditional balinese house is measured this way: the leader of the house stand erect with his hands at his waist/hip, and there are a guard standing at each of his left&right side. The entrance gate can fit exactly the leader of the house and those 2 guards perfectly. If other person try standing there, it will be too big or too small. A house is very personal, in that sense. All other measurements from the rooms, the pillars, etc are also using the leader of the house’s body parts, like thumb, index finger, etc as mentioned above. This is a perfect example of “body as architecture” or “architecture as a body”.

I became curious. Centhini does mentions about building a house but I skipped that part for the first installment. I need to read Centhini again, specifically in that section about building a house. Everywhere in this world, a house is personal to the owner. How does the Javanese see a house? How do they build it? What are the considerations, rules and whatnot-s?

My friend has a friend who is the descendant of a house builder master. I met this guy few days ago to ask about javanese architecture. He was a bit guarded at first and a bit hesitant to talk to me. Turns out, eventhough he is a descendant of house builder master, he doesn’t know in detail about javanese building. He builds houses, yes, it’s his main occupation, but nowadays people wants a modern house, not a traditional house, so he’s more accustomed to modern house. Nevertheless, he still shared his experience with me, regarding building a house in general.

First, he passed me a photocopied book.


This book doesn’t explain anything about building a house, but he said it’s a must-read as an introduction to get accustomed to the way the Javanese sees building and architecture. I finished the whole book, and, yes, I must say it is a good introduction for non-javanese to see how Javanese sees architecture. It explains about the Jogjakarta keraton, the meanings of each section, the roads, the trees, candrasengkala (how javanese records dates through symbols, each number from 0-9 can be represented in symbols/words). the whole stretch of area from Gedong Krapyak to the alun-alun to the bangsal kencono illustrates the process of growing up as a human.

Then he explained to me a very general info about Javanese house. He drew me this.


This is how the most complete javanese house compound looks like. But of course only extremely rich people can build something like this.

Usually, when people talk about javanese architecture, they will talk about Joglo, because a Joglo is so amazing and very expensive to build. This guy told me that he doesn’t know in detail about joglo, so he couldnt help me much. But, he was wrong. I am not asking about Joglo per se. I am asking about building a house. in this case, maybe just an omah jawa or omah limasan will suffice, because Joglo is not meant for living; it is more for social events like wayang kulit show, village meetings etc.

Then he went to explain briefly about the steps of building a house in the past.

1. choosing land (of course. no land=no house). People in the past meditated to choose the most appropriate land for himself. Nowadays, we cannot meditate to choose land anymore. The land is so limited, the most that we can do is to go to the real estate marketing office and choose a slot of land (maybe we can pray first before making the decision)

2. Dig a well. You need water for everything! in the past, people meditate to choose the right spot for the well. After they get the right spot, they cover that area with leaves, leave it over night and in the morning they check the leaves. The area covered with leaves with the most dew drops is the exact position of the well. The well will never run dry till the end of time. Guaranteed!

3. Prepare the material. In the past, people make their own bricks. And the process to get wood is a bit tedious as well. Last time, each forest specializes in one thing. So there were forest specially for wood, forest specially for fish (swamp), etc. To take woods for our house, we had to meditate (again), go to the wood forest, mark the woods that we want (they used a scarf and tie it around the chosen wood. prepare many many scarfs to take many many wood) then they did some ritual, go back home and wait for signs. The ritual was meant to ask permission to take the wood form the “guardian” of the wood. If the guardian doesnt want to give the wood to us, we have to choose another wood.

4. After we take the wood, prepare the bricks, we dig 2 big holes in our land. One hole is gonna be filled with water and limestone. After all the wood is cut, bricks all ready, these things are gonna be put inside this limestone pond for 1 year. The purpose is to strengthen all the wood and bricks, remove all air bubbles etc. The other hole is for cutting up the wood. Why must make a hole to cut the wood? here’s a diagram.


So you see, one man inside the big hole, other upstairs. They cut each log of wood longitudinally to create planks. So tedious!!!! I prefer buying plywood! but…… of course the quality is different…

5. After everything is prepared and put inside the pond for 1 year, the materials are then put to dry.

6. After everything is dry, here comes the next step: foundation. you have to do the foundation of the house first.

7. After foundation is done, we go and erect the 4 main pillars of the house, then go on to the layer above the pillars, go up somemore to create the structure of the roof, then the last part is to build the walls.

In each steps, they always do ritual, meditate, etc.

Those are the general steps…..then he passed me another book: Primbon BetalJemur Adammakna


This book contains many things, and one section mentions about building a house, but more of the ritual stuff, choosing the date to start working on a house, etc. He said, the most complete description about house is in Serat Centhini. Serat Centhini is unbeatable in that sense. the most complete book of all books.

And the next day, just for fun, we met again in a Joglo. He then drew this diagram below..

IMG_20150314_184005    IMG_20150316_114048

That’s the main part of a Joglo. Build from bottom up. But he couldn’t explain the meanings of those parts, whether those parts illustrates something.. He only know the names.

But the most interesting thing that he said,

Building a house is a battle of life and death. A house is your shelter for the rest of your life, a shelter in which you feel safe and comfortable. If you think about the business side, you spend so much money that you will never get back, but in return, you have safety and comfort. Nevertheless, do not worry so much about money. No matter how expensive or how cheap your house is, your house will show who you really are. If you are a doctor, no matter how cheap your house is, it is still a doctor’s house. If you are a cleaning service staff, no matter how expensive your house is, it is still a cleaning service staff’s house. Your house is not only an extension of yourself; your house is you.

That pretty much sums up everything. That is my next installment gonna be about.

But of course, I need to study more on this. I need to know about the ratio of measurement of a house. I am not interested in the rituals, though.

I foresee that my next installment will be purely body movement performance, with soundscape and kick-ass visual tricks.

Now let’s send some proposal to get money!

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