Traditional Houses in Indonesia: Preserving Nature with Eco-Friendly Building Materials

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Thousands of traditional houses were built in Indonesia, a country with vast diversity in ethnic groups that spread through its thousands of islands. Built based on the local genius, these traditional houses have been standing long since before the modern era. Amazingly, some of them survive after centuries and can still be found in Indonesia’s rural area.

Nowadays, there are several Indonesian architects who are willing to put efforts in preserving Indonesia’s traditional houses. Yu Sing, an Indonesian architect of Akanoma studio, is one of them. He has his own way in preserving traditional houses, which is through the principles it holds. Most of his designs are using natural materials that can be found in Indonesia’s traditional houses, such as wood and bamboo.

“I’m observing the interdependence between nature, culture and architecture,” he explained the reason behind his choice of materials. He also illustrated that if human still make use of natural materials and depend on it then it will be preserved. For instance, houses and utensils in Sundanese traditional village are still made of bamboo. Hence, even now, bamboo is still widely grown and preserved there. On the contrary, in Ambon, sago is no longer the Ambonese staple food. A lot of sago palms were cut down at an early age. Consequently, buildings made of sago palm wood will no longer exist. Although, Yu Sing has found data about a Mosque in Ambon called Wapauwe, which was built using sago palm wood in 1414.

The choice of materials in a traditional house can be a good example of eco-friendly material. Natural materials have low embodied energy. In addition, as mentioned above, if there’s a demand of natural materials then the resources will be preserved in that area. It becomes a virtuous cycle. The resources will be available in the short distance to fulfill the demand and cut the energy that were spent on transportation. But how does Yu Sing apply the concept of interdependence between nature, culture and architecture in present-day?

The Past and The Present

Yu Sing has slowly found out that spiritual beliefs, climate, weather, natural resources and condition around a traditional house have a great influence to the design. To adapt it to present-day, Yu Sing classifies things that could be imitated instantly, or should be adjusted to current condition or even could be change based on the local context.

When it comes to materials in traditional houses, Yu Sing understands that it is not as simple as it seems. “The society finds a strong relationship between material and nature,” he said. In several cases, the local beliefs that control the choice of material for houses still exist even now. In some area, people still avoid several types of woods to be used because it is believed to bring bad luck in the form of illness. Hence, some type of woods won’t be cut down. Interestingly, this could help to generate a sustainable environment.

Yu Sing has adapted this concept into a different way. Every time he designs a house using natural materials, he will leave a space around the house and suggest his client to plant trees. He did it as a moral responsibility to return what has been taken from nature. Even though not every client accepts this suggestion, the number of clients who appreciate trees and plant it are slowly increasing.

Besides, Yu Sing usually persuades the client to re-used any materials that are available in the existing area. Most of the time, he chooses the types of woods that are usually used for construction or cordwood, such as palm wood or log, to be the main material. “Leftover materials from woods or bamboos construction on site are also re-used as a part of architectural element for the project,” he added.

One project after another, Yu Sing sees the excitement from the carpenters that help him actualized his design. The carpenters are often surprised with his choice of natural materials, which were formerly well known among construction projects in Indonesia but have been replaced with industrial material now. “They are all inspired by it and will gladly apply the same materials for their own home in the near future,” he said.

He realized that building the interdependence between nature, culture, and architecture will still be a long process. Too many natural resources and goodness have been left and ignored. Even so, he believes that adapting to the principle of interdependence in traditional houses can be a good start to preserve nature. It can be applied not only in Indonesia, but also across Asia, through different materials. (AGB.com – YTA)

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