Joglo and Limasan: the Art of Javanese Housing

Indosphere Culture
8 min readSep 20, 2019

The traditional Javanese house is distinguished by 3 most typical styles of roofs:

Kampung roof is for common housing and is the simplest. It is a pitched gable roof erected over four central column, braced by two layers of tie beams. The ridge of the roof is supported by king posts and is aligned on a North-South axis. The roof can also be extended at a lesser inclination, from the eaves of the existing roof.

Limasan roof is used by higher status Javanese families. In Limasan houses, the basic ground plan of the Kampung style’s four house posts is extended by adding a pair of posts at either gable end. A veranda extends the living space still further.

Joglo roof is the most complex. It is associated with prestigious residences. The main roof is much steeper and the four ridge greatly reduced in length.

Each region has its particularities. There are many variants of house types, such are Limasan, Lawakan, Sinom, Jompongan, Pangrawit, Mangkurat, Hageng, Semar Tinandhu, Jepara, Kudus, Pati and Rembang.

Roof structure

Joglo roofs take the shape of a stylized mountain peak that evokes Mount Meru. In a Joglo roof, the main roof is steeper, while the roof ridge is not as long as a Limasan house.

The skeleton of the main building consists of four main pillars (soko guru) that support the main structure. The soko guru is completed with the tumpang sari (essential layers) made of horizontal beams, sometimes with elaborate carvings, that tie the pillars to one another and support the central portion of the roof.

The horizontal beams can be stacked by nine (tumpang songo) or by three (tumpang telu).

The soko guru is made of 4 pieces pillars made from the best wood such as teak wood. It bears the weight of the tumpang sari and the overall framework of wood for the roof tile.

The tumpang sari is a composite wood beam construction widening upwards and usually an odd number and carved. Engraving on tumpang sari is indicating the owner’s social status.

The wooden pillars that support the Joglo have a simple system called umpak to hold or sustain any heavy burden on them. It is above the ground and it is not planted in the ground.

The tall timber pillars are often a masterpiece of carving

House structure

The central part of the house make uses of the limasan or joglo roof form. The house is organized as a progression from front to back, divided by wall panels:

• The Pendapa is a pavilion situated in the front part of the compound. It is the very front of the house. This is the public domain of the household, mainly used for receiving guests, social gatherings, or ritual performances.

The Peringgitan is a space which connects the pendapa with the omah. This section is part of a link between the hall (pendapa) and the ‘royal house’ (dalem). The pringgitan normally function as part of the living room. The dalem is part of family to relax and be more privacy.

• The Omah is the house itself, which has a square or rectangular layout with a raised floor.

Dalem — An enclosed structure, typically subdivided along a North-South axis. The dalem is often dark, lit only by light from the doorway. In the dalem, the gedongan is the most spiritual place and also serves as the main bedroom.

The Sentong is divided into three areas in the rear portion of the omah: are sentong tengen (right) as bedroom for the boys who have been married, sentong kiwo (left) for the girls who had been married and sentong tengah (middle).

The western and eastern sentong are used to store equipment. The central sentong is small, build with a raised floor, well decorated and often curtained off from the house itself. It can sometimes resemble an enclosed bed more than a room.

The central sentong is seen as the abode of Dewi Sri herself. It is the room where incense is burnt for ceremonies, and the first rice grains of the harvest are placed here. The central sentong is also used as a sleeping room for newly married couples.

Gandok (dining room and kitchen) — Usually attached to the rear of the building, the gandok serves as a dining room, kitchen and storage furniture.

Emperan — A semi-veranda used for public activities that can be closed with movable wooden panels. There is often a large bench used for sleeping during the day. A wide ornate door in the front wall connects this veranda with the inner domain (dalem).

• Gebyok The main entrance doors, which might also be intricately hand-carved.

Other elements:

Loro Blonyo — A statue of male and female in bridal attire, representing Sri and her male companion Raden Sadono, placed on the floor in front of the sentong.

• A well is typically placed on the eastern side of the omah. The well is always the first thing to be completed when building a new house compound.

The Pendapa Pavilion

The word pendapa (pronounced ‘pendopo’ in Javanese) comes from the Sanskrit mandapa (“hall”). It is a large pavilion built on columns, open on all sides. It provides shelter from the sun and rain, but allows breeze and indirect light.

Pendapa are primarily intended for ceremony, meetings and also for receiving guests.

The pendapa already appears on the Borobudur reliefs (9th century), where they are shown sheltering the institutions of the Javanese kingdoms such as law courts, and for public appearances of the king and his ministers.

In the Ratu Boko temple, there are traces of square stone bases with umpaks (stones with a hole to place the wooden pillars on it). Similar structures also can be found in Trowulan, where umpak stones show that pendapas once stood there.

The design has not changed in over a millennia!

A natural air cooling design

Acclimatization is also achieved through the building’s direction. As the opening is mostly through the main door and front windows, facing the South Ocean which has strong winds helps to cool the house.

The progressive height of the terraced Joglo roof also moves the hot air upwards. The interior is mostly divided by a wall which does not touch the ceiling to circulate hot air upwards.

A bigger interior space is needed in the inland houses because the air humidity is high and wind breeze is low.

An Earthquake-proof Design

The simplicity and flexibility of the Javanese traditional houses with their umpak system makes them especially resistant to earthquakes. The building remains flexible as the shaking occurs and the pillars do not break, even in case of a big earthquake, especially if the wood beams are of a good quality.

However, housing modernization, even simply with brick walls, has resulted in a reduced resilience of most Javanese houses today.

Moreover, low-cost metal construction materials are increasingly supplanting timber materials, which further increases thermal comfort issues and increases the need for electrified air conditioning and energy waste. Using materials produced hundreds of kilometers away is also unsustainable and threatens the local economy and culture.

The progressive loss of traditional housing knowledge is therefore weakening both earthquake safety, environmental sustainability and the overall quality of life.

All Javanese houses illustrated on ancient temple reliefs are standing on piles. The grounded house was a late development, with the brick walls techniques coming from the Dutch colonization.

As a result today, most Javanese (and even Balinese) build their houses on the ground rather than on stilts as is normally the case in all Indonesian traditional architectural styles.

A spiritual orientation

The Javanese believe in respecting the South Ocean Queen, Nyai Roro Kidul and Dewi Sri, the goddess of the land and fertility. For this reason, the dwellings are always directed to the South and the middle room is strictly reserved for offerings.

This orientation respects the sacredness of the South–North axis, where houses must face South, and not the street. This also aligns with the orientation of the royal palace which is seen as the center of the microcosmic world.

This is less the case in Northern Javanese cities which have been more damaged by islamization and less often follow the Javanese tradition on the configuration and orientation of houses.

Negaragung and Mancanegara

The Javanese spatial system has centralized the country, with the Sultan’s Palace as the capital town or heartland, which is surrounded by the Negaragung or hinterland region, and the outer remote area called Mancanegara or “foreign country”.

It is named so because the outer places, especially the northern coastal regions, have dealt intensively with incoming foreigners. Thus, people in the Negaragung had a higher chance of maintaining the tradition compared to those in the Mancanegara.

For example, Negaragung is the rural area surrounding the cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Sleman and Bantul represent the hinterland of Yogyakarta, while Klaten and Sragen are their counterparts in Surakarta. This is where we find the most traditional houses.

Conversely, the northern coastal people, is where the santri (islamized Javanese) predominate, because merchants from China, Middle East, and Europe occupied the territory for centuries. Consequently, the people there are more prosperous than others but are more likely to have lost their culture.