Friday, December 05, 2008

Long, strange trip for one old building

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 07/15/2008 10:36 AM | City

ANTIQUE ELEGANCE: The National Archive Building, which was once the country house of the Dutch governor general Reinier de Klerk, is located outside the old city of Batavia. (JP/P.J. Leo)ANTIQUE ELEGANCE: The National Archive Building, which was once the country house of the Dutch governor general Reinier de Klerk, is located outside the old city of Batavia. (JP/P.J. Leo)

From the country house of a Dutch governor general to an orphanage and then to a mere office building to later an archive building, the National Archive Building is struggling to retain its value as one of the nation's heritage buildings.

As has happened to many historical sites in Jakarta, the building has been lost to new development, particularly to high-rise buildings.

Traveling along the busy Jl. Gajah Mada toward the Kota area, we can see the beautiful building to the left. The building, along with other buildings, earned the title of Batavia, or "Queen of the East".

The house was built in 1760 by Reinier de Klerk, a member of the Dutch highest council, Raad van Indie, or the Council of the Indies. Reinier was later appointed as Dutch governor general in 1777. He lived and held office here until he died in 1780.

Many houses in the area at that time were called buitenverblijven, or "house outside", because they were built on a rural area outside the old city of Batavia.

Built as the house of a high rank citizen during colonial time, the house occupied an enormous plot of land extending much further than the current 9,450-square-meter complex.

Baroque fanlight above the main entrance was carved with a symbol of hope. (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Baroque fanlight above the main entrance was carved with a symbol of hope. (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)

The structure comprises of a main building, two separated pavilions on the left and right sides and a U-shaped annex building at the back of the main building.

The main house is a model of closed Dutch style, so called because it has no open gallery at the front or rear.

"As an 18th century building, it doesn't have any veranda surrounding it," National Archive Building Foundation director Tamalia Alisjahbana told The Jakarta Post recently.

"If you look at a 19th century building, for example Museum 45 or Gedong Juang, they have big verandas, open doors and windows."

Tamalia said that gradual change in the style of architecture of houses in Batavia was because of the attempt to adapt to the climate and the increasing control of the Dutch against the local rulers.

Batavia was just a small city back then. Around the city was a big city wall surrounded by a moat. This wall and moat is a defense against Banten in the west and Mataram in the east.

"We can trace the change of the style in its sister building, Toko Merah (Red Shop) on Jl. Kali Besar Barat, which is 30 years older," Tamalia said .

A dinning room setting upstairs in the main building, with an original painting portrait of De Klerk in the background. (JP/MVM)A dinning room setting upstairs in the main building, with an original painting portrait of De Klerk in the background. (JP/MVM)

"Because there was little land available, houses built in the 17th and early 18th century were like Amsterdam's town-houses. That is what Toko Merah is like."

"Thirty years later, the Dutch drained the swamp land in the north and created all these canals. This change brought in lots of mosquitoes causing malaria and other diseases, and Batavia became very unhealthy."

Tamalia said that around the same time, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or Dutch East India Company subjugated Banten and Mataram kingdoms so it was safe for the Dutch to come outside.

"Some rich people like de Klerk built their houses outside the city wall," she said.

To a certain degree the house is adapted to the tropics, with its high ceilings and long and broad windows, large open fanlights above the doors, a cool stone floor, and a high, well insulated roof.

"The Dutch also realized that Batavia was hot, so they started to build buildings with open windows and doors. With the archive building you can see the change in 18th century and in 19th century you can see the neoclassical style with veranda all around, much cooler, everything was open," Tamalia said.

With its big protruding roof, the two-story building looks more like a town house in a big garden than a country house.

Flower pot carvings on the staircase. (JP/MVM)Flower pot carvings on the staircase. (JP/MVM)

The flat front shows sparse ornamental work. Seven big windows on the second floor and three windows on each side of the broad double-wing entrance stress the overall symmetrical proportions. The six windows downstairs show simple ornaments over the skylights.

The main door is flanked by red pilasters with gold-painted grooves and renaissance capitals supporting a carved top beam. In its carved fanlight we can see an allegorical figure of hope: A woman under a big umbrella holds a anchor.

She is placed amidst leaves and waves. The surrounding waves, sea flowers and plants point to the humble beginnings of de Klerk's career as a naval officer.

Another door inside the main hall shows the symbol of faith.

Matched by its interior design, the outside of the house shows a distinctive impression. The allegorical carvings of the fanlights over the main doors provide subdued light to the cool inner rooms.

In general the carvings look rather baroque, but the dark red and gold paint as well as the execution of some ornaments suggests a strong Chinese influence.

"It is a kind of renaissance style with baroque features," said Tamalia, explaining the architecture style with its carving of the mid-18th century colonial mansion.

On the walls of the main hall, there are a few rows of Dutch tiles with scenes from the Bible.

Dutch tiles depicting scenes from the Bible are believed to have been made in China after models from Delft. Some missing tiles were transferred to the National Museum in 1900 and were replaced by replicas in 1998. (JP/MVM)Dutch tiles depicting scenes from the Bible are believed to have been made in China after models from Delft. Some missing tiles were transferred to the National Museum in 1900 and were replaced by replicas in 1998. (JP/MVM)

The house has four entrances, and in the room to the left of the main entrance hall is a fine staircase leading to the second floor. The upstairs was used exclusively as private apartments for the family.

Beside being a house, the building also served as an office. De Klerk also pursued his own business even though it was forbidden for an official.

The six rooms on the first floor are believed to have been used as for meetings and offices.

The rooms on the right were assigned to tuan besar, or the master of the house, while rooms on the left were assigned to nyonya besar, or the lady of the house.

Many fine pieces of antique furniture on the ground and the second floor help retain the ambience of the 18th century in these rooms. The current furniture, however, are not part of the original furnishing of the house being sold by the heirs of the late proprietors.

More than 111 pieces of furniture, such as cupboards, bookcases, tables, settees, chairs and chests of different styles, dating from different periods and also made in several different places, can be seen in the main building.

You can find, for example, a shelf wall hanging probably made in Sri Lanka between 1602-1795, a Dutch style baby chair probably made in 1880 in Holland with mahogany from Cuba, and a Madura-Biedenmeyer style of twin chair probably made in Madura in late 19th century.

One of the twin Madura Biedenmeyer chairs at the archive building. According to antique expert Jan Veenendaal, these chairs were probably made in Madura in the late 19th century and are influenced by the English Biedermeyer style. (JP/MVM)One of the twin Madura Biedenmeyer chairs at the archive building. According to antique expert Jan Veenendaal, these chairs were probably made in Madura in the late 19th century and are influenced by the English Biedermeyer style. (JP/MVM)

Most of these furniture were donated by Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen or the Batavia Society for Art and Science to the Landsarchief van Nederlandsch-Indie or the Dutch Indies State Archive in 1925 after the first major renovation.

This society, founded in Batavia in April 24, 1778 by some Dutch intellectuals, including de Klerk, also donated its collection of furnitures to two other institutions which later became the National Museum and the Jakarta History Museum.

Tamalia said the collection had increased in the last ten years. The collection includes 38 antique maps dating back to the 16th century, and a number of paintings and drawings. Some of these maps and drawings were donated by their artists.

Last year the three museum invited Jan Veenendaal, an expert in Dutch colonial furniture, to identify their furniture collections. Coming to Jakarta with his own expense, Veenendaal identified the style, the materials, the period of production, and the place of production of these furniture.

"None of us really have a good index or inventory about the antique collection in these museums," Tamalia said .

"But now we have all the information and the three museums are now working on completing their inventory."

On the grounds of the house, we find separate pavilions for guest on each side of the main building. One of these pavilions is now used as a museum shop.

Next to the pavilions are spacious bijgebouwen, or annexes, which were used as a kitchen and storerooms. The two gables of the annex buildings are similar to those very common of the Cape Town, South Africa, once ruled from Batavia.

A replica of a slave bell, once used in the house. The original bell was cast in Batavia in 1772 by Johannes Borchhard and is now kept in the Werkspoor Museum in Amsterdam. (JP/MVM) A replica of a slave bell, once used in the house. The original bell was cast in Batavia in 1772 by Johannes Borchhard and is now kept in the Werkspoor Museum in Amsterdam. (JP/MVM)

In the courtyard there are two old cannons and a replica of a slave bell. The original bell was used to announce works and meals hours as well as unusual happenings.

This replica was cast in Beerta, the Netherlands in 1999 by Klokken-en Kunstgieterij Reiderland. The original bell was cast in Batavia in 1772 by Johannes Borchhard and is now kept in the Werkspoor Museum in Amsterdam.

Between 1926 and 1979 the building served as the archives and afterwards its condition deteriorated until its total restoration in 1997/1998.

The Jakarta provincial administration designated the building as one of heritage buildings on March 29, 1993 and followed by the then Education and Culture Ministry on June 16, 1998.

The National Archive Building Foundation managed the building after the 1998 renovation.

Four years later, UNESCO awarded the building the first prize in Cultural Heritage Award for the Asia Pacific region.

However, with no donation from the government and no entrance fee, the foundation mostly earned its income by renting the building out for exhibitions, weddings, seminars, product launches, fashion shows and parties as well as from the selling of books and souvenirs of its museum shop.

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