The Administration Building of the Netherlands East Indies Railway Company in Semarang


It is known that the Netherlands East Indies Railway Company, who’s new Administration Building in Semarang was put into operation in the beginning of July of 1907, some images of which are hereby presented, has built the first railway in Java.

The first or trunk line was built to connect the booming Vorstenlanden of Surakarta (Solo) and Yogyakarta (Yogya) with Semarang, their natural sea port.

That is how Semarang became and remains the Netherlands Indies seat of the 's-Gravenhage based company and of which the whole of the Indies owes so much, as it gave the impetus to the improvement of the traffic system in the East Indies.

The main Semarang-Vorstenlanden line with the Kedoeng Djattie-William I branch line, now extending 206 kilometers, was, as far as its last section Solo Yogya is concerned, opened for public traffic on 10 June 1872  , and its branch line on 21 May 1873.  This line is located in Central Java. In addition, almost simultaneously, in West Java the 56 kilometers Batavia-Buitenzorg line was constructed.

While in the west extension of the work of the Company hardly took place, due to the construction of the Western Lines by the State, in Central Java it has expanded extensively since 1893.

First, the 25 kilometers Yogya-Brossot line, and the 111 kilometers Yogya-William I tramway, and then followed by the great expansion to the East with the independent 245 kilometer steam tramway from Goendih to Surabaya.

That such an extension has made the administration expand was obvious, and if in the beginning it was still possible to accommodate the activities in the relevant offices in the station building, eventually, more and more private homes had to be converted into offices, pending the realization of the long-conceived plan to build a new Central Administration building at a more suitable location, especially from a health point of view. The site selected was a piece of land located at the corner of the main road from Kendal and the former gunpowder-establishment; the Executive Board in the Netherlands called Mr. P. du Rieu Fzn. to The Hague to ask him to prepare the design of the Administration building.

Due to the death of Mr. Du Rieu, however, that commission was annulled; the Company then contacted Prof. Jacob F. Klinkhamer in Delft and Mr. B. J. Ouëndag, architect in Amsterdam, and they were commissioned to design this building, with the instructions to lead the construction from the Netherlands, preparing all drawings and making all delivery orders.

The previously selected site, however, was found to be disadvantageous, so it was decided to move to the present site, located where the road from Bodjong to the city and the square in front of the Resident’s house met.

This location is more favourable compared to the previous one in the sense that the building looks even more impressive and its corner location allows the building to be seen as an architectural whole while from a practical point of view, this has the advantage that all rooms are located relatively close to the center of the building. However, the condition of the soil at the plot was very unfavorable, as will be shown later.

As the ground floor plan shows (Fig. 3) the main entrance is on the corner and one comes from the shadow of the cool vestibule to the great stair hall, where a monumental staircase leads to the first floor and light enters through the stained glass windows made in the “ ’t Prinsenhof” stained glass workshop of J. L. Schouten in Delft, which attracted much attention when it was exhibited in Delft and The Hague.

The intention of the designers was to the give that entrance hall a certain architectural distinction while keeping the rest of the building simple. The reports in the Indies newspapers seem to indicate that this was quite successfully attained.

The great staircase serves as prise d’air, because though there is much light in the tropics, the amount of incident light on that great space is limited and the air remains cool, which is enhanced by an ingenious air circulation system.

Communications in both wings are done through the front and rear galleries, as is usual in the Indies, but also by a spacious inner hallway, which leads directly into the stairwell and which keeps the building cool.

The office spaces are located on either side of the central corridor, and connected by ventilation openings with that corridor.

Above the main entrance is the conference room which offers a magnificent view of the road to Kendal. The two wings of the building create a kind of courtyard, as the situation drawing indicates, which can be reached through arcades, which also give access to building B and building B' containing the toilets and lavatories for the office staff, which are housed in  separate structures like in most buildings in the Indies.
To the south it borders the kali, and the court is closed by the C building that serves as a printing house and which is connected to a bicycle stall and an engine room.

From the reservoirs, located as high as possible in the towers, the whole building complex is provided with water, extracted from a large well and pumped more than 20 meters up the tower reservoirs.

For the roof of the building the main design consideration was simply how to ensure proper drainage, in view of the heavy tropical rains, while keeping the attic, which shall provide space for the archives and other services, cool. This gave rise to the use of a double roof. The roofs above the galleries continue as the inner roof above the office spaces, but in the case of the gallery roof it is just covered with tiles.

The space between the two roof coverings above the office spaces is architecturally expressed by a row of trellis covered openings, only interrupted by the windows that illuminate the attic spaces (Fig. 1 and 7).
Ventilators on the roof ridge enhance the airflow in the space between the roofs, which, incidentally was made high enough to facilitate cleaning.

The powerful shadow of the roof, together with the shady horizontal circulation galleries, gives the building an unexpected Oriental character, which is increased by the white colored walls, only enlivened by cut stones (Fichtel Mountain granite) and the sparsely applied coloured glazed brick.
Externally, the stairwell is recognizable by its dome-shaped structure, ventilated on all sides by narrow windows.

The tympanum above the three windows in the front is adorned with a decorative filling of “sectiel” ceramic tiles designed by Miss Henr. A. Koopman of Amsterdam and manufactured in the Delft workshops of Joost Thooft and Labouchere. This arch filling, the red tiled roof, and the green patina of the copper tower domes, contrasted with white facade decorated with enameled bricks give an effect of opulence, which is further enhanced by the bronze pinnacle of the domes, manufactured according to the design of the sculptor L. Side.

In the lawn and tree adorned foreyard, next to the main building will be the caretaker’s quarters near the entrance gate (Fig. 12), a stable and a coach house, while other, still present buildings will be demolished in connection with construction of the above mentioned structures.

In November of the year 1902 Mr. D. W. Hinse J.Hzn. departed to the Indies as in-house architect with the plans of the building, to commence and lead the work.

When the first spade was put into the ground, it was already known from the provisional soil survey,which was further proved by the later conducted full load test, that the soil at that location was not favourable. The reality was even worse, and no less than an average depth of 4 meters of the soil had to be dug up and replaced with sand.  This apparently had to do with the much dreaded Central Javanese clay, which in the dry season shrank enormously, therein creating wide deep cracks, which closed again in the rainy season.

This sand, very different from the heavy sand known to us, is a kind of volcanic sand. Moreover, it had to be supplied from outside and demanded great caution in its treatment. The sand was laid in layers of only 30 to 40 centimeters, and extra precautions were made be digging deep wells besides the excavation site, to suck up the groundwater as deep as possible to ensure that the sand was sufficiently compressed before the water flowed back. It is understandable therefore that the soil improvement cost a lot of time and money.

This additional care and effort has been rewarded as the heavy building with its high rising water towers has shown no significant settlement.

The first buildings erected were the caretaker quarters and the printing house, where the experience with soil was useful in the construction of the main building. These outbuildings served as construction offices during the course of the work.

The first stone of the main building was laid in February 27, 1904, honoured with a slamatan, but was put into use in 1 July 1907 without any ceremony.

The foundation of the building, constructed at 1.20 meters below the building site, consists of a 1 meter high heavy concrete foundation, on which the plinth of the kali-stone wall rests.

The walls of the building are of locally made bricks, while the floor construction are of brick arches  between iron beams with a surface of hard fired tiles.

As can be seen in the plans and the images of the lower and upper galleries, the pillars act as the main supports of the building and the girders resting thereon, while the beams themselves are laid in the longitudinal direction of the wings.

Besides the bricks of the walls of the building and the outbuildings and the wood for woodwork, all materials for this important work were shipped in from Europe and one can have a good idea of the many worries that arises, when one considers not only the time needed to deliver the material, but also taking into account the risks of lost during loading as well as breakage during transportation to and unloading in Semarang.

Everything was made to the exact measurements of the drawings and models and carried with great care. It should be mentioned that for the granite works alone an amount of more than 350 cubic meters was processed and it was delivered in such a satisfactory manner, that not a single piece had to be cut when they were erected in the Indies.

In total, there were in average 300 native workers, without the help of Chinese labourers, working everyday for about 4 years. It is, therefore, a favorable testimony of what native workers under European leadership can do.

And now, while the building has only been in use for a relatively short time, the expansion of the services  has called for the construction of a new building  on the still empty eastern part of the site.

This rectangular building measuring 23 meters by 77 meters consists essentially of a long central corridor with the work rooms located on each side and surrounded by galleries. Although this new annex will not look much different from the existing building, from a structural point of view it will be entirely different.

The supporting frame and the floor of the whole building will be of reinforced concrete, while the brickwork is just light non-bearing walls.

The intention is that as far as possible materials available in the Indies are to be used and although the design and specifications and the 1:20 detailed drawings of the facade were prepared by the architect BJ Ouëndag, Amsterdam, (Prof. JF Klinkhamer acting as advisor), further implementation and detailing were done by employees of the Netherlands East Indies Railway Company.

Prof. J. F. Klinkhamer, b.i.
B. J. Ouëndag, Architect.

Original Title: Het Administratiegebouw der Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg-Maatschappij te Semarang, Nederlandsch-Indië Oud en Nieuw, Volume 1 Number 1, May 1916.
Translated by: Tjahjono Rahardjo


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