Indonesia has a wide variety of traditional architecture, which is well adapted to climate and environment. Unfortunately there occurs a decline in traditional buildings and traditional way of life in the recent years and decades. New buildings,  often made of brick walls or concrete with an inferior technology, seldom meet the requirements of the surroundings. Settlement patterns and agricultural systems of villages are often changed without considering  the aftermaths of these actions. 

Our project tries to document old settlement patterns and to check whether development is done on a sustainable base. Important aspects during the investigations are disaster resistance and management qualities of old systems, which should be preserved or enhanced. 

The appearance of a rural settlement is always strongly connected to environmental conditions on one hand, on human needs and habits on the other hand. If the inhabitants try to adapt to requirements of nature, living in a certain place and harvesting the surplus products of the environment is possible on a long term base. Otherwise, special hazards are created through wrong lifestyle or overuse of resources. Wrong lifestyle means, especially in tropical surroundings like Indonesia, plague and illness, overuse means the danger of famine due to lack of food, but also the possibility of altering ecosystems in an irrevocably (at least on a short term human scale) way, which may produce disasters like landslides, fl oods, erosion, desertifi cation (although latter mostly not in tropical areas), loss of biodiversity, just to mention the most common ones.

These disasters in turn may endanger the very existence of the settlement, or at least lessen the quality of life for the inhabitants.

In addition to these self-generated troubles there may be disasters which are naturally part of the living environment and play often an important role in the functioning of an ecosystem. These are annual fl oods, and sometimes  volcanic activities or earthquakes. These disasters cannot be avoided by sustainable management of an agricultural system, they have to be adapted to, or if this is not possible, the area will be sooner or later declared not suited for human habitation. Sometimes, as in the case of volcanic activity, the disaster itself may grant good living circumstances, as volcanic soil often is very fertile. Therefore on the one hand it offers an ideal place for settlement, on the other hand it causes the permanent danger of damage through eruptions. In this case local topography and frequency of volcanic activity is a key for threat assessment. 

In traditional cultures often we can notice an astonishing grade of adaptation to natural as well as human threats. As nowadays the human threat has virtually ceased to exist (there are no raids of rivalling tribes or assaults of hostile powers anymore), in the last 100 years the traditional architecture and the settlement structure has transformed in Indonesia and shows now mostly the features which are important in adaptation for natural hazards. Sometimes we still encounter features like strategic placement on hilltops, the remains of walls and moats around a village, but features nowadays mainly focus on climatic and environmental adaptation.

Unfortunately these features tend to be forgotten as times and society changes, although in many ways traditional architecture would still be very suitable for living in (maybe with little alterations to respond to modern needs like running water, well equipped kitchens and bathrooms, changing family structure). Today it is not much cared about how houses are built or settlement structures are laid out.

This situation derives from an excessive growth of population and a lack of knowledge of the village people themselves alongside with ineffective planning or education strategies on this topic offered by government institutions, who are often themselves overburdened with the management of an ever growing population. Officials react on changes in Indonesia, sometimes with delay, and therefore measures are too late for preventing damage. In the Indonesian case the situation is worsened by the tectonically and volcanically highly active environment, which means frequent eruptions and earthquakes. As population growth and settlement expansion in Indonesia mainly occurred in the last 50 years, we do not know (or just now realise) the effects of wrong urban and rural planning strategies, and the damage which can be caused by earthquake impact.

In addition to these naturally and uninfluencably occurring events we have to bear in mind, that there could be disasters caused by wrong management of natural resources (e.g.: logging of rainforests, agricultural overuse of land, etc). The aim of our project is to investigate some of these factors mentioned above. Starting from simple documentation of still existing traditional architecture and settlements with the adjoining agriculturally used area we will proceed to a detailed analysis in the next few years to make statements about the sustainability and disaster safeness of settlements investigated. In addition the local people can be given advice about how to deal with their cultural and natural resources.

With the involvement of GPS data gathering we will try to develop a suitable GIS system, which can be used for regional development purposes. The central questions of our research are: “Are traditional settlement patterns and agricultural livelihood systems ecologically sustainable?”; “How well adapted are traditional house constructions to the tropical environment and especially to natural hazards?”; “How will it be possible to adapt old knowledge, agricultural systems and traditional architecture to the needs of a changing society without losing essential parts of cultural identity and useful
traditional techniques?” We had started our project about half a year before the  disaster in Sumatra, which confi rmed the importance of essential need for topics like these to be dealt with.

Additionally, during reconstruction works on the Island of Nias, the Vienna University of Technology launched a project for documentation and research on earthquake stability of traditional housing, as a fi rst step in a helping programme for locals to re-erect or rebuilt traditional architecture with donations from Europe. The fi rst fi eld research on Nias has to be conducted in June, and at the time of writing this paper it seems already for certain, that most of the traditional buildings have suffered rather slight damages only, or at least the majority of them is still standing, whereas much more “modern” style buildings have collapsed during the earthquakes. After a very brief investigational phase there will be active aid for reconstruction, during which step there will be a cooperation with members of our project on Nias too.

This research will be conducted together with Gadjah Mada University in Yogjakarta, where studies on cultural landscape and culture heritage conservation form an important part of university work.


Besides from climate, soil, fl ora and fauna, geology and tectonic activities bear special signifi cance, as they are the cause for a permanent threat, which is posed by earthquakes and volcanism. It is no coincidence, that Indonesia is very often called the “ring of fi re”, as a chain of volcanoes  stretches across most of the islands. This is caused by the Indian Ocean crust being subducted northwest of the west Australian continental margin beneath the Sunda volcanicarc, which stretches from Sumatra eastwards. The effects in geological terms are:

-  Continent – continent collision  (begins  in Sumba
– Timor region and continues around the curve of the Banda arc  as  far  as Seram.  (The  seismic show  a  very  uniformly structured  subduction  zone). There  is  therefore  subduction related  seismicity  (Milsom  2000,  Tectonophysics),  which causes earthquakes.
-  These earthquakes are concentrated in three zones (one south of Seram, a second coinciding  roughly with  the active  southern  segment  of  the  Banda  volcanic  arc  and  a third associated with the eastern end of the Sunda arc). The gap between Sunda and Banda arc seismicity coincides with a break  and offset between  the Seram  and  southern Banda seismic zones (Milsom 2000, Tectonophysics)
-  There are: subduction zone  interface earthquakes, subduction  zone  deep  intraslab  earthquakes,  strike-slip transform earthquakes, and  intraplate earthquakes (Petersen 2002, Tectonophysics). These different  types of earthquake have  different  effects  on  buildings:  depending  on whether they cause mainly vertical and/or transversal movement of the earth, stress and dynamic  loads affect buildings differently. This is a topic which has to be investigated thoroughly for the case of traditional Indonesian buildings, where we suppose a kind of adaptation to these conditions.
-  Two major faults that are contributing to earthquake generation: The Sumatran subduction zone and the Sumatran transform fault (Petersen 2002, Tectonophysics).
-  There is also volcanic activity related to the back arc region of the subduction. This caused the chain of volcanoes, which stretch from Sumatra to the eastern part of the Flores area. The activity in the fore arc region subsided very rapidly, although  there  is  evidence  of  submarine  volcanism  (Khan 2004, Earth and planetary science letters EPSL)
-  Problems  to be  investigated  are:  ash  fall  (putting a  heavy  load  on  roof  constructions;  not  only  hot  but  also physically heavy) and volcano  induced  landslides.  It  is not clear, whether  such disasters happened  in  the  investigation area, although it is very possible, as in the east Flores region there  are  settlements  high  up  on  the  slopes  of  different volcanoes (e.g. Ile Ape on Lembata).
-  Monitoring the volcanic activity would be possible with MODIS  images, which show heat fl ares on  the earth’s surface.


The project focuses on eastern Indonesia, namely the island of Sulawesi and  the area of  the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur,  which  comprises  the  islands  of  Sumba,  Sumbawa, Flores  and  Timor.  This  is  a  very  large  area  with  lots  of different ethnics involved, and with different environmental conditions. From this area of interest, which ranges roughly from 115° E to 125° E and from 2°N to 11° S a few villages for case studies will be selected. Depending on their special cultural heritage and environmental setting. These settlements will  be  examined  and  classifi ed  due  to  their  agricultural systems, their settlement pattern and their special architecture, which will be  supposedly  in  each  example a different one, as Indonesia has one of the most diverse architectonical and cultural landscapes of the world.
Project Structure:

1.The  area  will  be  scanned  during  fi eld  trips  for  suitable villages, which can be investigated in detail

2.  Documentation  of  architecture,  settlement  structure, field  and  garden  plots  on  site. Apart  from  these  features exploitation of additional natural resources will be recorded (logging, fishing, animal husbandry). Documentations  are  performed  with  a GPS mapping device and conventional surveying methods. These features will be entered into a GIS system, where the collected data will be analysed and stored for further use

3.To assess special qualities of a settlement e.g. the earthquake resistance  of  traditional  buildings  of  the  settlements, additional  investigations have  to be performed,  in  this case an external modelling of house types (for calculations based on fi nite element computer programmes like NASTRAN) , and material qualities have to be determined from samples during  tests  (load  bearing  capacity  of materials,  joints  and structure).
Methods applied:

Documentation:Architectural  documentation  is  conducted with the help of conventional methods of building survey, by making  sketches  and  assessing  lengths  by  laser  distometer and  measuring  tape.  Material  samples  are  taken  and  a comprehensive  photographical  documentation  is  made, alongside with  interviews on building processes and habits and customs regarding this topic. After  that  a  rough  sketch  of  settlement  pattern  should  be made, with housing areas, garden plots and on the wider scale with fi eld areas  included. The expression of a rough sketch is  applied  here,  because  absolutely  precise  measurements would be too expensive (equipment) and too time intensive. For the kind of settlement structure studies we are conducting, an  accuracy  at  best  conditions  at  around  +-1m  should  be provided.

Agricultural features have to be recorded on one hand at with the help of mapping at the spot – here the soil type, slope, and position of  the fi elds are relevant, but also  the crops grown during the year. As the survey is limited to one certain timeof the year (or two times at best) there have to be interviews and polls about frequency of planting and crop change. The surveys will be made in the rainy season (although in some areas  this  is  not  relevant,  as  there  is  humidity  and  rainfall all the year round) in some areas, especially in eastern Nusa Tenggara Timur,  the only  time crops are grown  is  the rainy season, due to low rainfall rates. In some areas, where there is no wet rice cultivation with watered fi elds, a kind of shifting cultivation with prior logging of primary or secondary forest vegetation may  occur.  In  this  case  the  assessment  of  data about fallow periods and duration of use for one plot should be conducted with special care, as this may prove ecologically very signifi cant. Soil types will be sampled and classifi ed.

Data  processing: All  fi eld work  data  has  to  be  processed and inserted in an appropriate GIS system together with map material (1:25 000 or 1:50 000), which may not be available in all cases, due to government restriction. The same case may apply  to  areal  photographs. The  possibility  to  use  satellite imagery is limited as well, as most of the time conditions are very cloudy.
However, some features, like probabilistic and deterministic earthquake hazard maps already exist on Malaysia, Sumatra and  parts  of  eastern  Indonesia (Milsom  2002  ),  but  a GIS based approach to gather also landslide and volcanic hazards would  be  of  great  interest;  for  instance  morphometric classifi cation based on curvature and surface derivatives with the aim of preliminary mapping of geomorphologic features based  on  free  SRTM  (=  shuttle  radar  topography mission) DEMs. Tsunami hazard can be estimated from the position of the settlement and the shape and distance of the coastline and the surrounding topography.

After creating a basic map with classifi ed hazard areas; e.g.: steep  slopes  and  high  density  of  faults,  which  indicate  a metastable area likely to be damaged by landslides, existing settlement  and  land use  structures  can be overlaid  and  this data could be used for forecasting possible damage areas or confl ict situations, where wrongly practised agriculture could lead to soil erosion and thus to soil destabilisation. Vegetation  layers  with  basic  fl oral  data  (forest  types, grassland, etc) may also give data on degradation. Diffi culties may  arise  due  to  different  datasets  in  different countries  also  using  different  map  projections,  where homogenization is necessary (DEM is already homogenized with the SRTM approach).

Special research on detail topics: The detailed research on architecture comprises of the drawing of plans and virtual 3d models of houses, which can be used for further investigation by importing them into a FEM (fi nite element) calculation computer-programme, where dynamic loads occurring during earthquakes can be simulated. Special care is given to determine the properties of building materials, as tropical woods and bamboo are used for building Indonesian houses, where load bearing capacities and other parameters have not been well tested in Europe, and therefore exact values are not always known. As the joints in most cases of Indonesian traditional architecture are not rigid, but the beams and posts are lashed together with liana (rattan) strings, the building gains some extra fl exibility, which helps to absorb dynamic earthquake forces.
DATA GATHERED DURING FIELD TRIP 2010 Field research data obtained in:
Kadidiri, Sulawesi
This Bajo („Sea Gypsies“) camp comprising roughly a dozen stilt houses is built over a reef fl at between the Island of Kadidiri and a little rock island in front of the shoreline. The water is shallow, at low tide maybe not more than 0,5-0,75m. The Bajo people are fi shermen, travelling about large distances in their tiny boats. The settlement is of temporary character, as the Bajo never used to live in houses, but their only home being their boat. In recent times they gave up this habit and became sedentary, although they might shift the position of the village after some decades, if the resources are exhausted. The buildings are rather of improvised quality, but the location of the settlement is a favourable one. Bajo focus rather on boatbuilding, than on housebuilding. On the nearby shore they have some sheds where boats are permanently built or repaired. Problems can arise, as the Bajo regard the fi shing areas as a boundless resource, and practice no selective fi shing of whatever kind. In this way overfi shing in general and overuse of threatened species can occur. This pattern of fi shing is due to the nomadic tradition of the Bajo, as it is no problem if a nomadic group uses the resources of one area to full extent, because if there are depleted, the people will change location and the ecosystem has time to recover. But due to the new sedentary lifestyle and more effective (and often more destructive) fi shing methods like dynamite fi shing ecosystems are in danger. Confl ict between Bajo and Indonesian fi shermen, who are sedentary on a long term base arise due to the facts mentioned above. The Bajo do not practise agriculture in any form. 

Bira, Sulawesi
Bira lies in the district of Bulukumba, approx. 200km to the east from Ujung Padang. The villages in this area have a distinct ship building tradition (especially Tanah Beru). However villages facing the eastern coastline are situated not right on the shore, but on hilltops in some distance to the sea. Exceptions are fishermen’s villages and Tanah Beru,
Bajo settlement on Kadidiri Island, Central Sulawesi
 where the area is very flat. These settlements have distinct Bugis-style architecture, where often the same techniques for joints are used as in shipbuilding practise. Inside the settlement behind the houses there are usually gardens, where a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits are grown. Outside the village boundaries there are fi eld plots, usually fenced with coral rocks, where crops are grown on the quite scarce soil. The ground is very rocky, the humus layer is thin.
Traditional Bugis House in Tanah Beru, Southern

Garden plot surrounded with coral blocks near Bira,
Southern Sulawesi

Usually there are huts erected on these fields. Agar-Agar (Rumput laut or Seaweed) is grown in front of the shoreline for export and dried in the villages. Tanah Beru has a big shipbuilding industry; there are dozens of ships being built with very archaic techniques along the shoreline. The need for construction wood is big, it is unclear where these materials come from: From nearby logging, from legal trade or from illegally logged resources in Kalimantan and Sulawesi. 

Lowobunga, Adonara
Adonara is one of the Islands east of Flores (district: Flores Timur), which is inhabited by the Lamaholot people, a tribe where ancient tradition still live on strongly. However most of the population is Christian due to strong missionary activities of the catholic SVD order. But still, traces of ancestor worship are practised alongside with catholic religion. There are still new ancestor or clanhouses constructed, which are entered only with great respect. For the documentation works, which I conducted here, I had to ask for permission to take photographs and make drawings, which where not granted in each village on the Island. On some places even the visit to clan houses was not possible due to spiritual reasons. In Adonara houses are not built on stilts, like in nearly all other regions of Indonesia. This might be due to drier conditions, which allow to build on earthen platforms. In Adonara there is no wet rice cultivation, most of the crops are grown during

Lamaholot ancestor-house in Lowabunga, Adonara,
“Kebang” (storage hut) in a “Kebun” (fi eld plot) near Waiwerang, Adonara
the wet season. Near the fi eld plots there are storage huts, called “Kebang”, mainly for maize and other crops, they are used as shelter after or during work on the fi eld. The name of the rice storage building is “Lewat” a type is often situated in the village area. Gardens within the village boundaries are not really signifi cant (differing from the systems in southern Sulawesi)

Lamalera, Lembata

Lamalera belongs as well to the Lamaholot area, it is a fisherman’s village on the southern slopes of the island of Lembata. The speciality of the inhabitants is to catch whales (sperm whale, killer whale, dolphins, etc) and big fish (swordfi sh, manta rays, sharks) from tiny boats with the help of harpoons. The sheds for the boats and the whaling boats themselves are constructed in traditional ways. They have sails and go out for the hunt with them, as modern means are not suitable for catching sperm whales or other big species. However, for catching dolphins and fi sh there are boats equipped with motor engines, which go faster than the traditional ones. But even with this enhancements no big amounts of whale or fi sh are caught by harpooning, the hunt being still dangerous and hard work, where often the whale turns over boats and manages to escape (Usually the number of sperm whales caught ranges between 10-15/year, the number of dolphins is around 10 / week at maximum). The catch of manta rays depends on the season, as this species
Lamalera village, Southern Lembata
Fishermen from Lamalera on the hunt


Ende Port and Gunung Iya,
Flores, Indonesia

has extensive migrations. The houses of the settlement are unfortunately not of traditional type anymore, although many other aspects of lifestyle still are kept traditional. There is no real agriculture, just gardens around the houses, where cotton and indigo for weaving and some herbs and fruits are cultivated. Agricultural produce is acquired every week on a barter market, where locals change dried fi sh for vegetables, rice and staple crops, which is brought by people from the villages on the nearby hills (orang gunung).


Apart from the sites mentioned above, further sites have to be selected. We are thinking of approximately 3 additional settlements, from Timor ,Alor or other areas of Nusa Tenggara Timur. Until the start of the next fi eld trip, which will start in February 2006, a simple, but effective GPS based mapping method has to be developed, which is well adapted to tropical fi eldwork circumstances. The processing of architectural documentations has to be started and a computer simulated earthquake-stability investigation on typical buildings from the areas mentioned above has to be performed. Data from interviews conducted so far has to be compiled and archived. Data assessment from published resources (maps, satellite images, etc.) for the future GIS system will start this October.

Our project has to perform two big tasks: One is the documentation of traditional architecture and settlement structures, the other is to get a better understanding for the interaction between human settlement and the surrounding ecosystem. The results of the analysis can be used to give advice to local people, which aspects of their traditional lifestyle they should keep, which ones they could alter, to deal with their land in a sustainable way. This in turn would give a better possibility to manage disasters, for which there is a big natural potential in Indonesia, but the effects of which will be worsened through a lack of settlement planning and extensive population growth. Our project should create a basis for a management tool and a better understanding on these topics, where cultural heritage and natural heritage are woven together within a delicate web.

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