The island of Java has been the cultural and economic center of the Indonesian archipelago for centuries. Halfway 19th century, at the time of the Dutch East Indies, Java was characterized by agricultural principalities. There was great enthusiasm within the local and colonial elites when, after many years of discussion, the decision was made to actually build a railway network on Java. Steam trains were the prime appealing symbol of the industrial revolution and experiences in Europe and elsewhere in the world convincingly demonstrated that a railway network brought unprecedented opportunities for further development. In the decades that followed, the rail network unmistakably influenced the lives of the population of Java and transformed the island. The railways contributed in a crucial way to the development of Java as the society it is today.
This book clarifies the planning, design, construction, and use of the station architecture on Java in the period 1862-1942, as it came about under Dutch colonial rule. An understanding of the architectural importance of these stations is necessary to understand the historical and cultural significance of this legacy on Java. Railway station was a new type of structure and construction that has undeniably influenced the life of local people in Java in late 19th century. The stations form an important and tangible monument illustrating the complexity of Indonesian history, which is closely intertwined with the history of Java and the Dutch East Indies.
The starting point for this research into the station architecture on Java in colonial times is Kostof 's 'The Total Context of Architecture', a study in which the question 'why they are there, and why they are the way they are' is central. Since the development of transport on Java, and specifically the construction, use, modification and replacement of railway stations, is inextricably linked to Java's exploitation by colonial rulers, the following research questions are formulated :
1. What aspects influenced the creation and construction of the station architecture in Java in the period 1862-1942?
2. How were the stations in Java used between the opening of the railway up to 1942?

The available image collection, mainly architectural drawings and photograph, make up an important part of the study material and forms the first step to determine the case studies. Subquestions about specific location, management over work, similarity and differences with stations in the Netherlands, the concept of private and state railway companies and the station 's construction, the involvement of local princes and heritage aspect provide guidance to establish this selection. Based on the biography of the building, a case study can tell a brief history of the life cycle, its features and special events of the station building, leading towards answers on the research questions. The architectural drawing and from the railway stations in Java are often incomplete and limited or not available. Therefore, the discussion of the case studies is supported by various other sources, such as law and regulations, news reports, advertisements, project announcements in magazines and newspapers, and also sketched maps of the Java network's original plan. Periodic reports of designers to their superiors, reports of travelers, commemorative book, annual reporting on the operations and plans of municipalities are used to support the graphical analysis. In cases where the building is demolished or became a ruin, its 3D image was compiled for the visual reconstruction of the station from its conception. In five case studies it is accurately described how the stations came into being, how these further evolved, and thus sketches the story of the development of the rail network on Java; what considerations were decisive in building the station, who was involved in the decision-making and what obstacles were to overcome in that process?
The Semarang Station case illustrates the great enthusiasm to build a railway on Java. Unfortunately, the military engineers from the Netherlands with their thorough knowledge of water management proved unable to overcome the problems caused by the location choice in the marsh area in a tropical climate. At Semarang Station, the first major station in Java, almost everything that possibly could go wrong actually did go wrong.
Solo Balapan Station is primarily the result of diplomacy between various parties with an interest in the construction of railways in the Principalities, which manifested itself in its architecture. The Mangkunegoro IV gave permission to use his land to build Solo Balapan Station. The King and Prince from Vorstenlanden closely followed modern developments and aimed to bring prosperity to his principality by building a railway on the land under their authority. From the colonial perspective, this alignment with the wishes of the Principalities authorities in railway development offered an opportunity to confirm their colonial power and possibly increasing it. Nonetheless, the realization of the station was no easy matter. The two leading railway companies, NISM and SS, got locked in a long ongoing discussion regarding the design of Solo Balapan Station as a meeting point of both main lines at Java. In 1867 during construction, and later in 1927 during the modernization of the station, the engineer and architect each applied different architectural styles reflecting the spirit of the respective era. They shared however the wish for Solo Balapan Station to be the gateway of Vorstenlanden.
The history of Bandung Station architecture tells of the relationship between station, city and railway network in Java. At the beginning of the state railway development, Bandung Station, built in 1884, was only a second-tier station. Yet fifty years later, the station became the central hub of the railway network in Java and a symbol of enlightenment in the colony, as was illustrated by establishing the so-called lamp monument. This lamppost even rivaled the iconic monument in Vorstenlanden, called tugu and symbolizes the imaginary axis symbolizes the union of the King and God, as main monument of Java. The decision to make Bandung an administrative center in Java leads to a massive improvement of Bandung Station's facilities and services. From 1900 onwards various parties and stakeholders promoted proposals for a large passenger station in Bandung, and finally in 1927 Bandung Station got renovated in art deco style to add modernity to the station.
Batavia was the business and administrative center of the Dutch East Indies government. The interests at this station were extra large and required a complex compromise in which many parties from the urban development and the network planning were involved. After more than 25 years of establishing and elaborating various plans and ideas which never went beyond the drawing board, the design of a metal-dominated barrel vault was chosen which was built between 1927 and 1929. The station was designed by a prominent architect at Java, F.J.L. Ghijsels, working for private architects AIA. The architecture of Batavia Central Station, nowadays Jakarta Kota Station, conveys the spirit of modernity, in part through its attention to local climate conditions. Surprisingly modern terminal building provides an intercultural interpretation of space, namely by performing the slametan ritual as part in the ceremonies of the opening new station. This ritual accommodates the Javanese concept of space, in which equal importance is attributed to both the visible and invisible world, and thus facilitating Dutch authority in Java.
Simultaneously with the rail network, steam tram lines were built. Also this steam tram network with its station as spaces for transfer, was a tool for colonial government to reach remote areas in Java. An example of this is the fifth case study to Purwodadi Station (1884, moved in 1889 to the front yard of the assistant-resident). The initially isolated region got connected with the world outside its direct homey sphere. The area that was once remote from the central authority in Vorstenlanden got directly connected to the administrative and commercial centers managed by the Dutch colonial government. For the Purwodadi people, the station was a gateway to the world that was previously only a dream. A myth that was in the prediction and became a fact, recently their move have been getting faster and faster. To introduce the station as a kind of transfer building, the railway company organized activities that drew the attention of the population such as a slametan and a pole climbing contest, to celebrate the opening of the new terminal building. The Purwodadi Station building has been transformed to accommodate increasing mobility. This transformation was accompanied by a spatial reorganization in which the power of the Vorstenlanden declined and was replaced by that of port city Semarang in the north.
The five case studies clearly show that the railways were used to facilitate the colonial exploitation of Java. This research therefore also focuses on the relationship of architecture with the factors that determined the emergence of this new type of transport building on the island and the way in which architecture contributed to the acceptance of the rail network.
From about 1850 onwards, in addition to Europe and other colonies worldwide, the ambition is alive to establish a railway network at Java. The construction of this network is interwoven with developments among the Dutch colonial rulers and the circumstances on Java itself, such as geography, community and culture. The network has been developed by various railway companies and designed by both military and civil engineers, structural engineers and architects in a wide variety of situations and locations. This gave each station its own specific and unique development.
In the beginning was the Dutch government not at all interested in the construction of a railway network in Java. The first railway line and the steam tram network (secondary lines) were proposed, built and managed by a private company. They were the main party that initiated the development of railways in Java. The entrepreneurs acted as agents of the new imperialism which, according to the liberal ideas which were prevailent in the Netherlands, a great involvement was attributed to the private sector. The train stations at Java were an expression of their time and are a highlight in the new European imperialism. The railway lines appeal to the imagination since they spatially connect everything and everyone together and hence support the larger vision to extend the colonial empire wider.
Economic considerations were given highest priority in the construction of the main railway by the state. The government of the Dutch East Indies developed guidelines and policies, applicable to both state-owned and private companies and again in accordance with liberal principles, to place conditions for the establishment of the railways. As an exmaple, with the aim to ensure that the different transport networks integrate properly, any private business ought to establish his station besides the Great Post Road (Grote Postweg) or should have good access to this road.
The rail network on Java is installed by a new type of organization in Java, one dominated by technical specialists and contrasting with the formal culture of traditional civil servants. In this new organization, decision-making takes place on a technocratic basis; the engineers are guided by technological considerations to build railways, bridges, tunnels, signalling and interlocking systems. From a technical point of view, the system was quite comparable to that in European countries; only a few adjustments are needed. But in order to build a train station, the designer must also consider other factors besides architectural style, such as economic and political conditions, innovations in building material and technology, geography and tropical climate, Javanese customs including the Javanese system of beliefs. The stations on Java may look like a station in the Netherlands but because of the Javanese context the station fulfills its function in a way that is difficult to compare to that of Dutch station.
Originally mainly military engineers took care of the designs, but the ethical aspects were an obstacle for them; architecture is broader than technology alone. Therefore, they were confined to the familiar idiom of the neoclassical, the chalet-style and the iron structure for the platform roof but differ from the precedent in Europe. The difference between the stations of Java and those in the motherland was mainly a certain reluctance to apply the architectural style on the basis of functionality and cost considerations
The situation in Java changed a bit at the beginning of the 20th century, after the decentralization law and ethical policy were applied. The booming construction project of the rail network on Java attracted mostly young architects, especially the Polytechnic School in Delft, to work in the Dutch East Indies. The stations by the Delft architects allign with the growing recognition of the innovative capacity of an architect. The limitations and and conditions on Java however, forces the architect to re-interpret the station 's architecture as they have studied in the Netherlands.
The technocratic approach led to solutions to cope with the conditions in Java, such as were not available in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe, provide a great result on the engineering aspect. The development process is very contextual with the circumstances in Java at that time. The context is not only on the tangible aspects but also on the intangible aspects such as the meaning of space by the Javanese mystical and spiritual connotations. The result was satisfying and enriched the architectural vocabulary in Indonesia and of Dutch architecture abroad. While many of the stations mentioned in this study have drastically changed or disappeared completely, the collection of Java stations from 1864-1942 encompasses several architectural styles, ranging from neoclassical, chalet style, Indian architecture, art deco and modernism. However, the look of those styles does not seem as expressive and complete as in Europe.
At Java the railway network can be seen as a catalyst of change which for the Javanese people gave a new meaning to space and time and thus the concept of territory in the local population changed. This could happen in part because of the faith of the locals in the prophecy, which was promoting the arrival of new transportation.
The evolution of the train station in Java follows the development of the Java infrastructure. This took place under the influence of a changing political-administrative environment in those days, such as the emergence of a liberal ideology and strong position in the decision making process of professionals who were used to a more technocratic approach, and thereby expressed the new power structure that had become reality.
In Indonesia today it is not self-evident to include the station architecture of Java as cultural heritage, precisely because it originated from the colonial world. However, the station and railway network in Java covers almost the entire island and is still in use and serving Indonesia. Therefore it is relevant to discuss the historical value of the station architecture in Java in terms of cultural heritage without glorifying colonialism.


Harmilyanti Sulistyani

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Graduate School of Humanities, CLUE+ The Interfaculty Research Institute for Culture, Cognition, History and Heritage




Southeast Asia


Art and Culture