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Home » Off The Beaten Track at The Remote Nias Island » Local Genius saves Nias Traditional Houses from devastating earthquakes

Local Genius saves Nias Traditional Houses from devastating earthquakes



The island of Nias, located in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of North Sumatra, lies exactly on the fault line where the Eurasian plate meets the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, making the island prone to earthquakes.


In the last devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami of December 2004, followed by another one in 2005, Nias lost no less than 900 lives. But experts have now discovered that it was the 80% of modern buildings and houses on the island which had collapsed and caused significant damage, while the local genius of the Nias that is built into the construction of their traditional houses, had saved these from the destructive earthquakes and tsunamis.  Any breakages were caused rather by the supporting beams that were eaten up through age.  


To restore this precious heritage, the Nias Island Rural Access and Capacity Building Project (RACBP) Multi Donor Fund was established through the International Labor Union (ILO). Working together with the Museum Pusaka of Nias, the National Planning Board and the Ministry for Development of Remote Areas, the organization gave financial incentives to owners to rebuild and restore their traditional houses.


As a result, since 2010 in the first year, some 73 houses were restored, and another 63 houses are being reconstructed to be ready by the end of 2012.


The most important features of the Nias house are its unique structural features, base isolation, x-type bracing, and clever placements of supporting columns, as well as their lightweight roofing, said Hafiz Amirrol, architect in the Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) Indonesia.   


The reason why most of these houses did not collapse during the large earthquake was because of their non-fixed base support, since the structural supporting beams rest on a stone foundation, providing the maximum elasticity whenever shaken by earth movements.


Traditional Houses on Nias can be disitinguished between those in the North and in the South of Nias.


In North Nias,  houses called Omo Hada are oval in shape and are in clusters of 6 to 12 houses oriented towards  the street. In front of their houses are megalithic structures, which they believe connect the living with the dead. These also indicate the social status of the house owner.


In Southern Nias, on the other hand, traditional houses are rectangular. A village consists of hundreds of houses standing on both sides of the main street, which is either T shaped or L shaped.


Since villages are normally built on a high hill and often with difficult access, they have built a grand stone staircase to the village paved square.


Again, here houses vary according to social status. The chief’s house, called Omo Sebua, and the council house, called Bale are placed at the center of the village intersection. If villagers’ houses have columns of 30-50 cm. in diameter, a chief’s house has columns of over 1 meter thick. The Omo Sebua is also taller, which can measure 30 meters from ground to the rooftop.


Nias houses also do not use nails or ropes. All parts of the house are fitted into each other. Only the roofs are made of sago leaves tied to a frame of bamboo or rattan. Also local wood is used, In North Nias the preferred hard wood is ebony, or iron wood.  


In South Nias, a house consists of three levels. The ground level is where are the columns that support the entire house. This area, also known as the underworld by the local population, is kept as storage and as pig styes.


The middle level, which serves as the living quarters of the family is known as the “present world”, While the upper level, its roof, is believed to be the upper world, reserved for the gods and ancestors.


The sharp and slender roof makes it possible for the tropical rain – which Nias receives in abundance – to flow steeply down. While, architects realize that it is the three level structure of the house that makes this type of house earthquake resistant.  The roof structure, moreover, in which often a large window is built, provides lots of fresh air and constant air-circulation in the living quarters


During the latest reconstruction of the houses, owners must also contribute financially to its restoration.


Best of all, in order to sustain the knowledge of local genius in the building of the Nias house, Nias youths were recruited so that they too can further pass on their local genius, this most precious Nias heritage, to following generations.    


For more information, please read:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/31105246/Structural-Genius-of-Indigenous-Nias-House-Architecture

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Local Genius saves Nias Traditional Houses from devastating earthquakes

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