Henri Maclaine Pont’s First Masterpiece

The SCS Building is currently under restoration

The SCS Building is currently under restoration

Six years ago this week, for the Chinese New Year celebrations in 2009, we went to the city of Tegal and toured the sights in the local area. Located about halfway between the port cities of Cirebon and Semarang on the North Coast of the island of Java, Tegal is known far more as a port and service centre for the local area than as a tourist destination. Nonetheless, it has a number of worthwhile sights and we had an enjoyable couple of days there. For us the most impressive of these is the SCS building, which was built between 1911/1913 as the headquarters for the railways in what was then the Dutch East Indies. You won’t find it in any of the guidebooks to Indonesia but it is a remarkable example of late colonial architecture and deserves to be better known.

The building was designed by Henri Maclaine Pont, who was one of the most brilliant architects of the late colonial period in Indonesia. This structure was his first major project and it is one of only four surviving treasures from this great architect. In its scale and elegance, it rates amongst the great colonial buildings of South East Asia, surpassed in that part of Java only by Gedung Sewu, a magnificent Art Noveau monument in Semarang. When we visited Tegal six years ago, the building was looking very derelict and run down, so we are very pleased to hear that as of late 2014 it is being completed restored to its original glory.

What makes the SCS (Semarang Cirebon Stoomtram Maatschappij) Building so special is the way that it combines Indonesian and European building styles so effortlessly. While the stained glass windows in the building are very European, the high ceilings and timber beams owe a lot to Pont’s study of Indonesian palace architecture. In this sense it is an early example of the Indo-European style which found Dutch architects building structures that were more in tune with a tropical climate. The SCS building, for example, is aligned on a North-South axis, which cools the structure by keeping direct sunlight out of the building. Modern designers and architects could learn a lot from this approach; too many modern buildings in Indonesia are concrete boxes which would be unbearable without air-conditioners. Located close to the Tegal Railway Station, it is worth checking out if you are in this neck of the woods.

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