Pasar Johar: Semarang, Central Java

mini-pasar-johar.jpgThe northern coastal harbour-city of Semarang, Central Java is a divided city – the old and the new. The old, being located on a coastal plain between two Banjir Canals, and the most interesting to explore. The new, being located in the Southern Candi hills, is the newer residential area and where most of the wealthy people live – the cool air preferable to the heat of the coastal plain. Semarang is a city full of history, culture, and a bustling centre for trade.

When I first visited this beautiful and historical city over fifteen years ago, I had prearranged my accommodation at the Metro Hotel in the old part of the city, near Pasar Johar – a huge labyrinth of market stalls where everything imaginable is for sale. My hotel was situated next to a junction of five roads, known as simpang lima, where the roads branch out into various parts of the city. Pasar Johar is a market complex and is a fruit lover’s delight. Rows of stalls join other rows leading into a complex of other markets right down to the canals, and the other side, into Chinatown.

Unfortunately, the old market that had captured my imagination is now falling into a state of disrepair. Suherdjoko explains more:

Pasar Johar market, Central Java’s biggest traditional market and a historical landmark in the provincial capital Semarang, has been corroded by seawater over the years, but a group of engineers has a plan to fix it.

In May and June, a section of its 15,000-square meter area was swamped in rising seawater, which leached into the foundations of the market located in Semarang’s Kota Lama old city area.

“As an architect, I am very concerned about the condition of Pasar Johar, which is a cultural heritage (building).

“If its unique mushroom-shaped pillars are continually exposed to the elements, the building, which boasts a strong and unique construction, may gradually demolish by itself.

“Coastal erosion has obviously damaged the concrete construction of its base. Therefore, we offer a proposal to raise Pasar Johar without altering its shape,” said president director of PT Ecolmantech (Ecology Management Technology and Change), John Wirawan, in Semarang.

He said the method used to raise the building would not harm its structure, thus keeping the original shape of the market which was built by Thomas Karsten in 1933.

It’s also hoped that raising Pasar Johar will help dispel rumors that Semarang Mayor Sukawi Sutarip plans to turn it into a modern market.

John, a German-graduated architect, said the technique had been since the 1950s overseas and was used to lift a building in Pulo Gadung, Jakarta, in 1990.

A steel structure would built beneath the building, which would then be raised on hydraulic jacks.

“We will place the jacks in various points to divide its weight equally. We will later raise the jacks all at once to lift the building bit by bit. It will take three to four days to lift the building up to one meter,” said John.

The lifting should not damage the structure of the building, and preserving Pasar Johar will be cheaper than rebuilding it, he said.

“The method could cut the cost by half compared to building a new market,” said John.

He said the cost of lifting the building was insignificant given that the history of the building made it priceless.

The first building John helped move was the 133-ton upper structure of the fly-over bridge at Taman Ria recreational park in Jakarta. His company was also involved in lifting a floating pier at that time and later raised a building at the Green Wood housing estate in Semarang.

Another architect, Harisanto, 75, said he had also been following the developments of Pasar Johar.

“I used to follow my father, who was Thomas Karsten’s trusted technician, when the market was under construction. To me, Pasar Johar is a traditional market designed perfectly by Karsten,” he said.

The market’s ventilation system protects shoppers from the heat, while it has good natural lighting as well.

History has it that Pasar Johar became the biggest and most modern market in Indonesia as soon as it was completed. Its special trait — the mushroom-shaped pillars — was regarded as ahead of its time to its precise construction.

Pasar Johar is currently occupied by 2,628 traders. According to head of the Pasar Johar Traders Association, Prasetyono, his group has objected against any kind of renovation, revitalization, or “whatever terms the authorities use”.

“We are already annoyed by any kind of term used,” he said.

He said the construction of a shopping center next to Pasar Johar had already sent many traders out of business.

“That’s why we reject the idea of raising Pasar Johar,” he said.

He said seawater only swamped a small area of the market during certain hours in May and June, and that raising the market was not worthwhile.

“We have improved the southern section, which is dirty and squalid, and repaired the ventilation system. We have also raised the canopy to improve circulation,” said Prasetyono.

Semarang Traders Forum chairperson Nurul Huda said the most important issue was not revitalizing the market, but overcoming the seawater intrusion in most parts of Semarang.

“If the Semarang municipality fixed the rising seawater in lower Semarang, it would resolve the problem in Pasar Johar,” she said.

John Wirawan said his company would involve social experts, community figures and local politicians in the project.

“The Pasar Johar issue is not only the concern of architects, but everyone will be involved because this project is also in the interests of the general public,” said John.