lawang sewu

Lawang Sewu

Lawang Sewu is a landmark in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. The colonial era building is famous as a haunted house, though the Semarang city government has attempted to rebrand it.

Lawang Sewu was designed by C. Citroen, from the firm of J.F. Klinkhamer and B.J. Quendag. It was designed in New Indies Style, an academically-accepted term for Dutch Rationalism in the Indies. Similar with Dutch Rationalism, the style is the result of the attempt to develop new solutions to integrate traditional precedents (classicism) with new technological possibilities. It can be described as a transitional style between Traditionalists and the Modernists, and was strongly influenced by the design of Berlage.

Construction began in 1904 with A building, which was completed in 1907. The rest of the complex was finished in 1919. It was initially used by the Nederlandsch Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij, the first railway company in the Dutch East Indies.

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After the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942, the Japanese army took over Lawang Sewu. The basement of B building was turned into a prison, with several executions taking place there. When Semarang was retaken by the Dutch in the battle of Semarang in October 1945, the Dutch forces used the tunnel leading into A building to sneak into the city. A battle ensued, with numerous Indonesian fighters dying. Five employees working there were also killed.

After the war, the Indonesian army took over the complex. It was later returned to the national railway company. In 1992 it was declared a Cultural Property of Indonesia.

By 2009 the Lawang Sewu complex was in a state of considerable dilapidation. Simon Marcus Gower, writing in The Jakarta Post, noted it as being “dark and evidently sick. Its white walls are faded throughout; blackened by pollution and neglect. Rendered walls are cracked and any wall paper has long since fallen away to reveal the red bricks beneath. Mould and weeds grow over much of the building and mice and rats are the chief residents.”

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The building soon underwent renovations to ensure that it would be profitable as a tourist attraction. Governor of Central Java Bibit Waluyo mobilized several dozen soldiers to assist with the renovations; the soldiers focused on external repairs. Local residents were disappointed in the renovations, opining that it had lost its authenticity.

On 5 July 2011 the newly renovated complex was inaugurated by First Lady Ani Yudhoyono. However, at the time only B building was available for tours. It is hoped to be a main attraction in the Central Javan government’s tourism program in 2013.

Future plans include transforming Building B into office space, a food court, and even a gym. In late 2013 the Semarang city government announced plans to eliminate the building’s “spooky image” in order to attract more visitors. This was to encompass a reimagining of the site as a place for social and cultural activities, supported by renovations of the building. At the time, Lawang Sewu attracted an average of 1,000 visitors daily.

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