The Home on Stilts
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/450 sec
As the wind and waves battered the house from all sides, I wondered if this seemingly feeble structure could withstand the storm. We were a good ten feet or so off the surface of the water, yet the waves reached the slats in the bottom of the floor. My roommates and myself were glad when the storm ended, and even more amazed at how this small house on stilts could take such a beating without being torn down. Maybe there was more to this style of architecture than I first imagined.
The kelong, or stilt house, was a common sight around the islands we visited in Indonesia. Most of the locals were fishermen, and these structures fit their lifestyle well. They could fish right off the front porch! Not only that, the islands were tiny, so dry land was limited. Solution: build the village out into the water! All the houses were connected by long strips of wooden slats that formed a boardwalk. In my western mindset, it appeared very rickety, but they didn’t seem to mind hopping over the large holes between the boards.
It is a long and involved process to build a stilt house, but the more I learned, the more it seemed to work. The posts, or piles, holding up the house were thick tree trunks driven as far as 6 meters into the ground and supported by cement. In the ocean, they would last about six months before rotting, so most structures had multiple support posts that could be changed out at different times. A layer of planks and water-resistant rattan ties held everything together. Finally, the house was built on top of this structure. This design protected the village against flooding, various animals, and even malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Today, even some hurricane-prone areas in industrialized nations are starting to use this design for their buildings. Now that’s a good idea!
Have you ever seen or visited a stilt house? What was it like?