Grha Wismilak at the Crossroads


Surabaya is an old harbour town that has been long famous, even before colonial times, as seen in the carved copper plates of Trowulan I, which date to 1358, and in the Nagarakretagama manuscript that was written in 1365. Considering its long history, there’s no wonder that Surabaya has been graced by dozens of historical buildings in all corners of the city. One such iconic building is Grha Wismilak, standing gracefully at the corner of one of Surabaya’s busiest intersections, with a new extension bearing a touch of colonial architecture that replicates the glory of old.

Photo by Bagus Tri Laksono & Wismilak Doc.

Strategically located at the crossroads of Jl. Raya Darmo 36 and Jl. Dr. Soetomo 27, the imposing structure is thought to have been built in the 1920s. The streets used to be known as Darmo and Coen Boulevaards. The architect behind the building remains unknown.

According to a 1929 phone book that was found by Nico van Horn of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), Raya Darmo 36 was owned by Willem Hugo Lodewijk Savelkoul, head of a company belonging to the Savelkoul family, which was then owner of the most luxurious men’s clothing chain stores in Amsterdam and Batavia, while Coen Boulevaard 27 belonged to Paul Alexander Johannes Wilhelm Brandenburg van der Gronden, a broker for the sugarcane company G.L. Sirks & Co.

Darmo Boulevard has been an elite area since colonial times. This is evident from the bird’s- eye view pictures that show its neat and beautiful landscape and site arrangement. The building itself features a colonial style, while the facade makes the two-story building appear to have only one level. The walls are adorned with pentagon-shaped windows and pretty stained-glass decorations.

The first floor was made of natural stone while the second floor was lined with wood. With initial dimensions of 999.89 sqm, split into 495.25 sqm on the bottom and 504.64 above; the building had a main entrance that was built in a unique direction: Facing the centre of the crossroads, instead of straight towards Jl. Raya Darmo or Jl. Dr. Soetomo. The second floor houses a circular lobby alongside the facade, allowing visitors to have a clear view of the streets below.

Before its incarnation as Grha Wismilak, the building was dubbed Toko Yan (Yan Shop), which was a branch of Toko Piet (Piet Shop), a store that was later known as Toko Metro (Metro Shop) on Jl. Tunjungan. During the Japanese occupation, the building was used as a police station, and continued to house police after Indonesia declared independence in 1945.

In 1993, the building was handed over to its rightful owners by the police and Wismilak established the company’s headquarters there.

To meet its business needs, Wismilak added a new building without having to renovate the old structure in 2003.

A four-storey structure was built. The new building features a rooftop and a top floor designed by Hidajat Endramukti of Endramukti Design Associates. The new design followed closely the design rhythm of the old building. In the old structure, stained glass was one of the most interesting ornaments from an architectural point of view. The new building features a replica of the stained glass to continue the dynamic of the design.

The ventilation openings, which are in the shape of hibiscus leaves with a circular hole in the middle, and the pentagon-shaped windows in the old construction were also reproduced in the new building with one notable difference: The material used in the old building was wood while the new one used aluminum. The roof of the new building also mimics the old building’s theme, which is evident from the wall curves. As a result of these precise replications, those not aware of the history of Grha Wismilak might think that the old and new buildings were built at the same time.

The dimensions of the new building are 533.61 square meters, while the second to the fourth floors measure 583.86 sqm. Above is a rooftop with the dimensions of 522.8 sqm and a top floor in the middle of the building that measures 137 sqm. The first level of the building is used by the management and the human resource division, and also hosts the staff dining area. The second floor is used as the sales and field marketing division and marketing division of ces and for a meeting room. The third floor is used as the management office, while the top floor is used for IT division and internal audit department, and also the manager’s dining room.

The colour scheme of the interior differs from the white-washed exterior. Inside, the trademark light-green shade of Wismilak adorns the rooms, while dark green is attractively paired with aluminum and is used for window and door sills. The same shades have been applied to the granite stones that line the lift. There are two stone reliefs, depicting the harvest season, hanging on the walls of the corridors and linking the old building with the new.

The lift area functions as a transitional room between the old building and the new, as well as a central area that aims to provide comfort for everyone inside. With a strong history behind it, and a series of remarkable renovations done by Wismilak with the aid of Endramukti Design Associates; Grha Wismilak, which was inaugurated in 2009 by Willy Walla, the President Director of PT. Wismilak Inti Makmur, has become one of the heritage icons of Surabaya.

The 35.69-metre-tall building is a source of pride for the Wismilak family and of the people of Surabaya. The local government has declared Grha Wismilak as one of the city’s heritage buildings.

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Anton Adianto
Anton Adianto graduated from Parahyangan Catholic University majoring in architecture. His passion for writing, watching movies, listening to music, uncovering design, exploring the culinary world, traveling, delving into the philosophy of life, meeting people and disclosing all matters related to technology feeds his curiosity. Currently he resides in both Jakarta and Bandung.

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