SEAARC Symposium Abstract 3: “Assertion of Self in the Works of Architecture in Indonesia as manifested in Jakarta”

by Prof. Gunawan Tjahjono, Universitas Pembangunan Jaya and Universitas Indonesia

Big city in Southeast Asia such as Jakarta has become a barometer of architectural trend of Indonesia. In it the contrasting images displayed by buildings representing the glory of capitalism versus those of slums have become a common scene. Yet major architectural works in Jakarta are very much dependent on the power holders whether they are of political or capital ones. In this regard Jakarta may share experience to many postcolonial Southeast Asian capital cities as some of which are struggling for new national identities through architectural works. Architecture do play significant role but the rapid globalization in which various values flow freely has significantly affected the ways architectural designs are practiced. The lesson from Jakarta might challenge the ways of reading architecture in the context of rapid cultural change.

As the largest nation states in Southeast Asia with nearly 6% of growth in the age of global economic slowdown, many constructions continue to fill the cityscapes of Jakarta and other Indonesian metropolises. Such scheme manifests the prides of the powerful owners, whether they are related to state, corporates, or individuals. These power holders tend to build “iconic” buildings as a manifestation of their desire for recognition as Francis Fukuyama had named it. Throughout the history of Indonesia, the roles of the presidents such as Soekarno, Soeharto, and to some extent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in shaping space-time of the country is undeniable. Meanwhile, the role of capitalism has simultaneously transforming the landscape of the country.

The rise of Joko Widodo in Indonesian political scene is phenomenal. His public statement on prompting local images to Jakarta’s governmental buildings, follow with the yet to be approved guidelines based on Traditional Betawi style had already induced debates in the Jakarta Chapter of Indonesian Institute of Architects. If succeeded, the act will affect the way the local as well as foreign architects designing buildings along the thoroughfares of Jakarta. The related governmental officials have to compromise the will of the governor and reformulate the local expression of architectural works. In this regard, if he is elected president of Indonesia, then his preference of local architectural expression will possibly become parts of the national policy. Such scenario will affect the course of architecture of Indonesia and is thus worth watching.

This paper reveals how the interplay of money and political power has complexly shaping architectural works across various boundaries of the capital cities of the regions and to some extent the globe. It analyzes the desire for recognition as a form of assertion of self beneath the surface of the power players. It employs data from the records of big projects submitted for building permit for the cases of Jakarta. The data include personal notes on the statements of the owners and their architects, both foreign and domestic, during their presentation to the Urban Architecture Advisory Board, an independent body for the governor of Jakarta.

Gunawan Tjahjono is the Rector of the Universitas Pembangunan Jaya, which is a newly established higher education institution located at Bintaro, Indonesia. He had been Professor of Architecture at the Universitas Indonesia up to 2012; but is still lecturing as well as supervising Master’s thesis and Ph.D dissertation there. He is a founding member of Universitas Indonesia Green-Metric which ranks university campuses around the world by the principles of sustainability. He serves as a member of the Advisory Board of Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, a refereed journal of the International Association for the Studies of Traditional Environment. He heads the Urban Architecture Reviewing Board, an independent body which serves as advisor to the Governor of Jakarta. His research interest includes social and cultural factors in architecture and urban design, design theories and methods, ethno-architecture, and architectural theories. His most recent publication is “Rumah Asuh, Jokowi and Vernacular Architecture in Indonesia.” As a Chapter of Vernacular Transformations: Architecture, Place and Tradition (ed. by Suartike, Gede Ayu, Denpasar: University of Udayana Press, 2013. pp. 199-216.).

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