The curators Setiadi Sopandi and Avianti of the exhibiton "Tropicality Revisited – Recent Approaches by Indonesian Architects" at the Deutsche Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt am Main.
Photo © Adeline Seidel
Right for the climate

Im Gespräch: Avianti Armand und Setiadi Sopandi

Sep 12, 2015

Building in the Tropics brings a gleam to the eyes of many an architect in Central or Northern Europe: Surely there of all places architecture must be possible that is a far cry from the usual triple glazing and composite heat insulation system. And they then tend to forget that a tropical climate also means lots of heat, high humidity, hefty downpours, and any number of mosquitos. While here in Germany the main focus is on conserving as much as possible heat inside the home (well, bar a couple of super summer weeks), the 12 architectural projects that form the presentation in the exhibition “Tropicality Revisited – Recent Approaches by Indonesian Architects” at Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt show how in the Tropics well-conceived buildings need to provide sufficient shade and good air circulation. Show curators are Avianti Armand and Setiadi Sopandi, both practicing architects with their own companies in Indonesia. A good year ago they were in charge of the first Indonesian contribution to a Venice Architecture Biennale.
Adeline Seidel spoke to the young curators about the new approaches they highlight in the show.

Adeline Seidel: The exhibition serves up a whole raft of different projects. It presents personal homes, a mosque, a temporary building. What criteria informed your choice of 12 projects?

Setiadi Sopandi: The smallest common denominator of all 12 was their skillful handling of the climatic conditions. We felt it crucial to showcase as broad a range of Indonesian architecture as possible and thus also encourage debate on building in the Tropics. Which is why we called for contributions, and this met with an incredible response. We received more than 80 project submissions by just short of 70 different architects from all over the archipelago. We then selected those projects which we think demonstrate the most interesting approaches. We don’t just mean as regards the way they address the climate per se, but also as regards how they reference the traditions, cultures and behavior conditions by that climate.

What would be an example?

Setiadi Sopandi: Traditionally, tropical architecture features a broad roof with a significant overhang. Given the high humidity and wet ground, many buildings are moreover on stilts. In the exhibition we set out to show what strategies and new ideas architects are currently using in their work to tackle such climatic conditions – and this actually differs from project to project. Take Effan Adhiwira’s design for the Almarik Restaurant in Gili Trawangan: Essentially, it consist of a large light roof structure made of bamboo. Bamboo is still relatively unrecognized in Indonesia Indonesia as a permanent as well as structural building material. To date it has if at all only rarely been used in architecture. Whereas Adhiwira achieves a truly impressive roof span with it – and also comes up with highly imaginative details.

Many buildings are made of concrete, a material that not everyone would consider suitable for the Tropics. Do architects in Indonesia have a different take on concrete?

Avianti Armand: Where concrete is used, often many other sections of the house are left open. The architects demonstrate a responsible approach to a good ambient climate by skillfully combining new and other, not necessarily traditional materials and by experimenting with footprints. Studio Tonton, for example, developed fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels for their design for the Ize Hotel in Seminyak, Bali, which, while providing much shade, also enable great air circulation and actually shape the face of the building.

You tend to be presenting smaller building projects. Are there no out-of-the-ordinary solutions in the field of high-rises or larger apartment buildings?

Setiadi Sopandi: We consciously did not choose any high-rises, because we believe that small projects possess such immense potential and often stand for unconventional if not experimental approaches. Often these are the homes of the architects themselves, where they have very progressively realized their own ideas. Which is why we decided to call the projects “case studies”. We don’t consider the projects as solutions to a specific problem, but as the basis for discussion on new methods and approaches.

In the Nordic Pavilion at the last Venice Architecture Biennale, the focus was on Modernism in African countries, and specifically on the Scandinavian architects who took part in construction projects in the young, post-independent nations. These were projects that abandoned the architecture of the past colonial masters and aspired to symbolize the new beginnings with modern architecture. What were things like in Indonesia?

Setiadi Sopandi: Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, was himself an architect. He commissioned many architects and substantively influenced the architectural language of Indonesian Modernism. Fredrech Silaban is one of the architects the President often awarded contracts. Silaban took the traditional architectural idiom (roof shapes, elements protecting against the sun) as his basis, rationalized them, and transposed them into a modern architectural language. Some projects were realized by European, Japanese or American studios. So present-day Indonesia boasts an exciting range of modern architecture.

Do Modernist buildings function well given such climatic conditions?

Avianti Armand: They have functioned well. But it bears remembering that in the 1960s, temperatures in Jakarta were not as high as they are today; the urban fabric was by no means as dense. So it isn’t correct to now say that the buildings don’t function in terms of the climate. As the conditions they now face are completely unlike those at the time when they were built. Ever more green areas are disappearing from the city as areas become built up. Traffic and air conditioners also contribute to raising city temperatures. And the buildings of the 1920s now only function with HVACs.

What do you believe is needed for an awareness to arise in Indonesia of what route to go down when building in the future?

Setiadi Sopandi: We’re still at the point where we are simply looking at everything. We started the discourse two years ago when preparing things for the Venice Architecture Biennale. At that time, there was hardly any discourse on architecture in Indonesia. All the studios were forever presenting their projects, but there’s no real debate on anything. So we are trying to encourage the discourse, and this includes debate on the topic of “Tropicality” just as it does craftsmanship and the like. Not to forget: It also involves archiving, assessing, and contextualizing everything that has been built and is being built.

The exhibition
Tropicality Revisited – Recent Approaches by Indonesian Architects
Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt am Main
thru January 3, 2016
Tues., Thurs. – Sun. 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Wed. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

The catalog
Tropicality: Revisited
eds. Avianti Armand, Setiadi Sopandi
186 pages, IMAJI Publishing
English ISBN: 978-602-9260-27-4

The Ize hotel in Seminyak by the architectural firm Studio Tonton is one of 12 "Case Studies". Photo © Paul Kadarisman
The Ize hotel in Seminyak by the architectural firm Studio Tonton is one of 12 "Case Studies". Photo © Paul Kadarisman
The exhibition design is kept simple and clearly structured. Photo © Fritz Philipp
The exhibition design is kept simple and clearly structured. Photo © Fritz Philipp
Around the "house within a house" the 12 "Case Studies" are presented in detail with plans, models and photographs.
Around the "house within a house" the 12 "Case Studies" are presented in detail with plans, models and photographs.