The Indonesian Architectural Museum and its exhibition on Indonesian architects who studied in Germany

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The exhibition: Dipl.-Ing.Arsitek: Indonesian Architects Graduated in German during the 1960s’. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

IO – The Yayasan Museum Arsitektur Indonesia or ‘Foundation for the Museum of Indonesian Architecture’ held a highly interesting and informative exhibition in Jakarta at the Taman Ismail Marzuki art centre, this month entitled: Dipl.-Ing.Arsitek: Arsitek Indonesia Lulusan Jerman dari 1960an or ‘Dipl.-Ing.Arsitek: Indonesian Architects Graduated in German during the 1960s’. Dipl.-Ing.Arsitk was the title that the Indonesian architecture students received upon graduation in Germany. They were amongst Indonesia’s earliest architects and many played an important role in the development of Indonesian architecture after independence. As the exhibition makes clear, architecture helped project the aspirations of the new nation. The exhibition also touched upon the influence of German architectural movements on the development of Indonesian architecture through these graduates who later went on to become some of the most important names in Indonesian architecture. The exhibition was held in cooperation with the German Embassy in Jakarta.

In the 1950s, as a newly independent nation, Sukarno made use of the nation’s urban architecture as a symbol of that independence and of Indonesia’s advancement into a modern nation of the 20th century. The nation clearly needed architects and engineers for its development. At first, training in the field of architecture in Indonesia, was only possible at the Ambachtsschool or ‘craft school’ or at the Lagere Technischeschool or ‘lower technical school’. It was only in 1920 that the Technische Hoogschool or Technical College was established in Bandung. These schools mainly provided the skilled assistants needed by architects and engineers in construction projects mainly in the field of public works. This changed during the struggle for independence when in 1947, the Technische Hoogschool became the Bagian Bangunan, Fakultet Tehnik, Universitet Indonesia di Bandung or the ‘Architectural Section of the Engineering Faculty of the University of Indonesia in Bandung’. In 1957 this was further changed with the creation of an Architecture and Arts Division of which the Architectural Section was a part. It followed the model of the curriculum of the Delft Technical College in the Netherlands. As with most Western European universities and technical colleges, after a five-year study a degree in engineering was obtained upon passing the exams.

Between 1954 and 1955, the Technical College in Bandung went through a crisis when all its Dutch lecturers were forced to leave Indonesia due to the political situation – with the exception of Prof Vincent Rogers van Romondt (1903-1974) who headed the college. He laid stress on the engineering aspects of the students’ study and defined an architect as ‘an artist with the knowledge of an engineer’.

The situation created an acute shortage of lecturers in architecture. Architecture students in their last year had to be used as assistants and students graduating in 1958 became the first lecturers in architecture. In 1962, Soejoedi Wirjoatmodjo who had just returned from his studies in Berlin replaced Prof Van Romondt as the head of the college. In 1963 he was replaced by Suwondo Bismo Sutedjo who had also studied architecture in Germany – a position he held until 1968.

As more and more students obtained degrees in architecture, other architectural departments were gradually opened in Indonesia. By 1960, the Catholic University of Parahyangan, Gajah Mada University in Jogjakarta and Diponegoro University in Semarang had all opened architectural schools of their own. In 1965, an architectural division was created at the University of Indonesia with the help of Soejoedi Wirjoatmodjo, Suwondo Bismo Sutedjo and architect Han Awal who was also amongst those that had studied in Germany. Nevertheless, there was still a shortage of trained architects in Indonesia during the 1950s and 1960s.

Immediately after independence, most technical students seeking an education abroad went to the Netherlands to study. This was natural as most educated Indonesians still spoke Dutch and like most former colonies, Indonesia at the time still had strong links to the country of its former colonial rulers, especially in the field of education. Amongst the Indonesian students who went to the Netherlands to study architecture and who later were amongst Indonesia’s foremost architects, were Han Awal, Herianto Sulindro, Jan Beng Oei. King Han Oei, Mustafa Pamuntjak, Thung Po Hin, Soejadi Wiroatmodjo, Bianpoen and Suwondo Bismo Sutedjo. However, the Indonesian-Netherlands conflict over Dutch Nieuw Guinea at the end of the 1950s resulted in the Indonesian government ordering all Indonesian students to leave the Netherlands. Suwondo Bismo Sutedjo went to Hannover to study, whereas the rest moved to Berlin. Later, Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya went to Aachen for his architectural studies. 

Germany came out of the Second World War a defeated nation with large parts of its urban landscape destroyed. It was in economic distress with food queues, housing shortages and high unemployment. The Allies had divided Germany into four zones and by 1949 the Cold War had begun with Germany divided into two countries. By 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected dividing Berlin in two.  The Federal Republic of Germany was officially established in May 1949, and Indonesia was the first Asian nation to recognize it. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were begun in 1952 with the erection of an Indonesian Embassy in Bonn.  

Indonesian architectural students in Germany. Photo credit: Tamalia /IO

The first Indonesian students came to Germany to study during the mid-1950s. By the winter of 1958 there were about 336 Indonesian students studying in Germany including 17 architectural students. By then, Germany was already much recovered with its economy up and going, bringing a new prosperity that was followed by the construction of many new buildings. The exhibition stressed how in the 1950s both Germany and Indonesia were at the start of a new era, free of the past and ready to create a modern nation engaged with the international world. This was reflected in a new architecture emerging in both Germany, as well as Indonesia.

Reconstruction efforts in the Federal Republic of Germany were very much supported by its Western Allies especially the United States and such efforts were based on the Athens Charter. This Charter from the International Congress of Modern Architecture in 1933, held that cities should be divided into zones for residence, work, recreation and commercial and industrial activities supported by motorized transportation. Meanwhile, architectural education in the Federal Republic of Germany during the 1950s and 1960s was very much influenced by two movements namely the Neues Bauen or ‘New Building’ movement and Organic Architecture.

Neues Bauen was also known as the Neue Sachlichkeit or ‘New Objectivity’ which is the name for the modern architecture that emerged in Germany, in the 1920s and 30s. It is closely associated with the Bauhaus design style with its simple geometric shapes of rectangles and spheres that are without elaborate decorations and whose buildings, often have rounded corners or walls. Bauhaus originated from a German arts and crafts school in Weimar by architect Walter Gropius which tried to unify artistic vision with the principles of mass production and the emphasis on function. The school existed from 1919 to 1933 after which the Nazis forced it to shut down. However, its proponents moved to other countries where their influence was further established.

Neues Bauen had its origins with the The Deutscher Werkbund or German national designers’ union established by Hermann Muthesius in 1907 to harness the new potentials of mass production. Its members discussed questions of design and it came to be regarded as the authoritative body on questions of design in Germany. The phrase Neues Bauen, in fact dates from a book by Erwin Gutkind from 1919. Many of the Bauhaus architects were also architects of the Neues Baun whose work had its heyday during the Weimar Republic when Neues Baun architects were appointed city architects, such as Ernst May for Frankfurt. They designed schools and public buildings. Article 155 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution promised a healthy dwelling for all Germans. This was during the post-World War I housing shortages in Germany and the Social Democrats in power favoured Neues Bauen architects to build cost-effective housing. Their designs featured controversially modern flat roofs, humane access to sun, air and gardens, and generous amenities like gas, electric light, and bathrooms. Neues Bauen was characterized by its clean lines and a dynamic functionalism with its plain, nothing superfluous ethos from as early as 1925.

Organic architecture meanwhile, is a very responsive to its environment. It promotes a harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches that are sympathetic and well-integrated with the building’s site. The term ‘organic architecture’ originated from Frank Lloyd Wright.

One of the houses part of Mangunwijaya’s Code River project which later won the Agha Khan award. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the German government found that the Communists had torn down all buildings from the imperial and monarchical past. This was felt to be an attempt to destroy Germany’s history which ultimately strikes at German identity. A decision was made in Berlin to rebuild the old palaces as they once were however, certain modern elements were included as for example the transparent dome of the Reichstag building which may be entered by visitors. What we see is Germany building its identity through architecture by combining the past with the present and the future. This question of identity is also a theme close to the hearts of Indonesian architects.

A question that the Yayasan Museum Arsitektur Indonesia may find interesting to address is the design of a new Indonesian Embassy in Berlin. As former German Ambassador to Indonesia, the late Heinrich Seemann once pointed out, most embassies in Berlin are on the Teirgartenstrasse and hired their top architects to produce some of the most beautiful embassies in the world. Indonesia has a coveted plot on the Tiergartenstrasse but has still not come up with an architectural design to match the quality of those of the surrounding embassies.

Interestingly, European Commission President, Ursula Von der Leyen introduced the New European Bauhaus (NEB) initiative in 2020 which is a creative and interdisciplinary movement that connects the European Green Deal to everyday life.

Of the many Indonesian architects who studied in Germany mentioned in the exhibition and who would have been influenced by these German architectural styles, two names that are of special interest are those of Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya and Han Awal.

Romo Mangunwijaya standing in front of the Code River. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

Romo Mangunwijaya as he was popularly known was born in 1929, and after a stint in the military became a Catholic priest in 1950. He began his architectural studies in 1960 and a year later was sent to the Rheinisch-Westfalische Technische Hochschule in Aachen. For a student interested in the modern church, Aaachen was an excellent choice with Willy Weyres for example, who is an architect from the Cologne archdiocese known for his design of modern churches, teaching the history of architecture and the preservation of heritage buildings – and several other lecturers experienced in church architecture. After returning to Indonesia, besides being a priest and an architect Mangunwijaya, was also known as a novelist. His most famous project was helping the poor people living in slums along the Code River in Jogjakarta, to improve their homes and environment using the materials available around them. Together with volunteers, he helped build foundations to prevent soil erosion into the river as well as improving their makeshift homes and building a village hall for them. In 1992 his Kampung Kali Code project received the Agha Khan award. 

Architect Han Awal who was known for his restoration of many fine heritage buildings, standing in front of his bamboo paintings. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

Han Awal was born in 1930 and began studying architecture at the Technische Hogeschool Delft however in 1958 he moved with other Indonesian architectural students in the Netherlands to Germany where he continued his studies at the Technische Universitat Berlin. After graduation he returned to Indonesia where he later received many awards both from the government as well as the private sector. Although Han Awal built many modern buildings, he was also known as the primary architect for heritage preservation especially in Jakarta, having restored such well-known heritage buildings as the Bank of Indonesia building, the Bank Mandiri building, the Decranas building, the Cathedral, Immanuel Church and most famously the National Archives Building from 1760. This restoration received the UNESCO cultural heritage award for the year 2000.

The gedung Arsip Nasional RI restored by Han Awal together with architects Budi Liem and Cor Passchier. Photo credit: https://decorient.com/ portofolio-item/gedung-arsip-nasional/

The Yayasan Museum Arsitektur Indonesia held a discussion after the exhibition to discuss its future. The matters discussed included its aims and plans, and whether as a museum it should have a building for exhibitions as well as for other activities? It began in 2016 as arsitekturindonesia.org with collections of historical documents regarding Indonesian architects, their creations and Indonesian architectural discourse with special emphasis on exposing the width and breadth of Indonesian architecture. In 2019, it became a virtual museum thereby conducting more museum activities as well as expanding its research.

Meeting of the Foundation for the Indonesian Architectural Museum with Ananda Moersid, Bambang Eryudhawan, Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

Present at the meeting were Hilmar Farid, the Director General of Culture, Bambang Eryudhawan the former head of the Jakarta Heritage Evaluation Board, museum curator Amir Sidharta, the President of the Yayasan Museum Arsitektur Indonesia, Setiadi Sopandi, its founders Nadia Purwestri, Febriyanti Suryaningsih, Avianti Armand and many other architects including Yori Antar who is known for his preservation and support for indigenous local architecture, and designer and anthropologist Ananda Moersid, the widow of architect Adhi Moersid who tried to bridge local traditional architecture with modernity. They both spoke passionately about traditional local architecture and the need to preserve and further develop it. It will be interesting to see how the Foundation which was originally intended to focus on modern Indonesian architecture just before and after independence, will deal with the subject of local traditional architecture built after independence.

Setiadi Sopandi remarked that the definition of Indonesian architecture for the Museum is a flexible one with wide boundaries which have not been defined yet. The role of tradition local architecture and its significance as well as interaction with modern architecture is of course, part of a larger cultural discussion about shaping the Indonesian identity which was first begun in the cultural polemics of the 1930s. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Another houses at Mangunwijaya’s Code River project. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO