Published in The Dynamic of Cold War in Asia: Ideology, Identity, and Culture (editors: Tuong Vu & Wasana Wongsurawat, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
A great urban and architectural experimentation was under way during 1959-1965 in Indonesia, specifically in Jakarta, initiated by Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. As a key figure in international Post-War politics, Sukarno utilizes architecture and urban design as a form of international and national political communication. Urban architectural projects transformed a formerly colonial city into a modern metropolis marked with ‘symbols’ of modernity and patriotic messages.
For architects and architecture historians, the Guided Democracy was a period where everyday life and professional practices were incorporated into the grand scheme suggested by Sukarno. The first generation of Indonesian architects, trained in Dutch building science, had to deal with the political shift of the 1940s in order to appropriate their works to the new world order. The modern architectural tradition practiced by Dutch architects in the Dutch-East Indies during the 1920s and 1930s was no longer adequate to convey the new nationalist spirit and the will to find a new Post-War Indonesian identity. The emerging postwar superpowers were also taken as new references of progress and modernity.
The history of the Guided Democracy period shaped an important stage of Indonesian architectural history by setting built examples and theories. The most prominent figure of the period (besides Sukarno) was probably architect F. Silaban (1912-1984). Silaban won some of his most important commissions through national competitions in 1955, where he had to interpret and work on the brief set by Sukarno.
Foreign Policy and Monumental Projects
During the first decade of the Republic of Indonesia, Sukarno’s government was heavily engaged in the territorial campaign against the Netherlands as well as against internal challenges such as separatism. Then after a long parliamentary political crisis during 1950-1957, Sukarno initiated a form of dictatorship called ‘Guided Democracy’ (proclaimed in February 1957). A Presidential Decree issued in 5 July 1959 ended the Liberal Democracy era and allowed Sukarno to take control of all state apparatuses. Sukarno based his governance upon a political manifesto that verified the 1945 Constitution, Indonesian socialism, guided democracy, guided economy, and Indonesian nationalism. These allowed him to launch his aggressive foreign political and monumental campaigns.
Affirmed as part of a bigger plan of “NationBuilding,” the campaigns were intended to put Indonesia on the world’s political chart as well as to support Sukarno’s political position in the country. Set during the growing tension of the Cold War, Sukarno was centrally engaged in the making of the Non-Aligned (Afro-Asian) Movement by hosting the Bandung Conference in 1955. Indonesia’s territorial struggle against the Netherlands also remained as a sensitive national issue until Indonesia acquired West Papua in 1963. To support the struggle, Sukarno proclaimed an alliance of newly independent countries called ‘Nefos’ (New Emerging Forces) against former colonialist European countries (‘Oldefos’ – Old Established Forces). Sukarno also was involved in a confrontation with the neighboring Malaysia in 1963 over Borneo.
Among the monumental foreign policies, some were represented or communicated in the form of buildings and building complexes, especially under Nusantara Project scheme (1960-1965). Focusing on Jakarta as “an exemplary center,” as the performance stage, Sukarno intended the projects to convey to the public a patriotic message as a ‘symbol of national unity’ and a ‘new emerging world political power.’ They must overcome Indonesia’s cultural diversity and political fractions. Above all, they were intended to awe and to inspire as well as to shock.
Leclerc (1993 p.46) observes that there was an underlining brief on every projects. Firstly, Jakarta was intended as the capital of Indonesia, the locus of the state center – the seat of the Presidency. At the same time Jakarta was also the “Kota Proklamasi”, the birthplace of Indonesian independence, and the city of diplomacy. Those roles were confronted by the fact that Jakarta was also known formerly as Batavia, the colonial capital. Considering the backgrounds, Sukarno was deliberately conscious about putting symbols of unity and of centrality in this very symbolic city.
Sukarno’s plan was to massively transform Jakarta by ordering the north-south Thamrin-Sudirman corridor to be mounted with modern skyscrapers and monuments. He also initiated large-scale urban development in Ancol, Slipi, Kemayoran, Senayan, and Kebayoran Baru. To uphold the gigantic development, Sukarno played an interesting diplomatic role with the contesting Cold War superpowers. He managed to continue his projects with financial supports from both sides even though the politics of Guided Democracy was actually closer to the Communist Bloc. The Asian Games, infrastructures, and heavy industries were funded mostly by loans from the USSR and some Eastern European countries. The Western Bloc was also involved. France provided credit and technical assistance for the Ancol Project. The US provided loan and expertise to support Djakarta By-Pass Project. Japan supported Indonesia through a more complicated agreement called the War Reparation Project. However, interestingly the most critical and significant national projects, the National Monument and the National Mosque, were funded with taxes and charity collected by a national committee.
Among the monuments and buildings associated with Sukarno were the National Monument (Tugu Nasional in Merdeka Park, designed by Soedarsono), Selamat Datang Monument (the ‘Welcome’ Monument, sculpture by Henk Ngantung), West Papua Liberation Monument (sculpture by Henk Ngantung, base by Silaban), Dirgantara Monument, the unbuilt Bung Karno Tower (designed by Hans Lintl, an Austrian architect, and Silaban), Hotel Indonesia (designed by Abel Sorensen, an American architect, and built by Kinoshita and Taisei Corporations), Sarinah Department Store (designed and built by Kinoshita and Taisei Corporations), Pola Building (designed by Silaban), Wisma Nusantara Building (designed and built by Kinoshita, Kajima, and Taisei Corporations), Banteng Hotel (originally designed by Silaban), Conefo Building (designed by Sujudi), Gelora/Asian Games Stadium complex, Istiqlal Mosque (the National Mosque, designed by Silaban), Bank Indonesia Headquarter (designed by Silaban), and numbers of realist monumental sculptures and utilitarian structures.
References and Preferences
During the 1920s and 1930s, modernist architecture and urban design trend in Europe were deeply inspired by socialist utopia as a form of revolutionary struggle. One of the monumental events of pre-War Modernism was an estate of working class housing built for Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in 1927 in Stuttgart, called the Weissenhofsiedlung. The project was designed by 16 prominent European architects experimenting with their socialist aspirations. In Russia, architectural and political revolutions were even more inextricably linked after the overthrow of the Tsar and bourgeois culture in October 1917. The social and aesthetic ideals, known as the International Style, were intended by the designers to be applicable globally in any cultural and historical circumstances.
However, it was believed in the post-war era that modernist architecture and urban design were no longer transhistorical, transcultural, or transpatial. They carried different meaning whenever they were located. Modernist architecture was no longer dominated by formal and interpretation uniformity as it once suggested. In the US, contrary to the prewar socialist agenda, the International Style had become a perfect symbol and house for international capitalist corporations. During the 1950s, the case study house program even promoted a luxurious modern living. In most postcolonial nations, as happened in Indonesia, modern architecture has served as a medium of expression for locality and national identity.
As references for building Jakarta, Sukarno once spoke of his admiration for the world capitals he visited. He talked about New York, Moscow, Tokyo, Belgrade, Rome, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and La Paz. He spoke of his admiration for the modernity and greatness of those cities. In one occasion, Sukarno specifically mentioned his admiration for Brasilia, the capital of Brazil intentionally built in a remote area in a relatively very short time:
”I spoke of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. In the middle of a forest. Brazil is a vast country, with more than 60 million people. Rio de Janeiro was the capital, but then it was considered necessary to move the capital to the very center of the country. Even though the very center was only an empty wooded land, a grand city called Brasilia designed by a famous architect Niemeyer was built there. Paris [was built] by Hausmann, Brasilia by Niemeyer.”
Sharing a fate as a postcolonial nation, Sukarno believed that the modern urban planning and architecture of Brasilia was an appropriate spectacle and a suitable model for Jakarta. But, by mentioning Niemeyer, did Sukarno refer to his preference for modernist architectural language? Did Sukarno really prefer pure geometric and curvilinear white-washed concrete with expansive use of glass built upon infinite modernist urban spaces? Or did Sukarno want a famous genius like Niemeyer to realize his dreams? Did Sukarno actually want to simply imply that ‘a great country needs a great capital’? Or was he actually saying something about his preference for the architecture of Indonesia’s capital? Did Sukarno also refer to the actors and their political ideals behind the planning of Brasilia? Was he aware of how modern architecture and urban planning might incite different ideals for different people? Did Sukarno really subscribe to the Modern Movement’s ideals such as functionalism? 
In the case of Brasilia, Holston has demonstrated the various ways in which the sign of the “modern” was appropriated by the subjects it was supposed to transform. The design of Brasilia for the architects and planners was an opportunity to uphold socialist revolutionary ideals. The right-wing military commissioner who did not shared the designers’ political beliefs appreciated the design as the most powerful symbol of the nation’s modernization, demonstrating progress, industrialization, independence, and national identity. The inhabitants of the city understood it as a “white” canvas awaiting the inscription of social values that the government sought to eliminate. The architectural image of modernist architecture may be constant in name, but its denoted meanings are subject to changes according to the context, use, and intention.
In order to create modernist spaces, Niemeyer’s works were always associated with the plastic play of concrete without any references to historical or vernacular Brazilian architecture. He was solely inspired by the free association of living figures upon a piece of blank white paper. Niemeyer’s buildings represented nothing of the past but offered quite an imaginative future. Then, supposedly, buildings like Niemeyer’s demanded the latest engineering advancement. It made them revolutionary and avant-garde. Recent interpretations firmly believe that Sukarno was aware of this abstract nature of the postwar Modern Architecture.
Sukarno might also require “tabula rasa”, an empty plain site, as a starting point of his projects. As argued by Widyarta (in Sidhartha ed., 2008), Sukarno wanted ‘a clean terrain’ to begin, which was an ideal condition to forget about unwanted unfortunate past, a colonial past. Juscelino Kubitschek’s decision to build Brasilia out of nowhere was seen in the line with this view. In fact, Sukarno had planned Palangkaraya (in central Kalimantan) as the capital of Indonesia right in the geographic center of the archipelago. However, the plan was abandoned in 1959 due to economic and technical reasons.
Rather than building a new capital like Brasilia, Sukarno finally decided to develop Jakarta. The problem with Jakarta was that it was a former colonial capital, as Rio de Janeiro was. Therefore, it was necessary for Sukarno to order certain colonial structures and infrastructures in Jakarta to be sustained, imposed, or completely replaced by new ones to ‘liberate’ Indonesia from the past and to achieve a state of ‘becoming’. He ordered planners and designers to clear up colonial spectacles by demolishing and replacing, and to make way for new ones.
The fact that Jakarta was developed successively in several colonial periods can be ‘read’ by the fragments of its north-south historical axis. The 15-kilometer axis summarizes the four centuries of urban development. The north point, the Jakarta Kota area (formerly christened as Batavia), was inherited from the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Successively the Gajah Mada- Hayam Wuruk (formerly called Molenveit) segment was a mark from the golden era of the colonial economy. During this period, Jakarta expanded its territory to the south. The Dutch equipped the Nieuw Batavia with modern infrastructures and developing Meester, Weltevreden, and Tanah Abang areas. During the 1920s, Nieuw Gondangdia and Menteng areas were planned and developed accordingly to modern Garden City principles by private developers. This Nieuw Batavia had the Koningsplein as its new modern colonial town center.
Sukarno made his mark on Jakarta with the intention to change the image of Jakarta from a colonial city into the capital of a newly independent Indonesia. Then he dedicated the very center of Koningsplein, christened as Independence Square/Merdeka Park after 1945, for the place of Tugu Nasional, a national monument. He went further south by adding the Thamrin-Sudirman segment, developed the Semanggi (clover-shaped) fly-over dedicated for high-speed automobile traffic, and developed a modern town planning of Kebajoran Baru. Kebajoran Baru, designed by M. Soesilo in 1949, was considered as the first Indonesian ‘indigenous’ urban planning. Along the north-south spine, Sukarno deliberately put important and monumental structures, mostly in the International-Style architectural fashion, framing the streets dedicated for massive and rapid movements.
Widyarta (2007, 36) observes that modernism for Sukarno was a neutral entity, as a medium. Sukarno could very well be aware that modernist architecture didn’t mean participating in any political polarity. He could believe that modernist architecture was best understood as a manifestation of modern ideals and a vehicle of equality. Kusno (2000, 50) believes that, in adopting modernist architecture in Jakarta, Sukarno’s primary concern was not so much whether the concept was from “East” or “West” (nor “Right” or “Left,” I assume) but rather how he could best put Jakarta on the map of world cities. Despite his leaning toward socialism and the foreign aids he received for the projects, Sukarno was personally at ease dictating to the briefs according to his artistic ideals. He directly suggested and expressed his criticisms toward his artists, engineers and architects in the projects to make sure that his messages would be transmitted clearly and effectively, especially on the highly symbolic monumental projects.
But Sukarno was also a man of ambivalent passion. His image of a modern political personality was also surrounded by myths and nostalgia of a “nation” originated from the glorious Hindu-Javanese Majapahit tradition. According to Anderson (2002, 5), due to his personal background, Sukarno was “a legatee of the old, indigenous syncretism” as well as a modern politician. Ardhiati (2005, 158-171) observes that Sukarno, in the period of 1945-1959, developed a personal aesthetic passion for Buddhist “lotus” (“padma”) and Indic “linggam-yoni” symbolism. The symbols had been associated with art, crafts, as well as archaeological artifacts produced during Hindu-Buddhist periods, particularly in temples and other religious edifices. Lotus and linggam-yoni symbolisms appeared in some artistic or architectural projects he commissioned. The symbols, appearing in the form of building ornaments, decorations, and memorials, were not entirely reproduced, but they were refashioned or mixed with modern aesthetic elements.
The National Monument
F. Silaban’s original proposal for the National Monument (1955)
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive; courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
The National Monument was probably the largest and the most obvious Sukarno’s embodiment of ambivalence, as well as his strongest monumental statement on liberating Jakarta from its colonial image. The plan for the monument was a subject of a nationwide competition held in 1955-1956. As many as 222 architects, artists, and engineers received a direct briefing from Sukarno. The brief was to have a “tugu” in the very center of the Koningsplein. The use of term tugu indicated a specific typology, a form of obelisk, desired by Sukarno. A tugu is not suppose to deliver utilitarian means, as it was specifically intended by Sukarno in the competition brief as “a symbol of a virile grandeur and bravery… an emblem of the people’s will to soar on high… of rising up to the firmament.”
The placement of the monument was to be associated with Sukarno’s imagination of post-colonial Jakarta and the idea of centralized power. According to Leclerc (1993, 40-44), the need for a Tugu Nasional was related to the presence of Tugu Proklamasi and the events surrounding the inauguration of Tugu Proklamasi. Tugu Proklamasi (Proclamation Monument) was a short memorial obelisk erected at the very place where independence was proclaimed, i.e., in the front yard of Sukarno’s former office, Pegangsaan Timur Street (ibid., 40). The inauguration of the monument was held along with the first anniversary of Indonesian independence in 1946 by Sjahrir, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Jakarta at that moment was still under British military control and Sukarno’s government was forced to leave Jakarta soon for Yogyakarta. In a very dangerous situation, the British were preventing people from attending the inauguration ceremony. It was also the year the Linggajati Agreement was signed between Indonesia and Dutch representatives under British pressure. Indonesia would commemorate this event as capitulation (ibid.). Leclerc (ibid., 41) supposes that the most obvious offence of the event was that the Tugu Proklamasi was inaugurated by Sjahrir, and not by Sukarno; yet it did not meet Sukarno’s concept of grandeur. Sukarno clearly associated the Tugu Proklamasi with the 1946 event by stating that “the tugu at Pegangsaan Timur street is not a Tugu Nasional but Tugu Linggajati and it has to be demolished”. Therefore it is understandable if ten years later Sukarno finally ordered to raze the Tugu Proklamasi along with the Proclamation Memorial House to the ground, and ordered a replacement in the form of a new monumental building. While in the other hand, he went on with the National Monument plan.
F. Silaban’s second wind proposal for the National Monument
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive; courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
The site of the National Monument was actually a site dedicated for Batavia Municipality. The original 1937 Koningsplein plan was carried out by Thomas Karsten according to his socialist ideals by fragmenting the huge 900,000-square meter site into several functional zones or municipal facilities. It was intended as a kind of crossroads and central venue to place city facilities and governing bodies. It was already surrounded by functionally important but architecturally low-profile buildings; the Palace of the Governor-General, several offices of the Town Hall, local administration, foreign consulates, a new railway station, and a broadcasting station. Sukarno obviously intended something in reverse for the Koningsplein. He dedicated the site to serve a national rite (as opposed to a colonial subject) with something that was “Indonesia” (or “traditional”) and, at the same time, “modern.” It commemorated no specific events or achievement, but was rather in the nature of a summary of or commentary on the “Indonesian” past. Due to its “national duty”, the new structure also must be outscaled by the surroundings and be seen from the main corridors planned for Jakarta. Then, by putting ‘an obelisk’ in the middle of a large square, architecturally speaking, Sukarno had made a claim on the center of his territory.
The 51 competition entries were submitted to the special committee in 1955. A jury presided over by Sukarno picked three designers; Silaban, Nur Alamsjah, and Kwee Hin Goan (with a team of five fellow architecture students) to submit new entries. Curiously by the end there was no first prize winner in that competition. Silaban won the second prize, while Nur Alamsjah and Kwee’s team shared the third prize. Apparently Sukarno was not satisfied with the results. A second competition with 136 entries in 1960 also failed to generate a winning design.
In 1961, Sukarno personally asked Silaban and the ‘palace architect’, Soedarsono, to sketch him a new design. However, Silaban strictly refused the idea. In an unpublished hand-written manuscript, Silaban uttered his objections toward Sukarno’s invitation because he did not believe the idea of a joint-project. For Silaban, “an architectural design is like a child to an architect; thus it cannot be a child of several architects at the same time”. It might be Silaban’s expression of his disappointment toward Sukarno’s refusal of his proposal.
Sukarno, then, commissioned Soedarsono to design the monument directly according to his ideals in 1961. The final decision was to have a phallic monument inspired from Indic form of linggam-yoni formed in a modern fashion with white-washed reinforced concrete. The meaning and structure of the linggam-yoni scheme was explained by Sukarno as “ancient symbols which denote eternal life”, a marriage between “positive-day-good-male” and negative-night-evil-female”, and also represented “everyday kitchen utensils owned by every Indonesian family particularly in the countryside”. Anderson further interprets that Sukarno’s utilization of linggam-yoni symbolism was to communicate “continuity” and to represent the Power of (Hindu) Javanese culture.
Interestingly, Silaban’s original winning scheme of the monument was in a quite different conceptual perspective. The second-prize design by Silaban strikingly reminds me of particular works by European masters (see figure 1). Its symmetrical silhouette and the use of heroic human figures appeared typical to Hugh Ferriss’ fictitious ziggurat skyscrapers of Manhattan (1929), or the Stalinist (socialist-realist) monuments such as the Palace of the Soviets by Iofan, Shcuko, and Gelfriedch (1931-1934). However, we need to consider Silaban’s artistic exposure to the Dutch modern architectural tradition during his education. We might need to attribute the symmetrical minarets and composition of Silaban’s National Monument to H.P. Berlage’s Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and St. Hubertusslot. Architecturally speaking, we can recognize substantial portions of Wright and Dudok influences in the competition entry scheme.
As both Sukarno and Silaban were trained in the art of buildings (bouwkunst) by Dutch professors, we can assume that they must be familiar with those famous structures by the modern masters. Inclined to different aesthetic preferences and sentiments towards architectural representation, they might have their own personal opinions. Silaban might manifest his ideals for the original scheme utilizing his references accordingly to European modernist monumentality. Punctually utilizing vertical lines combined carefully placed ornamentations in a symmetrical composition; one might end up producing a structure similar to those by European masters. That might be exactly why Sukarno dismissed this winning scheme in the first place and went on with his own ‘modernized’ version of the linggam-yoni symbolism.
Apart from the second-prize scheme, Silaban produced another interesting design, most probably as a result of the second competition. It came in form of a thin pyramidal obelisk on the top of a very wide base (see figure 2). This second design was conceptually closer to the built linggam-yoni design but not in a conventional proportion. It was most probably produced under a specific brief given during or after the second competition, but the result was quite different from what had probably been asked. The tugu was shaped more like a needle or a square pole pointing endlessly to the sky. It also could be perceived as a ray of spotlight projected vertically from the horizontal plane. The architectural proportion of the tugu was similarly to one of Silaban’s tower design for an agricultural school in Bogor (SPMA) in 1948. The tugu appeared more like a thin needle compared to its base. The base was formed by a slab of square white-washed concrete looking barely suspended by the repetitive columns at the bottom. It was clearly not a pestle-and-mortar described by Sukarno. A pestle is not a needle and a mortar is not a pure geometric plane. That was probably the reason Sukarno dismissed this scheme.
Silaban’s second design was probably Silaban’s twist and unwillingness to literally follow Sukarno’s Hindu-Javanese symbolism. For Silaban, as a Batak and as a modernist architect, it might be against the spirit of nationalism to utilize such ‘provincial’ iconography so deliberately in his own designs. Or the idea might be an offence to Silaban’s idealism even though the project seemed to be well accepted by the Indonesian public. Particularly in this case, he might insist to carefully design something ‘neutral’ to represent the spirit of Indonesian nationalism.
But Sukarno most probably did not specify exactly how the ambivalence of “modernism” and “traditional-nationalism” to be conformed particularly in utilitarian monuments designed by the engineers and architects. He might leave the designers some space so they can work freely reinterpreting his terms and briefs. The neutrality of modernist architecture, indeed, created new opportunities for architectural imaginations and regionalism. This was a freedom shared by architects in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Search for Modern Indonesian Architecture
Over the 50 years of his career, architect Silaban was consistently involved in the search of modern Indonesian architectural identity. Due to his early training in the bouwkunde technical high school tradition, Silaban was very attentive to practical needs and qualities in designing modern buildings in the tropical context. Trained during Dutch colonial occupation, Silaban was familiar with the prewar colonial building typologies and the Modern Movement.
The discourse on modern tropical/local architecture initially started during 1920 by a number of Dutch architects and planners working in the Netherlands East-Indies, followed by the establishment of the first ‘architecture’ school in Bandung, the Technische Hoogeschool. The visit of the Dutch prominent architect, H.P. Berlage, in 1923, and the arrival of new Dutch architects to the former Dutch colony had tremendous impact on the discourse of tropicality and the search of true ‘Indies’ identity. However, of course, the attempts were still put under imperialistic context to engineer a “colonial nationality” upon a diverse cultural setting of the colony.
During the late colonial period, there were interpretive attempts by Dutch architects to merge ‘modern spirit’ with ‘local culture’ within their building designs. The architects were challenged by specific requirements related to local conditions. They had to deal with strong sun, high precipitation, high humidity, as well as earthquakes. They also had to consider local craftsmanship and customs. The challenge had grown into a discourse during 1920s between planners, engineers, architects, city councils, and colonial government officials. The most important figures of the discourse were Thomas Karsten, Henri Maclaine Pont, Charles P. Wolff Schoemaker, and V.R. van Romondt.
The results were a unique architectural tradition. One of the earliest attempts on interpreting ‘tropical architecture’ without quoting local vernacular forms was the design of Gedung Sate (1920) by J. Gerber in Bandung. Contrary to Gerber’s Orientalist approach, Maclaine Pont designed vernacular forms supported by modern construction technique in Technische Hoogeschool building (Bandung, 1918) and Puhsarang Catholic church (Kediri, 1936). Thomas Karsten preferred local building techniques and forms in some of his projects such as the Sobokarti folk theater (Semarang, 1931) and Sono Budoyo (Yogyakarta, 1926). Wolff Schoemaker was deliberately applying functionalist approach and considerable Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence to his designs, as seen in Villa Isola (Bandung, 1932) and Preanger Hotel (Bandung, 1929).
Under such circumstances, Silaban studied the bouwkunde, or the building science, in RoyalWillhelminaSchool in Jakarta and obtained his diploma in 1931. During 1931-1935 Silaban worked for J. Antonisse, a Dutch architect responsible for designing temporary buildings for Pasar Gambir, an annual colonial night market on the Koningsplein, the same site of the National Monument. Silaban was in charge for developing Antonisse’s architectural details. Pasar Gambir architecture was pretty much similar to international colonial expositions representing European’s colonies through architectural exhibition pavilions. The architecture of such exhibitions was typically eclectic orientalist representation of the cultural diversity of a colony. Architectural elements from particular traditional houses were taken away from the actual context and combined with other elements without a particular manner. During his early career (before 1950), Silaban’s designs were referring heavily to modern colonial building types by utilizing simple high and steep roof forms, deep overhangs/spacious verandahs, high-ceiling rooms, and extensive use of exposed natural stone. His first large-scaled design project, the SPMA (an agricultural academy in Bogor, 1948), was based strongly on this modern Dutch colonial architectural tradition (see figure 3).
At the peak of his career, 1955-1965, Silaban developed a distinguished architectural language materialized in his high-commissioned projects. The decade gave Silaban the chance to materialize his imagination of modern Indonesian (tropical) architecture that went beyond local (or provincial) traditional and modern colonial building forms. He was no longer using the colonial typological approach; instead he utilized modern architectural elements emphasizing the role of roof. In an article, he stated clearly that;
“[There is] no need to copy Toraja, Minangkabau, Bali, Batak, etc., to address Indonesian architecture. We should not take the form, therefore we should take the soul which addresses the tropicality characteristics.” (italics by Silaban)
By rejecting the idea to reuse particular traditional form to address a national identity, he had gone to the opposite direction from what he did with his mentor in the Pasar Gambir project. His projects were free of decorative elements. Every detail was done in a clean-cut, geometric fashion with clear functional intentions.
SPMA Building (1948)
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive; courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
Avoiding any kind of symbolism and culture-specific elements in his designs, Silaban placed the national projects into a ‘neutral’ position. For the Indonesian public, the modernist projects appeared and functioned comparably equal to Bahasa Indonesia as the unifying language. The modernist architectural language was also not easily tied to any kind of political associations; so the foreign sponsors (Japan, the US, and the USSR) did not have to worry much about how the look of the projects would affect the political agendas. At the same time, it also satisfied Sukarno’s imagining of a modern culture shock to his people. In short, the modern architectural language liberated the projects from ‘counter-productive’ associations, including provinciality, colonialism, Cold War polarization, and cultural ‘backwardness’. However, it does not do justice to Silaban’s achievement if we address his approach simply as ‘modern style’. His achievement can simply be interpreted as an attempt to adopt modern architectural language into Indonesian context. On the other hand, we can comprehend his works as modern abstractions of vernacular and traditional cultural elements.
He went further by linking the national architectural identity issue with regionalism and functionalism. On an article written in 1982, Silaban stated that a ‘truly’ Indonesian house should be a tropical house. A tropical building was essentially defined by the roof as the primary element of a building. He explained that roof was the outmost important element of a tropical building since it was used to block the excessive sun rays and to protect people from the heavy rainfall. Roof form, in line with his works and statements, was solely to serve its functions and not to be bothered by symbolic purposes. In this sense, the roof was responsible for the basic necessities in tropical buildings. Hence, the use of walls in the tropics was seen as not essential as in the sub-tropics. Silaban suggested that the use of massive walls should be restricted only to functions demanding high privacy.
According to Silaban, roof performed both sheltering and space-creating functions. Deep roof overhangs, as witnessed in his early 1960s designs, created intermediary spaces between in-door and out-door which Silaban associated as ‘truly tropical spaces’. This was the point where Silaban linked the issue of national architectural identity with functional and technical issues.
Conformity in Modern Monumentality
The year 1954-1955 was probably the turning point of Silaban’s career. He won two prestigious design competitions at almost the same time; the Istiqlal National Mosque competition and the Bank Indonesia Headquarter (not to mention the National Monument scheme). Both competitions were prestigious because they were intended by Sukarno as national icons, to be the key projects of the grand scheme of Jakarta and Indonesia. The winning designs elevated Silaban’s practice into national reputation. Interestingly, Silaban came out with varying conceptual approaches for each project.
The mosque and the bank were not designed in the same manner as Silaban’s original proposal for the National Monument. For the Bank Indonesia competition, Silaban came up with a 4-story modern office building topped with a steep hipped roof (see figure 4). The façade was composed extensively with sun-shading devices combined with strong vertical elements upon a spreading concrete overhangs. Stone-clad corners accentuated the symmetrical composition of the main entry. Even though the building was a multi-story building, the overall composition was similar to the single-story SPMA building. The final result, then, was an ‘interbreed’ between a Dutch modern tropical building and an international-style building.
The national mosque competition was situated in a more critical position. One of the most difficult political threats during Sukarno era was the diverse separatist movements; such as the PRRI (supported by the United States) and the Darul Islam in Aceh, West Java, and South Sulawesi. Sukarno realized that the diversity of religious and political ideals should be framed to maintain a national unity. Hence, to have a national mosque was a critical challenge as well an opportunity not to be missed.
The competition brief given by Sukarno was simple but profound. It must be something to represent Indonesia as a nation with the largest Muslim community in the world; but it was not to be confused with Indonesia as a secular nation. It should mediate and balance powers, as well as to represent modernity, nationalism, and at the very same time, to erase the memory of colonialism. In representing the Muslims, he specifically did not want the mosque to be associated with any form of vernacular or traditional mosques:
“What! Would we built a Friday Mosque like the Masjid Demak, or Masjid Banten. I am sorry! … When it was built it was already great. But if erected today how would it rank, technical colleagues? … Let us build a Friday Mosque which doesn’t use roof tiles, but one which is built from reinforced concrete… which is finished with marble, and paved with marble, whose doors are from bronze. And not only must the materials be concrete, bronze and fine stones but of grand dimensions… Let us build a Friday Mosque which is the largest in this world, the largest in the world.”
Bank Indonesia building (1955)
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive; courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
Presentation model of the National Mosque (1955)
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive, courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
Interestingly, the construction funds for the National Mosque came from various groups, Islamic political parties, and the Army. Silaban himself was a devout Christian who was convinced that his appointment to the project was a patriotic engagement as an Indonesian citizen. The mosque was to replace Prince Frederick Castle and Wilhelmina Park, within the precinct of the former colonial Koningsplein/ the National Monument. The result was a modern form dominated by vertical elements supporting thin concrete roof slabs (see figure 5). The dome and minaret were simple geometric forms made possible by the latest engineering technology. The overall design strongly suggested modernist architectural language; despising references from traditional nor orientalist mosque architecture elements; just exactly as Sukarno’s imagination. In addition, Silaban employed monumental verandah throughout the mosque complex between the expansive tall columns and the interior.
Social Ideals, Monumentality, and Tropicality
Most of Silaban’s best known works were most probably inspired by principles he got from his early technical trainings. The tradition assumed that particular building forms and orientations prescribe particular social meanings, imaginings, and activities. It suggested that particular architectural orders enabled social ideals. Citing a chapter from bouwkunde text book, Silaban asserted that particular roof forms should be restricted only for monumental buildings and not for functional purposes (such as common residential or commercial buildings). He also suggested the use of street parallel building orientation and hipped roof for common residential buildings to encourage a ‘sociable’ living neighborhood. The premise most probably underlined Silaban’s preferences between gabled and hipped roof in his later projects.
Silaban’s House (1959-1960)
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive; courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
The most elaborate use of the principles can be found in Silaban’s own house, located in Bogor, about 50 kilometers south of Jakarta (see figure 6). The house was designed and built in 1959-1960. The building lay parallel to the street, creating a wide and deep front yard accessible to both family members and passers-by. The building plan, a simple rectangle, orientated upon the west-east axis with wide openings to the south and the north. The orientation was obviously designed to avoid direct solar radiation from reaching the interiors. The orientation, at the same time, allowed a ‘humble’ building gesture, as suggested by bouwkunde training, a wide open front yard, and a wide front verandah accessible to passers-by. Silaban obviously did not want his house (or any common houses) stood out of the neighborhood. Accordingly a house should be designed in accordance to its neighborhood and not to be conspicuous as a monument or civic buildings.
In designing multi-story buildings, however, most of the conventional ‘tropical’ strategies were not easily applicable. Tall structures naturally came with weather exposed facades since the protection of roof would no longer be sufficient. Inclined roof surface would also be difficult to maintain. Therefore, for most of his projects during 1955-1965, Silaban utilized sun-shading elements and wide concrete overhangs extensively. Especially for utilitarian projects (office buildings), concrete sun-shading elements were dominantly employed on the façade. The elements were mostly in form of vertical and horizontal concrete planes. Silaban shifted his preference from hipped or gabled roof construction to flat concrete slab roof during 1958-1959 when discovering that conventional glazed-tile roof construction was no longer practical and effective.
The necessity for monumentality apparently did not get in the way between a demand to represent nationality and tropicality. Silaban’s insistence on ‘tropicality’ agenda in his national commissions consistently differed from the works of his contemporaries, especially the foreign architects working in Indonesia. Pre-cast sun-shading devices were put back within the bay between columns. In spite of employing different architectonic schemes for his projects, Silaban’s primary intention stayed focus on creating intermediary space between the exterior and interior. For particular monumental projects, Silaban carefully placed the sun-shading elements behind the repetitive columns, leaving the vertical elements on the foreground. In this sense, the verticality helped to suggest monumentality. For Istiqlal Mosque, Silaban introduced a scheme extensively using flat concrete roof planes supported by tall marble-clad columns.
Silaban used the similar strategy in Gedung Pola (see figure 7). To replace the demolished Tugu Proklamasi and Proclamation Memorial House, Sukarno ordered Silaban to design Gedung Pola in 1961 on the very spot of the memorial. The word “pola” referred directly to ‘pattern’ or ‘plan’. In Sukarno’s words, pola corresponded to the word ‘blue print’. It clearly indicated the program of the building. This building would be a gallery that exhibited government’s development plans (or ‘blue-prints’) to the public. Functionally the program brief required the building to exhibit Sukarno’s 8-year “Program Nasional Semesta Berencana” [National Development Plan] (1961-1969) in forms of exhibition panels, architectural or infrastructure models, and dioramas. The building was also intended to house any kind of plans initiated by local governments. Upon the controversy over the demolition of the Proclamation Memorial, the design of the Gedung Pola was intentionally monumental in scale and modern in look. It was built to forget the traumatic memorial inauguration in 1946 by putting something far more monumental than the original memorial. The exhibition building was intended to look forward to the future but at the same time, Silaban was also entitled to propose a sculptural memorial in front of the building dedicated to the 1945 event.
Original perspective drawing of Gedung Pola (1955)
Photo credit: F. Silaban archive; courtesy of mAAN Indonesia, 2008.
He put the repetitive columns in front of the metal sun-shading device. The columns soared more than 4-story tall, supporting a concrete roof slab in a perfect symmetrical composition. Silaban considered this architectonic arrangement essentially the same as how the tropical verandah commonly appeared in single-story buildings. However, the modern monumental space created in the Gedung Pola, I observe, might share some similar qualities with Guiseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio (1932-1936). It came in the sense that the monumental transparency of the building seemed to incite public attention directly from the front open space. It allowed continuous visual from the public while at the same time it also seemed at ease in showing its monumentality and authoritarian spirit.
Many of Silaban’s ideas were confirmed by his visits to foreign countries. At the concluding part of his report on his visit to Japan, he insisted on the need for a country to define her own ‘bouwstijl’ (building style) based on her climatic condition; not on ‘local’ or ‘indigenous’ cultural forms. Upon a visit to Chandigarh, Silaban also made few similar critical remarks about Le Corbusier’s works. Apart from Nehru’s conformity with Le Corbusier ideas, Silaban’s attention was interestingly focused on Le Corbusier’s elaborate use of exposed concrete brise-soleil/sun-shading devices in front of the buildings as an important architectural statement in defining India’s modern architectural identity. Silaban approved Le Corbusier’s design by stating that India no longer needed “original Indian characters” to represent her identity. He thought that Le Corbusier’s designs were perfectly situated to their climatic and geographical context; therefore it no longer needed to address past cultural forms. Silaban personally complimented Chandigarh as a foundation and a model for the active search of a national modern (architectural) identity.
Silaban’s works framed within specific conditioning by Sukarno’s politics. The architecture, above all, functioned as a political message to impress the world and Indonesian people that a newborn nation was keeping up with the developed countries and was able to inspire fellow developing countries. The project was also to strengthen Sukarno’s (and Jakarta’s) role as the seat of power. Despite Sukarno’s leaning toward communist countries, it was naive to associate the sculptures and monuments as Sukarno’s enthusiasm for social realism artistic forms. In explaining the projects he built, Sukarno never associated them to ‘leftist’ or ‘socialist’ ideals.
In order to confirm Sukarno’s ideas, Silaban consistently employed the European modernist tradition instead of adapting traditional/ethnic architectural forms. Despite its origins, the application of modernist architecture in Indonesia was not associated as the embodiment of European colonial dominance or with the Cold War political identities but rather as a ‘neutral’ pursuit of modernity and equality. Silaban personalized the brief further by appropriating the sleek modernist architectural grammar for the tropical context by employing sun-shading elements and extensive roof structure combined with tropical verandahs, which became his design signature. Silaban perceived the creation of such tropical spaces as essentially “Indonesian”. He openly refused to identify Indonesia’s diverse cultural and political geography using formalistic representation. He would rather search for a common ground which was based on functional interpretations of traditional architecture practices. The use of cultural-specific symbolism was also despised by Silaban. Silaban expressed his refusal of Sukarno’s idea for the National Monument by twisting the proportion of the elements.
The use of the European modernist tradition as the new modern Indonesian architectural style was never a big problem. Silaban’s architectural form was perceived as abstractions of Indonesian modern ideals and of cultural diversities made possible by advanced modern engineering. His works were accepted as spectacles as well as examples for learning.
Silaban never explained his works outside his professional premises and always elaborated his decisions accordingly to technical aspects such as permanence, durability, ease of maintenance, and the straightforwardness of his architectural forms. At most, he addressed the sheer monumentality of his works as a necessity. Sukarno did all the publicity regarding the project, the placement, and the conceptual background of the projects. Sukarno also defended the choice over modernist architectural language so it was never a debatable issue.
 Among original notes on the history of Guided Democracy Foreign Policy, Bunnell’s account in 1966 was probably the earliest one. See: Frederick P. Bunnell, “Guided Democracy Foreign Policy: 1960-1965”, Indonesia II (1966).
Bandung was a well-planned modern colonial city built by the Dutch, grew as a modern urban experimentation filled with modern Art-Deco and modern tropical architecture. According to Widodo (2003) Sukarno’s intention to hold an ‘anti-colonialism’ conference in a former colonial city was considered a deliberate communication of ‘anti-colonialism’ foreign policy utilizing architecture. See: Johannes Widodo, “Conflicts, contestation, and dominations of the city: The story of colonization – decolonization of Bandung” (paper presented in Decolonizing societies: The Reorientation of Asian and African Livelihoods under Changing Regimes, Doelenzaal, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Holland, 2003).
 He supported and won the bid for the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta; and went further by setting up GANEFO (Games of the New Emerging Forces) in 1962 as a counter for the Olympic Games.
 After putting Jakarta as a special territory headed by a governor (in 1960), Sukarno appointed Henk Ngantung (1921-1991), a well-known painter, as the deputy of governor of Jakarta. Then Ngantung held the position of governor from 1964 until being dismissed by Sukarno’s fall in 1965. Ngantung’s main challenge was to transform Jakarta artistically as a representative international venue and as Indonesia’s modern capital. See: Jacques Leclerc, ”Mirrors and the Lighthouse: A Search for Meaning in the Monuments and Great Works of Sukarno’s Jakarta, 1960-1966” in Urban Symbolism, ed. Peter Nas (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993), 38-58.
 A term developed by Clifford Geertz, used by Kusno for the subject. See: Abidin. Kusno, ”Modern Beacon and Traditional Polity: Jakarta in the Time of Sukarno”, Journal of Southeast Asian Architecture 2: 1 (November 1997): 30-38.
 Abidin Kusno, ”Di Bawah Bayangan Bung Karno: Arsitektur Modernis dan Sejarah Kita” in Tegang Bentang: Seratus Tahun Perspektif Arsitektur di Indonesia, ed. Amir Sidharta (forthcoming, 2008).
 Leclerc (1993), 41.
 Leclerc (1993), 46-47.
 Farabi Fakih. Membayangkan Ibu Kota: Jakarta di Bawah Sukarno (Yogyakarta: Ombak, 2005), 152-157.
 Large percentage of the funding goes to the Trikora Steel Factory in Cilegon and shipping projects. Fakih (2005), 153.
 Fakih (2005), 154.
 Fakih (2005), 157.
 Abidin Kusno, Behind the Postcolonial: Architecture, urban space and political cultures in Indonesia, (London: Routledge, 2000), 52.
 Kusno (2000).
 Lai Chee Kien, “Tropical Tropes: The Architectural Politics of Building in Hot and Humid Climates” (paper presented at the “(Un)bounding Tradition: The Tension of Borders and Regions” IASTE Conference, Hongkong, December 12-15, 2002).
 For comparative study on the motives and strategies on building modern capitols and governmental buildings, see: Lawrence J. Vale, Architecture, Power, and National Identity (New Have & London: YaleUniversity Press, 1992).
 Kusno, 1997.
 Cited by Kusno (2008).
 Kusno (2008) claimed that Brasilia was built as a ‘blue print’ of CIAM urban planning. CIAM stands for Congres International d’Architecture Moderne, established on 1928 to formalize ideas and ideals brought up by modernist architects and planners.
 Cited in Kusno (1997), 38 and Vale (1992), 127.
 Niemeyer are a devoted communist throughout his lifetime. See: Jonathan Glancey, Jonathan Glancey interviews Oscar Niemeyer, “I pick up my pen. A building appears.” Guardian, August 1, 2007. Also see: Oscar Niemeyer, The Curves of Time: The Memoirs of Oscar Niemeyer (London: Phaidon, 2000).
Holston (1989) cited from Vale (1992), 126-127.
 Glancey (2007).
 Kusno (2008) and Mohammad Nanda Widyarta, Mencari Arsitektur Sebuah Bangsa: Sebuah Kisah Indonesia (Surabaya: Wastu Lanas Grafika, 2007).
 Wijanarka, Sukarno dan Desain Rencana Ibu KotaRI di Palangkaraya (Yogyakarta: Ombak, 2006).
 Wijanarka (2006), 78-79.
 Widyarta (2007).
 Marco Kusumawijaya, ”Jakarta, Sang Metropolis”, Kalam 19 (2002), 26-27.
 Pierre Labrousse, “The Second Life of Bung Karno: Analysis of The Myth (1978-1981)”, Indonesia/ Archipel No. 57 (April 1993): 175-196.
 Charles P. Wolff Schoemaker, one of Sukarno’s professors, was a famous architect based in Bandung during the late colonial era. Schoemaker was considered one of the most important architects responsible for the discussion and active search for a local identity in modern architecture during 1920s. Schoemaker was deeply inspired by the famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
 Leclerc (1993), 41-42.
 Leclerc (1993), 42-44.
 Benedict Anderson, ”Notes on Contemporary Indonesian Political Communication”, Indonesia 16 (October 1973): 39-80.
 Sukarno cited in Suluh Indonesia, 1960 in Leclerc (1993), 41.
 Karsten won the 1937 competition during the implementation of Dutch ’ethical policy’. Karsten was remembered by Indonesian architects and planners as the ‘Father’ of modern Indonesian city planning as he laid out conceptual ideas on many Indonesian cities during the first half of the 20th century. Karsten was known best for his revolutionary social-economic zoning as opposed to colonial racial zoning.
 Kusno (1997), 28-29 and Kusumawijaya (2002), 31.
 Leclerc (1993), 38.
Anderson (1973), 63.
 Leclerc (1993), 42.
 Ibid., based on personal communication with Soedarsono.
 Silaban, an untitled unpublished hand-written manuscript, (1965), 20.
 Leclerc (1993), 44.
Anderson (1973), 63.
 Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934) was an influential figure in Dutch modern architecture. Berlage had visited Dutch East Indies and influenced modern architectural practice and education in the colony.
 Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), probably the most influential American architect ever. Wright was best known of his ‘organic’ design employing rich craftsmanship detailing in straight forward building compositions.
 Willem M. Dudok (1884-1974) is a Dutch architect well-known of his design for HilversumTown Hall, the Netherlands, 1928-1931.
 An ethnic group from North Sumatra. Batak communities are predominantly Christian.
 Silaban studied ‘building science’ or bouwkunde at Royal Wilhelmina School (KoninginWilhelminaSchool, K.W.S. in Jakarta) and graduated in 1931. On becoming an architect, Silaban did not attend formal architectural trainings. He relied on his practical experiences as draftsman. He spent a year in the Netherlands to attend lectures and examination at Academie voor Bouwkunts in 1950. See: —, Rumah Silaban/ Silaban’s House (Jakarta: mAAN IndonesiaPublishing & TarumanagaraUniversity, 2008), 28.
 Sukarno studied civil engineering and architecture in this school.
 See: Cor Passchier, “Mencari Arsitektur Indonesia yang Utama pada Masa Akhir Kolonial”, in Amir Sidharta, ed., Tegang Bentang, 100 Tahun Perspektif Arsitektur Modern Indonesia. (fortcoming publication, 2008).
 For late colonial and modern architectural development in Indonesia, see: Huib Akihary, Architectuur & Stedebouw in Indonesie 1870-1970 (Zutphen: De Walburg), 1988.
 Friedrich Silaban, “Architectural Idealism and Its Reality in Indonesia” (paper presented in The 2nd National Congress of Indonesian Institute of Architects, Yogyakarta, 3 December 1982) in Menuju Arsitektur Indonesia, ed. Eko Budihardjo (Bandung: Penerbit Alumni, 1996).
 Bahasa Indonesia was a modern language developed from Malay as the lingua-franca and the language of commerce in the archipelago.
 This statement is hypothetical. The way we interpret Silaban’s approach might vaguely be comparable to Geoffrey Bawa’s design for Sri Lanka’s island parliament project. See: Vale (1992), 190-208.
 Silaban (1982).
 See: —, Rumah Silaban/ Silaban’s House. (2008), 46-50.
 Setiadi Sopandi, “Tropicality and Identity: Silaban’s Ideas on Indonesian Architecture” (paper submitted in international conference Tropical Architecture within Tradition – Globalization, 17 Agustus 1945 University, Surabaya, 2007).
 Sukarno’s speech, cited by Kusno (1997), 38 from Hugh O’Neill. “Islamic Architecture under the New Order,” in Virginia M. Hooker, ed., Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1993), 157-158.
 Kusno, 2008.
 The site was associated by Indonesians as a deliberate colonial symbol.
 Silaban consulted engineers from West Germany for the dome design in 1970. The dome originally intended as a concrete dome. Engineers from DarmstadtUniversity suggested a combination of concrete and polyhedron structural system. The polyhedron skeleton was manufactured in Mero Factory, Wurzburg. The system, then, was still in experimental stage.
 The observation to a series of important commissions by Silaban during 1955-1965 shows that Silaban only retained the hipped roof construction only to particular projects; Bank Indonesia building in Jakarta (1955), BNI 1946 building in Medan (1959), and BLLD Apartment in Jakarta (1958).
 Silaban proposed 6 variants of the memorial in front of the Gedung Pola.
 Friedrich Silaban, “Laporan Singkat Perdjalanan F. Silaban ke India untuk menindjau dan mempeladjari seni-bangunan seperti dimaksudkan dalam Surat Putusan Menteri Pendidikan, Pengadjaran dan Kebudajaan R.I. Tanggal 28 Djanuari 1954 No. 9417/ Kab” (unpublished official report, 19 August 1954), 35.
 Le Corbusier is probably the most influential modern architect of the 20th century. During the pre-War period, he was well-known of his insistence that modern architecture embodies socialist ideals. Le Corbusier was invited to plan the new capitol and civic buildings of Punjab by Nehru in the 1950s. Among his best known works in India were the High Court building, Secretariate building, and the National Assembly building. Le Corbusier’s buildings in India use extensive sun-shading elements made of bare concrete construction.
 Silaban (1954).
 Silaban (1954), 22.