Noble life demands a noble architecture for noble uses of noble men. Lack of culture means what it has always meant: ignoble civilization and therefore imminent downfall.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869 – 1959)
Architecture is the art of how to waste space.
Philip Johnson (1906 - 2005)
What is architecture to the contemporary life of man? Is architecture nothing than just a question of spatial aesthetics or is it beyond that, a consistently growing organism, embracing more and more human activities into it; social, cultural, economic? Or, does architecture create a “rupture,” a line of spaces which are isolated from cultural locales, forming insulating social or economic walls, thus cutting a man’s life off the nature? Can architecture make a man of a man?
An example of rupture in architecture is the space we live in, in which people with “modern tradition” perform their activities individually or together with the other family members in a private sphere, and then out they meet their neighbors, or street vendors. Throughout life, we are trapped in the same old routines, because we live in a big city overcrowded with office blocks, malls, apartments, apartment-malls, try to find a crevice amidst super busy traffic in the streets, pass commercial and business districts, classy housing complexes, middle class housing complexes and slumps, state official housing complexes, expatriate areas, cozy places, and so on. It’s not every day that you wake up smelling the fresh morning air breezing from tea plantation or the sea.
Yes, you can have your own forest by hiring an architect and pay a great fortune to buy the land, but you can never get away from the claws of the city. This is where rupture matters, because architecture, while intended for individual enjoyment, can also be an organization of mass spaces. In this case, an accomplished architect must be more than one who makes trendy, classy and expensive buildings, which bring him/her to fame and more and more projects. An accomplished architect is one with a concept of future life.
Is this called utopia? Now, there are local government policies, capitalists’ understanding and interests, amidst mounts of issues Indonesian architectures face. Well, it takes an imaginative gut to be utopian, a critical view, “madness,” and sometimes guerrilla wars and lots of material sacrifices.
Architect like Budi Pradono to me is in the verge of becoming an utopist, well, at least for an Indonesian architect. As utopian as he might be, some of his works are just realizable, as residence and semi public spaces. Pradono and his Budi Pradono Architecture (BPA) team have participated in a number of international architecture competitions. When I visited his studio the other day, Budi Pradono was preparing to realize a public space project in Taiwan. His works account for personal, environmental, and local material aspects, in addition to boasting advant garde architectural styles. Among his works is Irwan Ahmet’s residence, a graphic designer at Pasar Minggu, Jakarta. Pradono uses bamboo for the façade and air circulation function. Another astonishing fact is that the house was completed in a very short time and highly cost efficient.
Pradono always embarks on international journeys, to present his designs, attend workshops, or make cultural observations in Italia, Germany, Swiss, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, or the United States. Now, to me he is as busy as Heri Dono, so I guess it is safe for me to say that Pradono is one of the young architects with sound international experiences.
Pradono regularly makes public presentations through exhibitions, which highlight his concepts and designs, one important step that most architects in Indonesia are not apt to do. It is essentially important to broaden his critical thoughts through interactions with other architects, students, or future stakeholders. Interactions lead to new thoughts and broaden one’s perspective. Interactions will increase an architect’s awareness of so many aspects. Naturally, thus, his works are covered in many books and magazines, national and international.
Critically, Budi Pradono’s designs account for so many things in architecture. In addition to individual, socio-cultural, and artistic and aesthetic values, his works cover economic and environmental aspects too. Pradono highly values and is always involved in the designing process. He values the time he spends with his team, to try new things and explore new possibilities of development. He writes: Programs must be re-questioned, new materials retried, and conventional functional typologies debated for the sake of more sustainable designs (2009:18).
This process leads to a critical awareness of the designing and he tests it through a series of international competitions. In realizing new designing concepts, negotiations will have to be made with many stakeholders, as naturally, different political and capital interests are involved in the designing process. To him, these negotiations are just part of a dynamic.
In introducing his concepts, he writes, “Observing the law, dealing with functional programming, material explorations, combinations or compositions of different materials which all lead to the desired end result, not only in terms of the quality of physical space, are the true implementation of an architectural concept which involves both tug of war games and negotiations with end-clients who of course have their own specific criteria for each space. We have to translate end user’s pragmatic specification aesthetically to produce a beautiful, unique, and personal artistic composition.”
An architect’s work must not succumb to trends or economic urges. It has to account for imaginative and artistic elements which may originate from either local or global references as well as other elements which represent the values of men and culture, as an eclectic and hybrid form. Many current environmental and socio-cultural issues in the world of architecture are the results of the policies and general paradigm of people. The world of architecture is therefore challenged to create a social life which is aware and sensitive enough to socio-cultural and environmental issues surrounding it. This applies equally to residential, office, apartment, and mall architectural designs and so on. It takes an intellectual courage to enter negotiations with stakeholders towards environmental improvement and future life. In the absence of strong and clear long-termed regulations, especially on urban agglomeration in Indonesia, cultural richness and diversity and the potential development of raw materials and technologies will be wasted.
Budi Pradono’s works I think promise us a hope of architecture with a better vision of the future. In fact, the changes we dream always start at the micro level, us as individuals and then the society and finally the whole world. Then, there is no such thing as utopia.
(Rifky Effendy, art Curator)