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Jun '01

Sukarno, the architecture of the capital city

The most physical of all Sukarno’s legacies is the architecture of the city of Jakarta.

This year, on his 100th birthday, the most difficult of all the current artistic challenges in the city is how to physically represent him in a memorial plaza to be located within the grounds of the Gelora Bung Karno sports complex in Senayan, which was only recently renamed after him.

Seven groups of sculptors, landscape designers and architects have participated in a limited competition. The choices available to the jurors seem to be as yet limited to somewhere between uninspiring realism and unfulfilling expressionism.

The sports complex itself is but one of the many Sukarno-inspired projects that shaped the architecture of post-colonial Jakarta.

Architecture must here be understood as the form not of buildings but of the city itself. In the 1960’s, he laid down the foundations of present-day Jakarta by introducing a set of structuring elements consisting of buildings and monuments at strategic locations and, most importantly, the Jl. Thamrin-Sudirman thoroughfare that links most of them together into a coherent new image of modern Jakarta.

The avenue has developed into the city’s most well-known axis and identifies the whole metropolis of Jakarta today. Running in a north to south direction, it continues the pre-existing colonial growth direction from old Batavia, through Jl. Gajah-Mada and Jl. Hayam-Wuruk to Monas Park, all of which taken together summarize 400 years of urban history.

The avenue links the old, inherited center of Monas Park to the new satellite town Kebayoran Baru (c.1950). When built, it was a completely new type of urban space: a string of modernity of incomparably vast scale and rapid mobility.

With the National Monument (Monas, 1962-1966), Soekarno, once and for all, fixed the centrality of Monas Park. The Bank Indonesia building by Sukarno’s favorite architect Silaban, who also designed the Istiglal Mosque, flanks the northern tip of the avenue.

Further south is the Sarinah building (1963), the first department store in the country. A roundabout breaks the avenue midway to the Semanggi clover-leave interchange. Surrounding it were Hotel Indonesia (1962) that gives the roundabout its name, the Hotel Asoka where Plaza Indonesia now stands, and Wisma Nusantara (design approved on April 1, 1964).

Hotel Indonesia is saved from being another boring example of the International Style, as it faintly shows whatever was left of early 20th century Art-Deco sensitivity. Moreover, Sukarno, as he also did to the Ambarukmo Hotel in Yogyakarta, Bali Beach Hotel, Samudra Beach Hotel in Pelabuhan Ratu and presidential palaces in Bogor, Cipanas, and Tampak Siring, made a difference: he adorned them with many commissioned paintings, murals, sculptures, reliefs and mosaics.

He was also directly consulted over the master plan for Atmajaya Catholic University beside the Semanggi interchange, as its senior architect, Han Awal, recalls.

Not quite along the axis, Sukarno also commissioned other buildings such as Gedung Pola on the site where his own residence once stood and he and Vice President Hatta proclaimed independence. The waterfront development of Ancol was already envisioned in 1962.

Sukarno was, indeed, trained as an architect and he designed a few houses in Bandung. But his career in this field was short-lived.

With Jakarta becoming the permanent seat of national government, he had the opportunity to play architect again — this time with full authority and on a much larger scale — and subject architecture to the function of “nation and character building”. He was to build a capital city for the leader of the “new emerging forces”. Not merely functional, but beautiful as well.

His involvement was intense, including scrutinizing proposals, approving some, engaging in active discussions, judging competition entries, and suggesting concrete forms with sketches.

His instruction on “city planning” to Henk Ngantung, the then artist governor of Jakarta, in 1959, read as follows: “…happiness is achieved when basic needs are fulfilled in an environment of beauty; therefore a development plan must include also a ‘plan of beauty’”. His instruction to another governor, Ali Sadikin, in April 1966, was more mundane, but nevertheless indicates an understanding of the modern concept of urban management: “… a mayor should as well, first and foremost, know about how to make a city clean, more than just about governing”.

The monumental statues with which he studded Jakarta at strategic locations created landmarks that, together with the avenue and a framing inner ring road (1960-1964), make intelligible what would have otherwise been an incomprehensible, chaotic metropolis.

The inner ring road itself was selected from the more comprehensive “Outline Plan” prepared by a UN-sponsored team in 1957, many of whose suggestions were left unrealized. The Semanggi interchange connects the avenue and the ring road that leads to the sports and legislative sites in Senayan.

These sites were originally planned as a unified whole of 270 hectares. They were to initially host the fourth Asian Games and Games of the Emerging Forces (GANEFO), and the Conferences of the New Emerging Forces (CONEFO) in the present-day legislative buildings.

They are the most ambitious — and perhaps the most useful, as well — of all Sukarno’s architectural projects. They also made many others necessary to support them. Therefore, we wonder why the name Gelora Bung Karno does not cover the totality of both sites, instead of just the sports complex.

The whole 270 hectares would sound good and functionally work well as the Sukarno People’s Park. A connecting axis between the two across Jalan Pemuda should perhaps be built. It was indeed suggested in the original plan.

As a Bung Karno memorial plaza is being designed for the park we may reflect on whether or not projecting his (historical) values and spirit is more important than his persona. In 1962’s fourth Asian Games, Indonesia secured second place after Japan. This is no small historical footnote if you consider that a project currently being proposed to elevate Indonesia to sixth spot overall in Asia would require an annual budget of Rp 100 billion for six consecutive years. In 1962, Indonesian athletes had only the Sukarno spirit and rhetoric to complement their adrenaline.

We need also to restate our commitment. We have moved statues in the past. We have vandalized some. We have also demanded the destruction of some. Can we guarantee that a representation of Soekarno will not be moved by the next regime, or by the next commercial interest to come along?

We know one fundamental answer to that question: Indonesians should see the great Bung (brother) first and foremost not as a symbol of a certain political ideology, but as a leader totally devoted to his people and country, to the struggle for independence, the creation of the united nation that we comfortably inherited and should now, perhaps, work harder to maintain.

Architecturally, as a minimum assurance, we need to see a master plan adopted that shows in a logical manner how the memorial plaza will be assured of a permanent location and occupy a respectable space and environs.

* The writer is an architect and urbanist based in Jakarta

Sumber : (Marco Kusumawijaya) The Jakarta Post, Jakarta 

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