Tropical utopias: The best contemporary Indonesian architecture of 2022

Best of 2022: STIR presents exemplary projects from across the archipelagic nation of Indonesia, highlighting the diversity of its built environment and architectural traditions.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Dec 25, 2022

From Dutch colonial to Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic influences, alongside the region’s immensely rich vernacular building traditions and more modern precedents, the contemporary architecture of Indonesia has its roots in a smorgasbord of sources, which have all been carefully adapted to the country’s tropical climate and lush landscape. Harnessing the latest innovations in material technologies, planning principles, and passive design, the built environment of the world’s largest archipelagic state has seen some of the most impressive ventures in tropical modernist architecture over the past few decades, employing the materiality of local stone, concrete, wood, and a host of other natural materials to reinterpret traditional building typologies and planning principles from a more contemporary point of view. Alternatively, Indonesia has also been the site for a multitude of experiments in sustainable bamboo architecture and mud architecture, as evidenced by buildings such as the Arc by IBUKU at Green School, Bali, or Realrich Architecture Workshop’s Piyandeling project. Featuring spectacular, intricately crafted shell-forms, and cascading vaults of colossal scale, these ventures are rapidly setting high standards for the future of low-tech sustainable architecture, an approach that could hold the key to solving numerous problems faced by the global architectural community, particularly that of climate change. In light of the considerable depth and diversity of architectural innovation within the nation, STIR presents a collection of seven groundbreaking projects from a variety of typologies, which illustrate the multifaceted identity of Indonesian architecture today.

1. YD House by Isso Architects

  • YD House by Isso Architects in Jakarta | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    YD House by Isso Architects in Jakarta Image: Ernest Theofilus
  • The house is built on a long, narrow piece of land in a dense residential neighbourhood in Jakarta | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    The house is built on a long, narrow piece of land in a dense residential neighbourhood in Jakarta Image: Ernest Theofilus

The YD House designed by Jakarta-based Isso Architects is driven by attention to detail and soulful, minimal aesthetics. Built within 87 sqm of petite space, the one-floor concrete and brick residence witnesses a steady inclusion of a “half-moon” motif dressing its modest being. The clients, a young, professional couple in their 30s, wished for an uncluttered, “uncomplicated and homely house” that hosted space for their individual and shared activities, an abode of repose away from the cacophony of urban life. Isso Architects turned this compact site into a bright and sunlight-perfumed, three-bedroom dwelling by integrating their signature style of crisp minimalism and intended functionality. Meticulously designed down to the smallest detail, the residential architecture revels in its soothing, harmonious nature, contrasted softly with the coarse concrete exterior, where every employed feature carries a purpose. From the cream walls to the humble wooden accents, there is no extravagant indulgence, no object crying for attention.

2. Casa Nomada Bali by Erika Calle Crespo and Marco Haberberger

  • Casa Nomada Bali by Erika Calle Crespo and Marco Haberberger in Bali | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    Casa Nomada Bali by Erika Calle Crespo and Marco Haberberger in Bali Image: Erika Calle Crespo and Marco Haberberger
  • The villa features large windows and glazed walls to show a connection with the outdoors | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    The villa features large windows and glazed walls to show a connection with the outdoors Image: Erika Calle Crespo and Marco Haberberger

Casa Nomada is an approximately 3,000 sq ft villa in Bali, owned and designed by Erika Calle Crespo and Marco Haberberger. The villa is located near the beach in Berawa, a popular neighbourhood of Canggu, a resort village on the south coast of the Indonesian island. Currently available exclusively as a venue for photo and video shoots, the home is primarily rented by luxury fashion and lifestyle brands that desire an exuberant setting for content creation. Under its program, the residence features two bedrooms with attached bathrooms, an open kitchen and dining room with a mezzanine enclosing the area, two rooftop terraces and a large outdoor pool. Casa Nomada Bali’s bedrooms and bathrooms exhibit the same Mediterranean design aesthetic as the rest of the villa. In addition, the outdoor pool design with a shower, gold accents and plants, particularly stands out.

3. The Rice Barn House by K-Thengono Design Studio

  • The Rice Barn House by K-Thengono Design Studio in Bintaro, Tangarang | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    The Rice Barn House by K-Thengono Design Studio in Bintaro, Tangarang Image: Mario Wibowo
  • A trapezoidal pyramid roof crowns the residence, derived from the gambrel-style roof of a local lumbung padi | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    A trapezoidal pyramid roof crowns the residence, derived from the gambrel-style roof of a local lumbung padi Image: Mario Wibowo
  • The staircase near the entrance is enclosed by a natural stone wall, with planters embedded into its opposing surface | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    The staircase near the entrance is enclosed by a natural stone wall, with planters embedded into its opposing surface Image: Mario Wibowo

On a compact urban lot provided by the client within the locale of Bintaro, Tangarang, Indonesia, Jakarta-based firm K-Thengono Design Studio has employed the essential tenets of the traditional architectural typology of a rice barn—locally known as a lumbung padi—to craft a residence that responds to its context and climate. Realised as a compact, three-storey volume topped by a trapezoidal pyramid roof, the Rice Barn House - as it has been named - draws heavily from the core principles involved in the construction of a lumbung padi, fusing them with contemporary materials and planning conventions. Stone, wood, and concrete are the predominant textures on the building’s exterior, imparting a decidedly contemporary touch to the tropical modernist aesthetic that pervades the home. Prioritising passive cooling, natural light, and local materials, the firm’s design effectively moulds a traditional archetype into an innovative residential design solution that addresses the needs of modern lifestyles.

4. Dukuh Haus by Maximilian Eicke

  • Dukuh Haus by Maximilian Eicke in Bali | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    Dukuh Haus by Maximilian Eicke in Bali Image: Tomasso Riva (styling by Lisa Scappin)
  • The living room inside the main house of the Dukuh Haus | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    The living room inside the main house of the Dukuh Haus Image: Tomasso Riva (styling by Lisa Scappin)

Nestling into a lush site blessed with calming views, the Dukuh Haus, or "Hamlet" in Indonesian, emerged victorious as an edifice of curated beauty, deep-seated creative range, seamless style and most of all, pure independence. Designed by Germany-born furniture and product designer Maximilian Eicke as a personal residence for his family, the home’s design emerged during the course of a highly productive pandemic stirred lockdown. Replete with his own sensibilities towards design, the Dukuh Haus is “a house of prototypes—a living research and development lab for our brand and for me,” as per Eicke. The home, consisting of a main house and a guest house built in contrasting styles, was designed down to last detail by Eicke himself, from the furniture designs and door handles, to the lighting, cutlery, and trash cans. The angular main house clad in dark shingles juts out like a tent, with spaces designed for Eicke and his parents, while the unfussy, white guesthouse features a more pared-back, concrete architecture with glass walls. The austere pool pavilion features a distinct, tall roof reminiscent of Javanese Joglo vernacular structures. All forms, distinct on their own, manage to come together in a stylish chorus, of eclectic yet sombre décor, sewn with a materiality of solid steel, teak, and marble.

5. Birdhouses by Alexis Dornier

  • Birdhouses by Alexis Dornier in Ubud, Bali | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup  | STIRworld
    Birdhouses by Alexis Dornier in Ubud, Bali Image: Courtesy of KIE
  • In Birdhouses, the architects represent “memorable interpretations of the idea of a house” | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    In Birdhouses, the architects represent "memorable interpretations of the idea of a house" Image: Courtesy of KIE
  • The pivoting floor plans establish multifunctional spaces that imbibe a sense of familiarity | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The pivoting floor plans establish multifunctional spaces that imbibe a sense of familiarity Image: Courtesy of KIE

Seeming to float above the ground, Birdhouses by Alexis Dornier, is a stilted spectacle of tropical modernism in the tranquil rainforests of Bali. Comprising three elevated structures with a guest house, studio, and main house, the project serves as the physical manifestation of a dream conjured up by a group of friends. Though the buildings remain separate entities, a shared pool accompanied by a sun deck marks the zonal and spatial convergence of the trio. With a landscape design that connects the built to the unbuilt through fluid walkways, water features, and flower beds, the design radiates a semblance of a natural convergence. Though the sculptural forms do resemble each other, the spatial arrangements vary to accommodate their respective functions, and the ground level of all structures serves the singular function of being a vertical circulation node connected to the upper levels. While the architectural language of the project draws from tropical modernism against the veritable backdrop of Bali and its vernacular architecture, the material palette is drenched in the natural tones of wood, familiar to the site’s context, with a complementing nudge of raw concrete.

6. WYAH Art and Creative Space by PSA Studio

  • WYAH Art and Creative Space by PSA Studio in Ubud, Bali | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    WYAH Art and Creative Space by PSA Studio in Ubud, Bali Image: Courtesy of Mario Wibowo Photography
  • The structure emerges as a cluster of suspended cocoon-like pods | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The structure emerges as a cluster of suspended cocoon-like pods Image: Courtesy of Mario Wibowo Photography

WYAH Creative space, designed by PSA studio is a multifunctional artists' retreat in Ubud, Bali, composed of cocoon-like pods that appear suspended in the forested region it is settled within. By respecting the contour of the land that holds the site and its structures, a variable interplay between levels is introduced, allowing trees to pirouette through the space, initiating what architects claim as a "deeper connection with nature." Structurally, the assembly is held together by pipe columns in clusters, scattered like tree trunks along the site. The entire 'pod' is lifted off the ground using these columns, while the elevation harbours additional seating space on the ground floor beneath. Hard edges and orthogonality are completely eliminated from the contextual design while the plan of each pod manifests as an extensive lookout deck in timber, shaped like a rounded polygon. Capping the structures is a cascading roof covered in sirap, described by the architects as “iron wood.”

7. Clan Living–The Founder by Ruang Nyaman

  • Clan Living–The Founder by Ruang Nyaman in Ubud, Bali | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Clan Living–The Founder by Ruang Nyaman in Ubud, Bali Image: Danang Seta
  • Arch shaped bamboo conveys a sense of flexibility towards the digital nomad era of working | Contemporary Indonesian Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Arch shaped bamboo conveys a sense of flexibility towards the digital nomad era of working Image: Danang Seta

Clan Living – The Founder takes shape in Ubud, Bali, as a space that aims to combine two divergent frames of mind—working and vacationing. Realising this vision in the language of Balinese architecture, Indonesian practice Ruang Nyaman has designed this micro-living space as an environment that implements new innovations in bamboo construction. Hence, the design team explored the renovation of an existing building as the foundation for their project. A linear pool runs through the middle of the site separating the plot and built structures into two. On the north side, the complex’s communal space harnesses the materiality of bamboo design, spanning two levels, which are sheltered by a massive bamboo roof covered in thatch. Towards the other side of the pool, the main accommodation unit spans three levels, employing a grid envelope as a secondary skin, with bamboo arches and hanging nets that impart a vernacular presence to the façade design.

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