It is hot, sticky and humid when Indonesian architect Adi Purnomo drives me around Jakarta to visit some of the houses he has built during the past few years. The diversity of the architectural language is one of Jakarta’s basic characteristics. We crisscross this city of 20 million inhabitants seemingly randomly; we pass kampungs, enter large, commercial, neo-Victorian villa enclaves and drive past classic corporate business districts and seemingly endless shopping malls. Chaos and traffic jams are omnipresent. In Jakarta’s urban fabric, everything is possible.
From an architectural point of view, the city’s main concern is its tropical climate. This has led to a situation where life is internalized, the heat made bearable by air conditioning. This results in ridiculously high temperature differences between inside and outside. As someone told me, H&M’s best-selling item of clothing – in this city where the daily temperature ranges from 25C to 38C – is a thick fur winter coat.
Winner of the 2008 Indonesian Architecture Awards, Adi Purnomo’s office, mamostudio, has been designing villas, ranging in scale and budget, for a decade now. The buildings are united by Purnomo’s desire to counteract the questionable architectural and urban development of Jakarta by exploring the limits of climatic constraints and taking into account dust, humidity, vegetation and mosquitoes.
The Puri Indah house is his most recently completed project. The client is a photographer and painter who needed a place to work and space to exhibit his private portfolio and art collection. Natural light plays an important role in the design, as does the concept of rationality. ‘I wanted to question rationality,’ says Purnomo, ‘To see if it hampers or promotes the creative process.’ The result is a dwelling with a rational structure that nevertheless leaves space for creativity. The house is set up as a series of slanting walls on a rigid grid, on the premise of catching and redistributing sunlight at certain hours of the day.
‘I started exploring possibilities by looking at the sun’s movement,’ says Purnomo. ‘It seems unnecessary, because we take sunlight for granted.’ But while talking, he steps over to a little ground level pond and points out how sunlight is reflected from the water onto the slanting walls that face it. ‘I consider it necessary to look at what we see around us every day and to be able to discover new things from that.’
Purnomo shows me a detailed record of the sun’s movements, categorized by hour, angle, declination and day length, over this exact spot. He translated this information into a diagram. From there he undertook three design studies, based on building mass, plan and programme. The three studies were then combined and developed into twelve models. ‘We made the final choice by opting for the model that had the strongest light effect,’ says Purnomo.
In addition to dealing with sunlight, Purnomo had another objective for the Puri Indah house: he wanted to use as little energy for climate control as possible. One of Purnomo’s trademarks is an abundance of tropical vegetation inside and outside his houses. From the five houses that he has built over the last decade which we visit today, I understand that these aren’t used as elements of decoration, but that they are an intrinsic part of his architectural language, just as certain types of wood, concrete or glass are for some architects. His architecture grows and blossoms in a tamed wilderness, blending the interior with the exterior. ‘New York has 25 per cent green space, Tokyo 29 per cent and Jakarta only 14 per cent,’ Purnomo said earlier that day from behind his steering wheel, driving around the capital.
‘And the amount of green space in Jakarta is declining. We can’t just criticize or wait for the city’s urban policy to get better. So I ask myself: is there anything that can be done by an architect on a single plot of land? If there are 100,000 houses with an average roof area of 100 m2, we can generate 1000 hectares of green surface that will be very useful for the city.‘ His solution sounds simple, but the lack of green buildings in Jakarta shows that his way of thinking is anything but self-evident. Purnomo tries to illustrate his point by building them himself.
In the Puri Indah house, the plants are on the roof. They ensure the house is shaded and kept cool, while still admitting daylight into the house. His architectural aversion to air conditioners isn’t solely based on personal preference, but also on his idea that they generate complex problems: ‘The use of air conditioning as a solution to reduce the temperature inside a building has a negative impact on future inhabitants: there are the higher costs of construction, maintenance and energy bills.’ When I ask him if every client accepts his stance, he answers that the client of the Puri Indah house explicitly asked for air conditioners. ‘It’s a process of giving and taking,’ he says. ‘You need to find a balance between your own architectural ambitions and the climatic concerns of your client. Hopefully the green roof can make up for it in this case.’
Another concern was privacy, as the building functions both as private house and as public gallery. The top floor is the gallery, receiving the largest amount of light and being the least humid, the first floor is for sleeping and the ground floor is for living. Because of that, Purnomo placed the stairwell on the perimeter, so that public access to the second floor doesn’t compromise the privacy of the first floor.
A ll in all, the house is a pretty rational structure, but the result is nonetheless almost poetic. And, eventually, the architect himself speaks about the project in poetic terms. After I returned home from my visit to Indonesia, I receive an email from him in which he writes: ‘When the light carves the voids, words start loosing sense. Let the space speak for itself.’
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- “Green and Tidy | mamostudio” – words by Bert de Muynck | published in Mark Magazine #21 (Aug-Sep 09)
Other articles in MARK Magazine:
A Letter from Beijing | #09 (Jul-Aug 07)
An interview with Ai Weiwei (CN) | FAKE Design | #12 (Feb-Mar 08)
Olympic Architecture | #14 (Jun-Jul 08)
Babel for Billionaires | #15 (Aug-Sep 08)
Mongolian Private Meadow Club by MAD | #16 (Oct-Nov 08)
Anything That Is Good Is Called Lekker | #17 (Dec-Jan 08-09)
Local Hero | An Interview with Wang Shu (CN) | #19 (Apr-May 09)
The Importance of Slowness | Wang Hui (CN) | #19 (Apr-May 09)
Mr. Blunt | Keiichiro Sako | SAKO Architects | #20 (Jun-Jul 09)
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