Housing Developer Wages War on Jakarta
Sylviana Hamdani. The Jakarta Globe, Jakarta - 04/08/211
Modern architecture in Jakarta often appears to conflict with its natural surroundings. Shopping centers and apartment blocks are usually built on cleared and leveled plots, filled in with concrete and stacked with floors of energy-intensive spaces, which are flooded with electric light and chilled by overworked air-conditioning units.
Tar and concrete are slowly eating up the city’s green spaces as construction sites take over the natural landscape. Recent data from Jakarta’s Regional Development Planning Board (Bappeda DKI Jakarta) reveals that only 9.3 percent of the city’s total land area is reserved for green, open spaces.
For developer, entrepreneur and art collector Ronald Akili, Jakarta’s war with nature has simply gone too far.
“We’re all so tired of Jakarta,” Ronald said. “We long for green, natural surroundings. We hate the malls. But we don’t know where else to go. There are hardly any good public parks in the city.”
Ronald noted that the city’s houses and apartment complexes offer little relief from the daily stresses of traffic congestion and heavy pollution.
“Most housing complexes and apartment buildings are built with a concept to maximize land use,” he said. “Developers level the land and cut down the trees to allow room for more buildings. As a result, we all suffer from more floods and worsening global warming.”
These grievances prompted the entrepreneur to try something different. In 2006, when he came across a two-hectare plot of land on Jati Padang in South Jakarta, he saw his chance to create a refuge more in tune with nature. He named the property Tanah Teduh, the Land of Calm.
“The name says it all,” Ronald said with a smile. “I wanted Tanah Teduh to be a revolutionary housing complex in Jakarta that could stand as an example of how nature and architecture could work together to create an environmentally friendly neighborhood.”
He hired a team of eight architects, led by senior architect Andra Matin, to help develop the project.
“It’s such a beautiful piece of land with an undulating contour, large trees and natural ponds,” Andra said. “The first thing that came to my mind when I started the project was to try not to alter the natural site.”
Each architect in the team was assigned a home to design, working with the strengths of the existing landscape.
“Architects usually level the land area for a housing complex in order to prevent flooding within the complex,” Andra said. “But that approach only worsens the floods in the surrounding neighborhoods. And we didn’t want that.”
Instead, Andra designed a drainage system to prevent flooding in Tanah Teduh. He used the existing natural ponds as water catchment areas and wastewater processing facilities. Eighty percent of the total land area was reserved for open parks and children’s playgrounds. Most of the original trees were also preserved.
“The site has more than 70 trees,” Andra said. “Most of them are big and beautiful fruit trees. We had to cut down one or two to allow access to the road. But we kept the rest and incorporated them into the houses.”
One member of the design team, Yori Antar, decided to incorporate the trees on the plot into his plans for a house.
“The most captivating element on my assigned section of the site was a 30-meter high randu [cottonwood] tree,” Yori said. “One question that stuck in my mind was how to make the presence of the beautiful tree felt inside the house.”
He designed a trapezium-shaped structure to incorporate the tree and its extended branches into the design of the three-story house, which opens to a grassy courtyard decorated with rocks.
“From afar, it almost looks as if the house is tilting its head toward the tree,” Yori said. “It’s a gesture of the appreciation I feel toward nature.”
Inside, the walls of the family room are lined with panels of damar timber, with one wall decked with mirrors, facing the trees.
“It’s so that anyone sitting in the family room will feel as if they’re actually in the forest,” Yori said.
Architect Zenin Adrian had a similar idea for his project, but instead of trees, he incorporated water into his design.
His house, named Terrace House, faces the ponds on the property. A large, floating terrace protrudes from the front of the living room on the first floor, out into the open air by the ponds.
“Hopefully, the large terrace will revive the Indonesian tradition of sitting on the front porch in the afternoon, while watching people and greeting our neighbors,” Zenin said. “It’s inspired by our current predicament, in which the car has taken over the front of the house. Terrace House is designed to reclaim the space and use it as a living room.”
To do this, as well as provide car space, the shade provided by the protruding terrace on the first floor serves as the carport on the ground floor of the house.
“So it’s maximizing land use without sacrificing the comforts of the inhabitants,” Zenin said.
But not all of the houses in Tanah Teduh are provided with a garage or carport.
“We’ve provided a communal carport from which inhabitants can easily take a walk to their homes,” Andra said. “Hopefully, this will induce a sense of togetherness and appreciation for nature, as the inhabitants will get to meet their neighbors and enjoy the natural surroundings as they walk to their homes.”
A sense of togetherness is also encouraged by the communal swimming pool at the clubhouse.
“It also saves energy, as we don’t have to provide swimming pool facilities at each house,” Andra said.
Architect Antony Liu further incorporated luxury facilities in energy-saving ways in his design, which he named L + L House.
“It’s a lightly designed house and one that’s full of lights,” Antony said.
Designed with shuttered windows all around, the two-story house enjoys maximum air circulation and natural sunlight during the day.
“It’s energy-saving,” Antony said. “As it’s mostly bright in the house during the day, the inhabitants don’t have to turn on any electric lights.”
Air-conditioning units are only installed in the bedrooms. All the communal rooms in the house, including the sitting room, dining room and living room, enjoy a natural breeze from outside through the shutters, made of bangkirai hardwood timber from East Kalimantan. To prevent insects from getting into the rooms, the architect covered the louvers with mosquito nets.
“Living with nature is a great concept, but we shouldn’t all suffer because of it,” he said. “The architect should also take the comforts of the inhabitants into consideration when designing the house.”
To further moderate the temperature within the house, Antony added shallow ponds on the upstairs terrace and balcony.
“The water will act as a natural cooling agent for the house,” he said. “And its trickling sound also acts as a buffer to the sound of the traffic outside the complex. All the materials for the house, including the tiles, timber and bricks, are high quality, locally made products. A good house doesn’t necessarily have to use expensive materials from abroad.”
Architect Adi Purnomo also prioritized the use of local materials in his design, which he named Tree House.
The three-story house and its interior are mostly covered in wood paneling. But instead of cutting down trees for the panels, Adi introduced the concept of “alternative wood” for the house.
“What I mean by ‘alternative wood’ is reusing wood from old structures or taking it from plantation trees,” he said. “By using such wood, I wish to open people’s eyes to the possibilities of using non-forest timber for housing needs.”
For the facade of the house, Adi used ironwood from a knocked-down pier in Samarinda, East Kalimantan. Ironwood is known for its durability and resistance to the elements.
For the interior, he used timber from rubber plantations in Indonesia.
“In the process we couldn’t help using ceramics, aluminum and other materials,” he said. “It’s not exactly how I’d first imagined it to be. However, we’ve tried our best to create an energy-saving and environmentally friendly building.”
“The project is not perfect,” developer Ronald Akili agreed. “But as a pilot project aimed to encourage young Indonesian architects to conjoin nature and architecture, it’s been a success. It’s proof that such collaboration is possible.’’
Tanah Teduh is now in its finishing stages. The houses will be ready for lease in September.