Despite redefining Indonesian architecture over the past decade, Andra Matin remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
Some of his best-known designs include the facade and foundations of the Potato Head Beach Club in Bali as well as its Jakarta branch at Pacific Place and the Dia.Lo.Gue Artspace gallery in Kemang, South Jakarta.
The 51-year-old won the 2007 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for his work on the Ramzi Gallery and Fiori Salon, both in Jakarta.
Whether the structure is a house of worship (like the Conrad Infinity Chapel in Bali), a hospital, or an artist’s studio, Andra’s work is marked by the creative use of space, a trademark of his work since he resigned from the Hadiprana Gallery in 1998 to set up a private practice.
“I set out to play with the effects of space, by giving visitors a feeling of the unexpected at every turn instead of the predictable and monotonous. For instance, if they see the building from the outside it looks unassuming and small,” he said.
“But as visitors enter, they will see an unexpectedly wide space characterized by relatively sparse use of materials. I would be content to use relatively simple material like ironwood, supported by concrete, to make for a stark, yet aesthetically basic and sharp design.”
Visitors coming to Potato Head Beach Club, for instance, will face a wide area divided into ground floor and mezzanine areas before finding themselves in the outdoor space.
“The setup gives visitors the impression of being on higher ground despite its location on the lower side of the area and appeals to people’s love of surprises,” Andra said.
He added that the design is also flexible to take on any form imaginable.
“Potato Head owner Ronald [Akili] wanted the place to be designed like the Roman Colosseum. I pointed out to him that I would try to do so by using iron woods instead of marble, to save costs and provide an interesting contrast to the original Colosseum,” Andra explained.
“The resulting structure was not only sound, it stayed in the spirit of the original structure and gave a distinctively Indonesian touch to its futuristic aesthetics.
“It’s also a good example of the creative results when clients and their architect can see eye-to-eye.”
Many of Andra’s designs give the impression that they are suspended in space. “The contrasts of a seemingly light item supporting a stronger one is a paradox that I like to experiment with, as it is found in man-made things as well as in nature. It also has its roots in traditional Indonesian architecture, which is one of the major inspirations behind my work,” Andra said.
“These features are inspired by the stilted houses found in Kalimantan or the Toraja region of Central Sulawesi.
“In their case, the stilted foundations have to be strong yet flexible to counter the earthquakes that periodically strike Indonesia. Aside from its aesthetic values, traditional architecture throughout Indonesia is also remarkably ahead of its time.”
Andra also likes to work with wood because of its warm and earthy colors — an aesthetic that, he argues, suits Indonesia.
“The materials available here, and Indonesia’s weather, allow the frequent use of the outdoors that make up much of my designs,” he explained.
“The setup is also accessible — it’s more down-to-earth and intimate, compared to marble structures that are more formal and daunting to visitors who want to avoid breaking anything pricey.”
Aside from the use of open outdoor spaces, the structures also deflect the heat by balancing light and shade. But Indonesian influences aren’t the only elements behind the architect’s work. Instead, Andra looked to other parts of East Asia for inspiration.
“Many of my designs derive influences from Japanese architecture, particularly the country’s gardens,” he said. “The Japanese gardens’ stark, bare aesthetics enable visitors to focus on their sparse highlights and decorations, as would the use of a reflecting pool.”
A reflecting pool is, in fact, a recurring element in Andra’s designs. Featured in Potato Head, Dia.Lo.Gue and his own home it has become a trademark.
“The open air brings a balance between the earth and sky, while the sounds of water on the reflecting pool induces visitors to feel contemplative and take in the calming influence that water brings,” he said.
Andra uses the reflecting pool just as effectively in public spaces like parks. One of them is his monument to Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, at Rendo Park in Ende, East Nusa Tenggara, which was opened by Vice President Boediono in June.
“Sukarno was inspired to write the precepts of Pancasila here in June 1934, when the Dutch colonial administration exiled him to East Nusa Tenggara for agitating for Indonesia’s independence,” Andra explained.
As with the real Sukarno, his statue sat under a breadfruit tree before the reflecting pool. The pool reflects the inspiration Sukarno received when he wrote Pancasila down.
“But what made me happiest with the work is how accessible it is to the people of Ende. Instead of making the park hallowed ground, it drew people to spend the day there, to hold picnics and have quality time with their families.”
Andra said that Indonesia can learn few things from the Japanese approach to architecture.
“Japanese architecture is futuristic because they use their past to look into their future. That is an element that I’ve been trying to incorporate in my work,” he said.
As the founder of Arsitek Muda Indonesia (Young Indonesian Architects), a collective that looks at the future of Indonesian architecture, Andra also practised another precept that he picked up from Japanese architecture.
“I always admired Japanese architects because they are not afraid to create [work that reflects] their distinctive characters. For instance, architects like Kazuyo Sejima worked for Toyo Ito before going her own way, as did Jun’ya Ishigami from Kazuyo Sejima. Indonesian architects should do the same and develop their unique style, so as to show the world what makes them Indonesian,” he said.
But he acknowledged this goal was a distant one.
“Many architects outside of Jakarta are hampered by the conservative approach of their mentors, who prefer the literal, old-fashioned approach of their forebears to more contemporary interpretations of their buildings or architectural heritage,” Andra said.
“On the other hand, architects in Jakarta look to foreign models and inspirations.
“While this is fine if one wants to check out the newest trends and styles in contemporary architecture, it doesn’t have a uniquely Indonesian character or identity. Ideally it should be something in between.”
What sorts of shapes, designs and character that Indonesian design will take in the future remains to be seen. But with Andra Matin leading the way, it is something to look forward to.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 22, 2013