Category Archives: Architecture

The politics tower

Bangunan UMNO

As the name suggests, the glass-facade, 40-storey Bangunan UMNO is the headquarters of Malaysia’s largest political party, the United Malays National Organization, remaining in power since the nation birth in 1957. They lead a coalition called Barisan Nasional consisting of mainly three parties, the other two being the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), against some smaller opposition parties.

The country holds a multi-party system, but the coalition has always been enjoying landslide victories throughout time, to the extent where some, within the party, has voiced concern over the absolutism that hardly gets in check.

UMNO’s towering power

“90% majority (vote) is too strong. We need opposition to remind us if we are making mistakes. When you are not opposed you think everything you do is right,” said former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2005.

Prime minister succession in his country had all come from UMNO. He was the fourth, and the longest serving.

Democratic or not, all countries have each of their own predominant political organization, but few have a party akin to Malaysia’s that could stay in power uncontested since the birth of the nation.

And among those few, none have the privilege to build a stoic headquarters 175 meters tall which is arguably the world’s tallest building that conspicuously bears the name of a political organization, not to mention the future plan to develop a super bloc PWTC KL housing luxury hotel, convention center, and a 70-storey skyscraper to mark 70 years of age for UMNO by 2020.

Opened in 1985 for mainly commercial-use, Bangunan UMNO is also called the Dato Onn Tower, named after the party founder Dato Onn Jaafar.

The Communist Party of China certainly has the land and all the resources to flaunt grandiose headquarters as they did when they came to power by building a central government office that also houses the ruling communist party office to be bigger than the Forbidden City. However, they did not come close to construct skyscrapers or a business district at the city center and put the letter CPC on top of it.

Its neighbor Indonesia was once ruled by a party whose power went uncontested for 32 years. Having had bolstered an image as the initiator of the country’s economic development, yet they did not construct Golkar Tower whatsoever. Instead, their new office complex showcases an interesting design.

But there are similar instances elsewhere to compare.

High-rise party headquarters

Ušće Tower, built in 1964, remained the tallest building in Serbian capital Belgrade to date. It was home to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, the country’s communist party. Its supreme political status made it an airstrike target by NATO forces during the Balkan crisis in the late 90’s, despite of no strategic value. Several years later it underwent a revamp to add a shopping mall, thus restored the prime sense of modernity at the city center.

Named also after a leading political figure, Metzudat Ze’ev is an example of a high-rise office for political party in Israel, Likud. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was central in the 60’s Revisionist Zionism, a movement that sees a unified territory of Israel as opposed to the Arab-Jewish States of Palestine. Among the tallest building in 1963 at 60 meters high, it is now one of the oldest buildings in Tel Aviv, and remained a home for Likud-affiliated movement centers, institute, and museums, while the rest other space leased for private businesses.

Too high to afford

In the same year, London also saw the completion of Millbank Tower, an 118 meters building that housed the countries’ Labour and Conservative parties, although this was merely coincidental. The general function for office use subjected the parties to rents which steadily rises to the point where Labour party decided to vacate its headquarters a decade ago due to high annual rents. The United Nations soon followed suit.

In 2013, the ruling political party in Uganda constructed a 27-floor tower to house the National Resistance Movement headquarters in the capital Kampala. The ruling president helped raise funds to build the USD12.5 million Movement House by a hundred thousand of party members donation, and other means he initiated. It will become a mixed-use high-rise structure accommodating retail space, financial, office, and other leisure amenities.

Kuntskring Paleis

Suzie Wong Bar at Kuntskring Paleis, Jakarta

Ever since it underwent major interior makeover a couple of years ago, the restaurant, which is housed in a conserved building in Menteng – the Dutch remainings of urban housing complex with ecological concept arguably the maiden project of its time in Asia – quickly became one of the most celebrated culinary experience in town.

dscn7534Taking advantage of the characteristics of the vicinity is an apparent for the restaurant owner, the Tugu Group, to boost its existence in the culinary map.

But it is the mixture of elements inside that mainly draws the visitors both and the majority knowledge-thirst audience.

The preserved facade of what used to be a Dutch cultural center, now turned to an establishment.  

The 20th century new indies style cultural center by Netherlands-Indies architect and painter Pieter Adriaan Jacobus Mooyen opened in 1914 by the patronage called Fine Arts Circle whose initiatives brought exhibitions, musical show, and art lectures.

Now serving as an establishment, not only exhibiting souvenirs of colonial times, Kuntskring Paleis interior is decorated with the product of acculturation in early centuries, the epic Mahabarata.

A giant statue of Arjuna in the hall, for instance, forms an inseparable ornament to the wall across the hall.

Hence it entails the presence of Pandawa, consisting of five siblings in Indian mythology: Yudistira, Bima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sadewa.

If there is a time and place of historical value in Jakarta that can spur appetite, Kuntskring Paleis might just be the best in delivering such implosive effect.

In close vicinity, the management operates a number of restaurants that share similar aesthetics, notedly Dapur Babah Elite, Lara Djonggrang, Shanghai Blue 1920 and Samarra.

Thamrin Nine Project 1

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thamrin 9

The 42-floor UOB Plaza finally took shape over a decade after the 1997 Asian monetary crisis, when it stood in agony with bare pillars and storeys above 70,000 square meters chunk of land, behing the giant banner displaying The Westin Hotel, a supposedly main tenant hadn’t the crisis brought the construction to a halt.

Having undergone a redesign in 2005, now the brutal steel and glass high-rise office space graces the downtown skyline with its kind of ill-organized stacks facade, which becomes one of the most inspiring designs in Thamrin, overshadowing its tarnished reputation in safety as the flood that swept the city in 2013 brought casualties to people trapped in the flooded underground floors.

Australian-based architect firm Denton Corker Marshall, established in 1972 by the partnership of John Denton, Bill Corker and Barrie Marshall, have this building a cornerstone of their subsequent works in Indonesia.

One of them is the short-lived Entertainment X’enter, known among Jakarta’s frequent mall visitors as eX Plaza before it was demolished last year to be replaced by the current stoical residential and commercial tower The Plaza.

The shortlist includes the impressive Indonesian Trade Department Building in Gambir, five star Manhattan Hotel in Kuningan district, and Sentul International Convention Center in Bogor, which opened in 2010 and later hosted pop concerts of international singers.

Standing above 70,000 square meters site of previously Kartika Plaza Hotel (1969-1995), UOB Plaza is the first of several other Thamrin Nine projects that will integrate commercial and residential towers in the area.

BRI towers at twilight

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Ostrich is a fine art photography medium by think archipelago that specifies contemporary photographs for the use of journalism presentation. It explores a variety of new approaches to visual reportage, experimenting on possibilities which are counter-intuitive to the convention. Its deliberate consideration on shapes, patterns, and artificial colors aims to reconstruct the seamless transformation from image-making to story-telling. Visit Ostrich online gallery and see many series of fine art photography in


When dusk fell, workers swarmed the lobbies of BRI 1 and the adjacent BRI 2 Tower, and went out through multiple exit doors which lead to restaurants alley, the famous BRI garden complex, or simply to Sudirman street.

Amid falling office occupancy rate, currency rate, exports, economy figures, and all the uncertainties in the Q1 of 2015, white collar workers rushes in and out of high-rise workplace in the CBD with hopes and fears.

Dull expressions after relieved from the day’s work came altogether as the sun coming down the horizon. Artificial outdoor lights of BRI 2 soon came as replacement, which lasted from dusk until dawn.

Some had no idea that the oldest bank in Indonesia did not fully own the very tower that bears its abbreviation until 2013, ending over 3 years of legal dispute with Mulia Group subsidiary MPPC who took over the tower management since 1992 for USD400,000 annual compensation to BRI.

However, the failure to meet one of its condition in the 30-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement, that was, to build BRI 3 Tower by 1998, compromised MPPC position. Taking over the headquarter turned the balance sheet in the bank’s favor.

It topped the biggest government-owned banks by revenue, Q4 financial report showed.

Chinese Chamber of Commerce office George Town

Chinese Chamber of Commerce, George Town
On one hand, preserving old building brings a big return from tourism sector. Yet conservation cost aside, it actually pays a hefty price in the land scarcity needed to make way for economic development of bigger size and population. Is it worth it?

Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s branch office in Penang, Malaysia, dated back in 1928, at the decline of Qing dynasty and the rise of Nationalist movement in China, is one of the examples of Chinese preserved buildings overseas.

More than just protecting the site amid the modernisation—as seen across the block—conservation of such buildings in Penang, is a guarantee for indefinite time.

Penang has also preserved a number of Chinese ancestral temples.

This is an extraordinary commitment considering that keeping old buildings is inefficient as low-density offices cost space. Especially in a town that sits on a small island, separated by a strait from the rest of the country, space is extremely limited.

What the commerce says about conservation

High-rise buildings have in the past few decades slowly scraping the skies of Penang, keeping up with demand for space. But supplying office space within these low-density old buildings deserves a praise.

This is part of the solution to ensure continuous growth for commercial and tourism sector, although economic gains to land value ratio does not look too good.

In Singapore, for instance, the policy favors land reclamation, while the city administration in Jakarta compromises the protection of heritage sites for the sake of supplying new, high-density office spaces. In many ways, however, it is hardly that each cases be compared.

Han Awal’s conservation architecture

Han Awal Han Awal is fascinated by the way architecture conveys local wisdom as to what he discovered on his trip from Ise Shrine in Japan to Wae Rebo village in Flores, Indonesia. Wood material has the least durability, yet the indigeneous civilization rebuilt it, consequently forming a tradition.

Conservation was a principle he ignored until the late 1960s.

No less of an architecture works

In 1963 he laid out a nihilistic plan to rebuild the old town in Jakarta, a project he thanked god it never materialized.

Despite the common perception that conservation is a lesser work of architecture because nothing new is created besides patchworks, the person who had an interest in anthropology as a student rebuked this view by stating that this principle requires background research on social aspects such as history.

It is a process to earn wisdom, the one he valued most throughout his career.

The beginning of Han Awal’s conservation works

Grabbing more attention in national architecture scene ever since he designed the Atma Jaya Catholic University, located at Jakarta’s top central business district, decades ago, the recognition he received went far beyond as he started to focus on conservation architecture.

Some of the most prominent historical buildings in Jakarta, such as Jakarta Cathedral, Museum Bank Indonesia, and the National Archive Building owe the meticulous conservation projects to him, viewed as part of Indonesia’s second batch of architects following the Indonesian-born Dutch architects such as Henri Maclaine Pont who designed the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

Amid the fading hope in the eyes of many when the talks circles around preserving the persistently decaying old structures in Jakarta, he is adamant on his optimistic view that there is still hope. And he reminds us that there are many than thought who would shed the light.

Award winning Soeman HS Library in Riau

Hoesman HS Library

Soeman HS Library in Pekanbaru, Riau, won the 2015 ASEAN Architecture Award, eliminating 19 other building designs from eight Southeast Asian countries. Judges from each country selected the former legislative building of Riau renovated into a five-floor library for its striking amalgamation of the traditional features and the influence of modernity.

Decorative sculptures showing the local artistry and life values fill the walls. The exo pillars used steel construction. It is seen as an eclectic design, said to have taken the inspiration from a foldable book rest for holy books recitation.

Inaugurated in 2008, Soeman HS Library was named after a local writer born in Tapanuli, North Sumatra, in 1904. His Batak ethnicity (the surname HS is an abbreviation of Hasibuan) contrasts with his love for Malay literature, making him even more Melayu than the majority Malays claim themselves.

His best literary legacy is the book Mencari Pencuri Anak Perawan (Hunting the Virgin’s Kidnapper) in 1930.

Besides literature, he was also active in education movement, being a school principal and a high school founder in Riau. He died at the age of 95.

The rooster church of Menteng


Multiple pyramid-shaped roofs supported by large pillars as typically seen in art deco style is the main design features of GPIB Paulus Church in Menteng, Jakarta. Built in 1935 in the wake of the early 20th century economic crisis, then known as malaise period, the Dutch communities in the far colony had barely made it through with the financing after collecting enough donation from patrons inside the church councils in Europe and the Dutch East Indies.


Architect F. J. L. Ghijsels with the firm Sitzen en Louzada were commisioned to design the building. It was located at the central intersection of then Batavia’s primary housing district.

The Presbyterian church shares similar status to the Jakarta Cathedral in terms of historical and cultural significance in Indonesia. It is a symbol of interfaith peaceful coexistence when the governor-turn-president Joko Widodo visited both places on 2013 Christmas Eve.

As close as the Jakarta Cathedral is to Istiqlal Mosque, the biggest in Southeast Asia, GPIB Paulus Church stood directly opposing the Sunda Kelapa Mosque, creating a hospitable circumstances between different religions. Both are also listed among the conserved historical buildings in the city.

GPIB Paulus Church has a popular name among the Jakartans: Gereja Ayam. Its tower was decorated with a rooster, perhaps a weather vane in the old days. Decorate your desktop with these wallpapers, available for download via Purnadi Phan Photography Flickr account.



The great impersonator

Sports, music dan traveling are three things Laurentius T. Pesik like most. He excels in event organizing and works in Jakarta. He nurtured the love of mountain hiking in his formative years. Forming a group of hikers, he and friends eagerly searched for quite and cold places on higher altitudes. His goal is to reach every summit of the mountains he climbed and posed those proud moments in front of a camera. Now he thinks about sharing other no-less appealing photos down the city streets.

Tokyo Tower (4)

The capital city of Japan has shown that being number two does not mean losing out. A famous expression said imitation is the best form of flattery. But in Tokyo’s case, especially during the rapid post-war rebuilding and modernisation, an inspiration taken from another established city icon was the center of the people’s delight.

Even to those who are not aware of history, it is not beyond imagination that Tokyo Tower took inspiration from Paris city icon of the 19th century, the Eiffel Tower.

Constructed in late 50s, more than ten years after their unconditional surrender in World War II, the then turned pacifist country amassed their strength to get over the haunting past and start rebuilding the cities.

It aimed to be higher than the tower it was remodeled from. In its completion in 1958, with 13 meters height difference, it claimed the title of the world’s tallest free-standing structure.

They did not turn inward for introspection to create a modern symbol of this new energy. Instead, the Japanese willingness to embrace western influence and resulting in dramatic socio-economic changes like what they had shown during the Meiji Restoration era had repeated again.

But in post-war era, Japan heightened their take on western influence to a new level, more than knowledge, modernity, or the world view, but also the culture.

Were they lost in anxiety for modernisation? The tower has appeared in many fictionals, creative products, and a major vista in travel guide to Tokyo.

The project redesign of Shanghai World Financial Center

World Trade Center Shanghai

Nicknamed Bottle Opener, the trapezoid aperture at the top of the WTC skyscraper in Shanghai was originally designed in circular. But halfway up the construction, the city mayor and some residents stated their objection in what they deemed a semblance of Japan’s state symbol.

In 2005 KPF eventually got approval in a redesign submission, concluding the sentiment-fueled victory of the Chinese citizens over their ghost of the past, but on the flip side exacerbated the delay, already caused by the 1997 Asian monetary crisis, to 11 years in total to complete the then tallest building in China at 492 m.

The 9/11 effect on Shanghai tower construction

Besides the change of height from the initial plan 460 m, another cause of delay, in concern of design, was implicated by the post 9/11 scare which had pushed the engineers to come up with some desperate measures to plane crash scenario, such as adding 12 fireproof refugee areas and external elevators.

It was said that trapezoid was chosen because it is the most reasonable in terms of price, but rendering an extra cost at no less than USD200 million, adding a total cost of over USD850 million funded by an international consortium of 36 companies.

Although seven years later the twister-like Shanghai Tower would surpassed it by contrast height at 632 m in 2015, the World Financial Center still pride itself until today for the title the best skycraper built in 2008 for its simplicity in structural design.

It has also become one of the prized achievement for Kohn Pedersen Fox, an American-based architect firm widely accredited for supertall works whose first project was a conservation project of ABD Armory Building in New York, 1978.

Japanese developer Mori Building, whose first project in Shanghai was the HSBC tower, then named it on its completion in 1998 as Shanghai Mori International Tower, and whose president Minoru Mori considered Shanghai to have more vitality than Beijing, began the monumental work in 1997 at Lujiazui, the epicenter of Shanghai modern cityscape. Some said that he made the decision after the completion of Oriental Pearl TV & Radio Tower in 1994.