Postmodernism and Jakarta's
urban structures

Wisma BNI 46, or Wisma 46, which is located in the heart of the Jl. Sudirman business district, is the tallest building in Jakarta. (JP/J. Adiguna)
Wisma BNI 46, or Wisma 46, which is located in the heart of the Jl. Sudirman business district, is the tallest building in Jakarta. (JP/J. Adiguna)

Jakarta is a sprawling metropolis of extremes. Its dwellers live in high-rise postmodern buildings reminiscent of sophisticated apartment buildings in New York City and slums that line the city's underbelly.

On the weekends, children from wealthier families spend their time in air-conditioned malls like Senayan City, Pacific Place and Plaza Indonesia while street urchins roam the busy and dangerous streets as their playgrounds.

Those who work in the city run the gamut from businessmen in ties and starched white shirts who chair daily meetings in their glass-ensconced skyscrapers while street vendors sell everything from beef-ball noodle soup to used books and trinkets at their portable stalls, ready to be wheeled away when the police arrive.

In the past decade, Jakarta has morphed into a "megapolis" that offers almost every imaginable international brands such as Krispy Kreme, Starbucks and Coffee Bean.

These brands are housed in malls and office buildings that are increasingly postmodern in appearance, using cutting edge architects from Indonesia, Singapore and other foreign countries.

These developments have caused significant changes in the lifestyle and everyday culture of Jakarta's dwellers.

Let's turn our attention to two of Jakarta's increasingly sophisticated structures: the Wisma 46 building and Plaza Indonesia X'nter (EX).

Wisma BNI 46 or, Wisma 46, is an iconic, 262 meter-tall building located at the heart of the elite business district of Jl. Sudirman. It holds the status of being the tallest building in Jakarta and Indonesia.

This building also happens to be the 123rd tallest building in the world. Wisma 46 was formally launched in 1996 and has 46 floors. It was designed by DP Architects Private Limited and Zeidler Partnership Architects.

The design of Wisma 46 deviates from office buildings such as the Wisma Bank Central Asia (BCA) building, also located on Jl. Sudirman.

While the BCA building features the modern characteristics of a "boxy" appearance with black steel and a glass facade, Wisma 46 has the appearance of a giant fountain pen. It is hailed as an iconic postmodern building in Jakarta precisely because of its appearance.

The blue hue of its glass windows and the silver steel which flanks its two sides and the "tip" of the "pen" indicate a rejection of strict rules set by modernism, which is rooted in minimal and true use of material as well as absence of ornament.

The design philosophy behind the shape of the building actually derives from BNI 46, or Bank Negara Indonesia 46 (established in 1946), which owns and occupies a third of Wisma 46.

Yussuf Chong, the director of Lyman Group, which is the developer of Wisma 46, says the curved top part of the building actually takes its cue from the sail evident in the old logo of BNI 46, depicting a sailboat.

Although most of the older generation would make the connection with the old logo, the younger generation, who are not acquainted with the old logo would refer to it as the "fountain pen" building.

Working in an efficient, highly-maintained building such as Wisma 46 also spurs workers to dress in a certain manner (i.e. sharp and neat). The building also instills pride in the representatives because "not just anyone" can be accepted to work in the companies that occupy the floors in Wisma 46.

Entertainment X’nter (eX) mall in Central Jakarta. (JP/J. Adiguna)

Entertainment X’nter (eX) mall in Central Jakarta. (JP/J. Adiguna)

While Wisma 46 is a postmodern structure that is first and foremost a commercial office building, Plaza Indonesia Entertainment X'nter (e'X) is a mall located in Central Jakarta.

e'X became one of the most upscale malls in Jakarta when it opened in mid-2004. Unlike its predecessor, Plaza Indonesia, it caters to a younger demographic of teenagers and young adults and enjoys tremendous popularity among these age groups.

The mall consists of several yellow and orange colored square-shaped buildings joined together at different angles with a bridge connecting it to Plaza Indonesia.

Sonny Sutanto, an architect who designed many "hip" restaurants, clubs and boutiques in Jakarta like Blowfish, Rustique, Puro, Dragonfly and Jade Boutique in Plaza Indonesia, was also part of the Denton Corker Marshall (DCM) design team that created e'X.

Sutanto said e'X is the pioneer of a new breed of "lifestyle malls" that extend the "basic needs" concept of buying and selling goods that is employed by older malls.

A lifestyle mall goes beyond the "basic needs" to create a one-stop destination where visitors can spend the whole day in the mall, from 10 a.m. to closing time, because the mall offers other forms of entertainment besides shopping.

To serve this purpose, e'X features high-end shops and restaurants such as California Pizza Kitchen and Fish & Co, along with a spacious bowling alley and state-of-the art Studio XXI cinema with seven screens.

Sutanto also believes that the spirit of e'X is postmodern. Unlike the "strict" and "stuffy" atmosphere and design of modern buildings, e'X is much more relaxed and laid-back. It is also "humorous" because it creates and invites multiple interpretations on the part of its visitors.

For example, LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) television screens are placed within the floor leading to the entrance, highly visible to all visitors of the mall.

Rather than placing the screens on the wall, where they "belong", the designers of the mall poke fun at the meanings assigned to the television by society, thereby prompting visitors of the mall to stop, even just for a second, to look at the screens and (re)formulate their own opinions on the object.

Some critics of the mall have voiced concerns over the heightened sense of consumerism that e'X celebrates. Coming mostly from the older generation, these critiques echo the postmodern thought that we are living in a "simulacra", a "world without depth".

While members of the younger generation are dazzled by the facilities and futuristic design of the mall, their parents worry about their lack of attention span, preferring to be entertained and amused at places like e'X instead of doing more "constructive" activities such as reading books or exploring museums.

-- This article is based on a research paper presented on Aug. 26, 2008 at a joint seminar organized by the University of Indonesia's Department of Humanities and the Department of Architecture.

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