Sat, 03 Jun 2000

Dutch buildings designed modestly, experts say

JAKARTA (JP): The Dutch colonial government didn't construct tremendous buildings during their decades of rule in ancient Jakarta, and this is chiefly because they were concerned with making money, experts said on Wednesday.

Joop Ave, founder of the Lestari foundation for cultural heritage conservation and revitalization, and Budi Sukada, second chairman of the Association of Indonesian Architect (IAI), told a seminar that most of the existing Dutch buildings in Jakarta were for the most part constructed and designed modestly.

According to Joop, a former minister of tourism, post and telecommunications, the Dutch government had no intention of developing their colonies. They took the money they made from their colonial exploits and threw it into the Dutch nation's coffers instead.

"Many great buildings were constructed in the Netherlands in the 17th century -- dubbed by them as the Golden Age -- with capital originating from here. That's why they didn't have any interest in building something great in Jakarta," he told participants in the seminar on conservation models in Indonesia, held by private-owned Tarumanagara University and Lestari Foundation at VOC Galangan Cafe in West Jakarta.

The presidential palace and Gedung Pancasila buildings in Central Jakarta, for example, were initially residential places during the Dutch colonial period, he said.

The Dutch, however, adapted a different policy in its other colonies -- such as those in India and the Philippines -- in which they constructed a number of elaborate buildings.

"That's why we can see several superb buildings with advanced Spanish architecture in the Philippines. Similar edifices can also be found in India," he added.

Sharing Joop's idea, Budi said that the 19th century Parliament House in New Delhi, for example, was 10 times bigger than the presidential palace complex in Bogor, West Java.

"The British colonial government even brought qualified architects from England when the parliament house was built. Such efforts were never adopted by the Dutch colonial government during their rule in Indonesia.

Most of the buildings here were constructed simply to please the modest tastes of the owners, most of whom were traders," Budi said.

That's why, he added, Jakarta doesn't have a single Dutch building with anything approaching real splendor.

The seminar also presented Malaysian architect Lawrence Loh, who had taken part in a number of restorations of old buildings in Penang, Malaysia.

"I believe that there's life in old buildings and that we should keep their originality," he said.

Lawrence said that the Malaysian government, which issued guidelines and laws for building conservation, had been paying great attention to the preservation of the state's heritage.

"It is an ongoing effort, 10 to 15 years. The NGOs started by creating an awareness program and also by continuously lobbying the government," he said.

He said at present there were six conservation zones in Penang with a total of 9,000 old buildings.

"It is about 10 percent of the total number of buildings in the area," he said after the seminar.(ind)