A Distinct Vision for Indonesian Architecture

Photography By Ivan Priatman

Ivan Priatman is an internationally educated Indonesian architect whose designs can be seen across Indonesia, from private homes to large buildings. His unique creations always ensure energy efficiency and natural lighting, which can be seen in one of his latest projects, the Avian Tower in Surabaya.

What is your educational background?

I studied architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, and received a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies in 2006. After a couple of years working in an architecture firm in Los Angeles, I pursued a graduate degree at the University of Southern California where I earned a Master of Architecture degree and a Graduate Certificate in Building Science.

What inspired you to become an architect?

Many things and experiences, actually, that sort of accumulated over the years. I particularly recall the time I lived in Chicago when I was in primary school. I remember being awe-struck by the skyscrapers, each cutting a distinct form in the city skyline; and how the literal shape of a city is formed by this collection of buildings and towers. Each building was designed by a different architect and each is different from one another. I thought of the skyline as a kind of visual symphony. So from a young age I’ve always wanted to design buildings, to sort of place a mark in the city skyline.

This early experience was enriched later on when I had a chance to study architecture in Rome. Spending months in Rome and all over Italy and Europe was a fantastic experience full of inspiration for me. Being able to see buildings from the ancient times, through the Renaissance and Baroque eras, to the modern era, getting submerged into the thousands of years of architectural history had really cemented my aspiration to become an architect.

Who is your architectural idol? How are your designs influenced by your idol?

I have many but none in particular. From the unknown architects of ancient Greece and Rome to the Baroque architects like Francesco Borromini, with his playful use and juxtaposition of geometry in architecture. I also like the work of Frank Lloyd Wright with the disciplined use of scale, proportions, and spatial sequence. I like both Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe for their design clarity, details, and sort of a logical, yet playful approach to architecture. I also like Rem Koolhaas for his blatant use of programmatic functions to shape architecture, and the interconnectedness and connections between the programmes and how these circulation patterns become tangible architectural elements on their own. Many of my designs find influence from these architects. I like to design buildings that are playful, bold, seemingly unique and random, yet very meticulously controlled, efficient
and logical.

What was your first project?

Before I came back to Indonesia after my graduate school in 2010, I had already started working on two different projects of totally different scales. One was my own house, and the other The Samator, an 111,000 sqm, mixed-use superblock with three buildings on a 1.8-hectare site area. The house was finished in 2013, some three years after the initial design. The other was finished in 2018, some eight years after the first design.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your whole career as an architect so far?

Being able to see the buildings that I designed built, occupied, and give joy and a sense of pride to the people that inhabit it; that somehow my buildings can make a positive impact to people. That’s my ultimate goal in doing architecture. I also like to see my buildings contributing to the city’s architectural discourse and cutting a distinct shape in the city skyline. Just like a dream I had in Chicago come true.

Where are your projects located? Are they all in Indonesia or are there some overseas?

So far, all my projects are across Indonesia varying from private house to mixed-use superblock. We’ve done projects across the nation from Jakarta, Bandung, Bali, Semarang, Malang, Samarinda, and so forth, but Surabaya has been our focus up to this point. We’d like to bring positive change to the urban landscape of Surabaya, one building at a time.

How can you explain in detail your design philosophy?

For me a good design is one that provokes emotions, responses and interaction; stirs an architectural discussion. I think good design should be fun. Good architecture should bring out the inner child in you, that makes you stare in awe, explore, walk through or run around the building, stop and rest, touch the texture and materials, take pictures, and be comfortable in the building. It also has to work, function well, and be efficient. I would say a building succeeds if it creates a long-lasting memory even after you have left the building, just like the Pantheon in Rome, or Borromini’s Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, or Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, or Rem Koolhass’ Seattle Public Library; all buildings that will always be imprinted in my own memory. I strive to make architecture that would create a memory that transcends the experience.

What sets your designs apart from other architects?

I’ve always heard feedbacks from friends and colleagues that my buildings are distinguishable from others because they are rarely straight. It’s either slanting, twisting, curving, or having something jutting out. While all of the remarks are true, I think what’s more importantly true is that the buildings I design work; perform well; very well-lit; energy efficient; and create a sense of place that provokes responses and interactions.

What projects should we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

If I tell you, it won’t be a surprise! But surely projects that are unique and you could say fun to look at.

What do you think is the future of office design?

I think office buildings in the future will be more integrated with other uses, like residential or commercial development, creating either mixed-use buildings in large scales or hybrid buildings in smaller scales. I’ve seen a growing trend of combining private houses with office spaces, creating an office-penthouse hybrid in smaller scale plots. On a larger scale, we have done a mixed-use block with an office building, a hotel and an apartment. These hybrids, I think, are the office buildings’ future.

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Ivan Priatman