Securing a National Treasure


Before relocating to Jalan MH Thamrin, Bank Indonesia resided in an old building that was constructed by De Javasche Bank in 1909.

Story by Solichin Gunawan and Anton Adianto
Photo by Solichin Gunawan & Atelier

The edifice was built at an interesting time considering the on-going development of architecture styles in Indonesia; it was built shortly after 1879, the where the Dutch Parliament sanctioned two laws (sugar and land). The decision spurred the growth of agriculture industry and encouraged commercial and governmental bodies to establish new of ces in Batavia, Medan, Semarang and Surabaya.

It was the start to the ‘Europeanisation’ of Indonesia, which changed people’s lifestyle and affected the Indonesian architecture. The edifice, originally built as the head office of De Javasche Bank and later reused as the Bank of Indonesia Museum, was one of the early works of a group of architects led by M.J. Hulswit, A.A. Fermont and Eduard Cuypers in 1909. Their style reflected the traditional (western) design – it’s replete with the aura and characteristics of a formal structure and order that makes it perfectly suited to its function to contain a monetary institution.

In the eyes of architecture critics, works by Hulswit, Fermont and Cuypers are masterpieces of traditionalist architects, but if we consider the time they practiced, we can see that it was around the time where the Beaux Arts architecture style was starting to emerge (1870-1920). This particular style was pioneered by architects from around the world who studied in one of the most prestigious architecture schools at the time, Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, France. This style of architecture does not contradict the modern function of a building with its visible usage and detail that is sourced from a certain history and period. On the contrary, it is very much open to ideas from other disciplines of art.

The former Bank of Indonesia in the Old Town showcases a strong influence of Beaux Arts, a style that puts an emphasis on clear layout flow, arrangements of doors and windows, as well as the disposition of the building’s wings in response to the layout itself. The remnants of its grandeur and grace are still palpable upon entering the main door and climbing up the staircase to the Banking Hall on the second floor. This is precisely the intention of the architects: to provide a dramatic ambience in spatial and human scales, which is in line with the plan to use the building as Bank of Indonesia Museum.

Nowadays, organising a museum is more complex than what it used to be. Before, a museum only served as space to display its permanent art collections. The modern museum is expected to cater to various functions and needs that might or might not be directly linked to the visitors, such as having adequate storage room and working spaces or workshops for the conservation and restoration projects. In fact, it is not unusual to see a museum functioning as the centre of activities, which means it’s equipped with auditoriums, temporary exhibitions in addition to permanent ones, a café or a restaurant (usually decorated in the same style as the museum), a souvenir shop, and other supporting facilities. These functions could be a great source of income for the museum. The same vision is applied at the Bank of Indonesia Museum.

The design concept is to reuse the building itself, which contains a treasured history of the Indonesian
architecture, and to maintain the continuity of the building that has remained in the corridor of monetary activities since the beginning. Therefore, the first stage of conservation was to restore the building’s original forms along with their details, which had undergone 06 several changes since it was opened for the first time.

Several features that were added after the war were reanalysed: if they still adhere by the basic concept of the original building as designed by Hulswit, Fermont and Cupers, then the features were said to be acceptable and were placed inside the building, otherwise some adjustments had to be made and that could include a total dismantling of an element.

The next stage for the building’s reutilisation involved several adjustments that were made to suit the modern needs, such as the comfort level of public facility, good lighting scheme and aeration, and other amenities that would make visitors feel comfortable. This was done by maintaining, or even re-enacting, how it used to feel to be inside the ‘directie’ rooms for the visitors. The same thing was implemented in several rooms, such as the service counters that look different from those found in modern banking system. The finishing materials’ original condition was preserved although in several areas there were damaged floors because of old age.

Marketing the Bank of Indonesia Museum, which can be considered a specialised museum, is not as easy as marketing other more generic museum. Moreover, the tradition to visit a museum is still not widespread in Indonesia. The first strategy was to present the museum as an appealing tourist destination for people from all walks of life. Various kinds of activities were introduced, giving visitors another reason to visit other than viewing the permanent collection. Paintings, sculptures, as well as traditional and contemporary handicrafts were also added to the museum.

Similarly, the auditorium was promoted through attractive events, like screenings of art movies along with discussion sessions, seminars, and more. Interactive exhibition rooms also garner special attention, in addition to the café and restaurant made for the social ones ‘to see and be seen.’ By reusing the old bank building to serve a new function as a museum through the steps and considerations mentioned, it is not surprising to see Bank of Indonesia Museum turning into more than just a vessel to document history, but also a part of the main tourist destination in the social and cultural map of Jakarta.

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