Indonesian Architecture: A Story About Indonesia's Design Identity


Architecture is often considered to be a cultural symbol and a work of art of a particular place. In this case, Indonesian architecture reflects the diversity of Indonesia’s cultures. Keep in mind that Indonesia has 34 provinces, each of them unique in their own way.

As such, Indonesian architecture takes many forms and styles that possesses distinctive features and traits with a story to tell, making the archipelago one big storytelling land. Here are some of the popular styles of Indonesian architecture you want to know.

Traditional Style Architecture


Each Indonesian sub-culture has its own distinct form of traditional vernacular houses known as Rumah Adat. The concept of this architecture is based on the traditional beliefs and values upheld by the local society. There is no architect or designer to help them built the Rumah Adat. In fact, they made these houses on their own with the help of a local master builder or a carpenter and yet they still manage to create such complex architecture works with elaborate design and high aesthetic value by only using natural materials.

Despite the diversity of the traditional style architecture, all of them still have similarity in some way as they share a common ancestry, Austronesia. For one, the edifices are made to adapt to the environmental factors of Indonesia, such as its tropical climate.

Picture a longhouse on stilts with a steep sloping roof to accommodate the environmental situation — this proves that traditional architecture is already so advanced, seeing how they put a lot of consideration before building something and can work with whatever they have.

Hinduism and Buddhism Architecture


This religion-based style was born out of the influence of both Hinduism and Buddhism during the Indianized period of Indonesia, between 4th to 15th century, particularly in Java. These remnants of the period showcases places of worship that were once part of bygone Indonesian kingdoms.

The concept of this ancient Indonesian architecture follows specific rules that were established by religion. The main goal was to align the building with forces of nature, maximizing the place’s holiness and maximizing its effectiveness as a place of worship. The materials used to build the temples are usually limestones or bricks, put together with a locking mechanism between each stone, using mortar or a mix of vine sap and palm sugar as the binding agent.


The difference between Hinduism and Buddhism-inspired architecture is that the former tend to be taller with pointed crowns, while the latter uses stupas, or dome-like shapes ornaments. A lot of remarkable structures made during this period relish in very sophisticated design, detailed decorations and majestic reliefs. Some of the examples are the Dieng plateau in the volcanic complex in Java; the earliest temples in the island and the finest and largest of Hindu architecture, Prambanan; and the World Heritage Buddhism monument, Candi Borobudur.

Islamic Style Architecture


The signature of the Islamic style is derived from their place of worship, known as a mosque. Islamic influence started in the 15th century, where it was widely used in Sumatra and Java. In the beginning, the mosque architecture design was combined with the past traits of Hinduism and Buddhism, Chinese, and other local cultures, creating the vernacular architecture of the time. The design uses multi-tiered roofs resembling the Hindu’s Mt. Meru concepts, and towers resembling the form of a Hindu-Buddhist temple. They even used the same materials to achieve a look that's exotic yet timeless.


During the 19th century, the Indonesian Islamic style architecture underwent a significant change as it welcomed influences by Arabian countries. By bringing domes and minarets into the Indonesian Islamic style architecture, more depth and colours were added into Indonesia.

Palace Architecture


Indonesia had various historic kingdoms spread across the archipelago and evidently some palace architectures in various places. Normally, palace designs are based on the vernacular styles of the area in that time period. Though based on traditional houses, the palace is designed and built with grandeur and majesty. Plus, later on in our history, sometimes you'll find a touch of European elements that are much more sophisticated and opulent, appropriate for the residence of royalty.

Colonialism Style Architecture


The Dutch used to colonize Indonesian for three and a half-centuries, and it's no wonder that the influence of the Dutch is so strong and has become an essential mark on Indonesian architecture since the 16th and 17th centuries.

Row houses and canals with masonry and brick as the primary material of the buildings. At first, they did not consider adapting to Indonesia’s environment conditions, which turned out to be disastrous. Later, the Dutch learned from this mistake and started to incorporate Indonesian architecture style to the design as an effort to adapt to the environment. This triggered the birth of the Indies architecture style in the 18th century, which is characterized by large windows for ventilation, deep verandas with European decorative elements such as pillars, and Javanese style roof as additions to the original Dutch architecture style.


Indies style, inherently an Indo-European hybrid, was implemented in various establishments such as government buildings, train stations, hospitals, business venues and hotels. By the end of the 18th century, major cities of Indonesia were greatly influenced by this style and to this day, we have a significant amount of buildings with colonial architecture. Despite the grim origins of colonialism, this style is still a major part of Indonesian history.

Post-Independence Style Architecture


The 1920s Javanese art deco style made a comeback in the 1950s and became the root national architecture style. Politically, it was a way Indonesians liberated themselves from any trace of Dutch influence and was an expression of freedom. Named the Jengki style, based on the word “yankee” of American armed forces, the architecture was highly influenced by American mid-century style architecture. It uses a more complicated volume of structures than the former modernist cubic and strict geometric structures of the Dutch style architecture.

In the 1970s, the government began to promote the country's indigenous architecture Indonesia again. By the 1980s, a lot of public buildings have fused their design with local aspects, few of them in an exaggerated way.


One of the examples is the state office in Padang that includes a large concrete of Minangkabau-style roof. Despite the outstanding effort, some of the outcomes came out looking less magnificent than anticipated as attaching a traditional element to a modern building is not as easy as it sounds. Some did come out beautifully, such as the original design of Terminal 1 and 2 of Soekarno-Hatta Airport.

Contemporary Style Architecture


Like the rest of the world, the international architecture style began to pick up momentum in Indonesia in the 70s, as seen in the rows of skyscrapers decked in glass, steel, and concrete. Ultra-decorative ornaments subsided and were replaced with modern and post-modern nuances, creating a booming growth of urban and contemporary construction that shapes Indonesia’s city’s skyline today.

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