Johan Silas: Encouraging the Kampungs of Surabaya


Johan Silas is one of several graduates of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) who initiated the architecture program at Surabaya’s 10 November Institute of Technology (ITS). Having studied in France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the UK; Johan has had a career that has been dedicated to urban planning, especially for the lower-and mid-end residential areas of Surabaya. For his work, he received a Habitat Scroll of Honour award from the United Nations. In this article, Johan shares his vision with Indonesia Design about the city he has been living in since his teenage years.

Photo by Johan Silas Doc.

What was the story behind the establishment of the architecture department at ITS?

As a response to the shift of power in government and seeing the good prospects for construction in East Java and Surabaya, a group of architects who graduated from ITB took the initiative to start an architecture department at three universities. We aimed to create a workforce of professional architects who would certainly be needed in that era of construction. The first to be established was the department at Bung Karno University, which later changed its name to Merdeka University. The one at ITS followed, and two years later the last department was established at Petra Christian University. The establishment of these architecture departments was based on faith, dedication and strong will.

As an architecture graduate, why focus on urban planning?

The chief of the local Kodam [Military District Command], who was tasked with becoming the mayor of Surabaya after the failed military coup [of 1965], happened to know me and asked for my help in creating a team to draft a building plan for Surabaya. As an army officer he realised that even a war needs planning, so a plan for building a city was a must. By making use of the resources available from ITS, Airlangga University and IKIP; we assembled a team that consisted of young graduates, around 30 years of age. As a result, in 1970, we finished an outline plan and it was vetted by the DPRD [Surabaya City Council]. Actually, three years later, the Surabaya Master Plan 2000 [MPS 2000] was completed but the DPU [Public Works Department] wanted some revisions, which were to be done with the help of foreign consultants and workforce, such as in the transportation plan. Finally in 1978, the MPS 2000 was approved by the DPRD.

As it turns out, architecture and urban planning are a [single] entity, like fish and water, which can’t be separated because they need each other.

What do you think about urban planning in Surabaya?

Since the administration of mayor Soekotjo, who began the development of Surabaya during the start of the New Order, to [mayor] Poernomo Kasidi and [incumbent mayor] Tri Rismaharini, every mayor has been consistent in administering urban development as drafted in the MPS 2000. From a structural point of view, the city has had no significant changes. What has changed is the in-fill, because it has been difficult to predict the challenges and opportunities we are going to face in the coming years. As a whole, the RT/RW [neighbourhood units] of Surabaya in 2014 have adhered to the MPS 2000, except for several green areas that have been removed, or that are almost gone. This has been Surabaya’s asset in becoming an ecological city that is smart and humane.

What’s your opinion of the local administration’s plans for development?

What is being developed in Surabaya by the mayor has been empowered kampungs to improve their economic condition to reach level of the city. It is how we have changed a subsistence economy into an urban economy with market traits. A lot of the economies of the empowered kampungs have improved through their own effort and power, since the city’s economic condition has been rapidly increasing, although some needed an extra boost.

This achievement is inescapable from the bettering of the city. The local administration, in an extreme move, has also introduced free schools and health services. There is also social security for underprivileged sick people so that they can get treatment in hospitals.

What has impressed you most about Surabaya?

The egalitarian nature of the people, including their openness and strong solidarity in developing the city.

However, these characteristics are beginning to fade away. At the moment, the number of residents who were not born in Surabaya has started to surpass the number of local residents. The presence of kampungs is needed to maintain and preserve the traditional character and culture of Surabaya.

What are your hopes for Surabaya?

Surabaya needs to go forward on its own strength, not only for the pride of the city, but to also show and prove to everyone that “I can”, therefore “we can”. A lot that we have accomplished in Surabaya cannot be found in other cities, for instance our fire department, which can arrive at the scene of fire in five to 10 minutes after getting the call, bringing along with them several fire engines, water trucks to refill the fire engines, tankers to supply drinking water for the ambulances, Public Order Agency and Community Protection [Linmas] officers, the police and [state-owned electricity company] PLN, all of whom can respond to a call through walkie-talkies, which are extremely inexpensive.

Can Surabaya become a world-class city?

Surabaya has to move forward to ensure its position among cities from other developing nations, such as Korea, Japan and others, in order to maintain the dignity and self-esteem of Indonesia. Today, there are already a lot of other cities like Surabaya that aim to become world cities.

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Barbara Hahijary
Barbara earned her bachelor's degree in architecture from the Interior Architecture Program of the University of Indonesia in 2013. Historical or heritage buildings, as well as utilitarian design, fascinates her as it is the interaction between people and architecture that remains her favourite topic to explore. Besides architecture, her interests include design, handcrafts, literature and social issues.

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