Who's Behind the New Look for Jakarta's Red-Light District


The acclaimed architect Yori Antar says that Jakarta needs a melting pot, not another mall. So after Jakarta’s governor chose him to transform the Kalijodo red-light district into a green park, Yori knew this would be his chance.

Photo by Yori Antar doc., Tazran Tanmizi and Toto Sugitous

Yori Antar’s passion is for redefining Indonesian architecture. An avid traveller, Yori has had experiences on the road that have opened his eyes to the undiscovered riches of Indonesia’s architectural heritage. In 2008, his conservation and reconstruction project Rumah Asuh was recognized by UNESCO and Aga Khan. In 2016, Yori was commissioned to alter Jakarta’s infamous Kalijodo red-light district into a park. “Jakarta needs Kalijodo. There was a time when people said ‘If you haven’t been to Kalijodo, you haven’t visited Jakarta’. We need to bring the slogan back to life,” Yori says.

“Kalijodo today is part of Jakarta’s lungs, a public space and, most importanly, a melting pot for people from different social classes,” he continues.

Before Independence, Kalijodo, which stretches between North and West Jakarta, was the Verona of Jakarta. The area was home for those who were looking to find their romantic matches, especially for Chinese Indonesians, who flocked to the area. At that time, Peh Cun was a famous ritual, where men and women would be on separate boats, throwing bean cakes to each other as a sign of attraction.

In 1963, the riverbanks became a favorite place for lower class members of society to find prostitutes. Eventually, this raised health issues, such as the transmission of HIV. Since then, the Jakarta administration has been trying to bring the place down. Earlier attempts failed, mainly because local gangsters continued to bring their prostitution business back before Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama changed the area.

“After many failed attempts from previous administrations, the 2016 transformation is the first successful project in changing Kalijodo,” Yori says.

Plans call for the area to have four main areas, including a green park, a playground, an indoor football court, an amphitheatre, an international-standard skate park and two supporting areas for a Betawi-style mosque and food court. The flourecent lighting set a warm ambience for visitors to relax.

The skate park, however, is where you find young people riding skateboards, longboards and bycicles. The park includes concrete ramps, iron railings, stairsets and is surrounded by a bicycle track.

“I didn’t plan to make a skate park until a friend suggested it to me,” the 55-year-old said. “Now, it is the generator that creates a dynamic environment in Kalijodo. It is an essential entity.”

Yori’s initial idea was to put in calisthenics facilities, taking inspiration first stage was completed in 2016. It took Yori only five months to finish, with three stages more to go.

Yori, whose full name is Gregorius Antar Awal, said he was given a simple brief from Ahok. Yori was asked to design a green area that would allow people to exercise in the sun. What Yori came Yori came up with, however, was inspiring.

“The brief is not complicated. Later on, I submitted my first draft. [Ahok] did not comment. He approved it with no hustle,” Yori says. “The project cost Rp 25 billion, funded by a Sinarmas Land corporate social responsibility initative. Expenses for landfill, however, needed Rp 10 billion.

Entering the landmark site, a child-friendly integrated public space (RPTRA) is to the right, serving as a home to young families with children. The kid-friendly area includes a futsal court and a playground that is open until 8 p.m. every day.

Behind, an open-air function hall with a translucent roof and a void with trees planted in the center appear, allowing the breeze to come in. In the evening, yellow from a trip to Brazil made six years ago, when he visited that nation’s world’s famous Copacabana Beach. “There were thousands of people there, and the fact that the beach is full of sport equipmentsand six-pack men, definitely surprised me the most.” Now calisthenics facilities can be found along Kalijodo’s jogging track, dedicated for those seeking a street workout.

Kalijodo is also a home for art communities. The amphitheatre is set beside the function hall surrounded by a 23-metre wall, filled by murals and graffiti done by famous Indonesian mural artists and bombers, such as Darbotz and The Popo.

On the north, you can find “Sumur”, a brick-and-steel well monument designed by Studio Hanafi. The monument depicts Kalijodo in the 1950s as a place to find your soulmate. It was built based on the Sanskrit philosophy of lingam-yoni that denotes sacred fertility.

For the lungs of Jakarta, Yori prioritized grass and shade trees for vegetation and minimized decorative plant usage. The architect said it was important for the park to maintain its role as a space for holding activities and to express creativities.

This year, Yori is working on the second phase: Building a traditional style mosque across the RPTRA. The mosque draws on the Betawi Gigi Balang motif and is adorned with a pourous gedek wall made of woven bamboo. The roof is assymetrical, referring to people’s prostration to God.

Yori says the third phase will establish a green riverbank, followed by building bridges and a food quay along the river for the last phase.

“People say it is too late to have an open space like this, meaning that green spaces are just a few in Jakarta and fenced in. Now, Kalijodo not only works as melting pot, but also as a heritage, keeping her history alive,” Yori says.

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Banyubening Prieta
Banyu has been a contributing writer to The Jakarta Post, Sorge Magazine and Metronome Indonesia after graduating from Parahyangan Catholic University with a degree in international relations. She is the owner and co-founder of the Jakarta-based organic restaurant and healthy catering business Burgreens and the co-founder of Suazad Media.