Sunyata: A Newfound Statement of Indonesian Architecture


A look inside the Indonesia Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018 that champions "emptiness" inside a busy, world-renowned event.

Indonesian Architect Association (IAI) is participating in the Venice Architecture Biennale (VAB) for the second time this year. After going with the “Craftsmanship” theme four years ago, this time they have chosen “Sunyata” to respond to “Freespace”, the main theme of VAB 2018. This year, the attendance of Indonesia Pavilion is fully supported by the Indonesian Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf), which is represented by its vice chairman Ricky Joseph Pesik as one of the commissionaires. Indonesia Design was invited to Venice, Italy to see the installation.

VAB is one of the most celebrated architecture exhibitions in the world. This event does not merely showcase what have been designed and built, but it also challenges current topics within the architecture space and widens the discourse for the future. This year, curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara picked the theme of “Freespace” with hope to burrow into the aspirations, ambitions and generosity of architecture.

IAI and Bekraf announced an open application to Indonesian architects in mid-2017. The submissions are judged by prominent Indonesian architects, academics and a film director. By the fourth quarter of 2017, the curator team for VAB had been chosen. They are Ardy Hartono, David Hutama, Dimas Satria, Johanes Adika, Jonathan Aditya and Ary Indra, acting as lead curator. Their winning concept is called “Sunyata”, a Sanskrit word that means “emptiness”. The judges praised this concept as it provides a new way to appreciate Indonesian architecture.

To express the emptiness, the team hangs a sheet of white paper to form an open curve, filling the space that was once a former bullet warehouse of Venice Arsenal. The colour selection, the simple form and the silence within are unexpectedly poetic. Tucked away from the entrance, the Indonesia Pavilion offers visitors a place of rest, while giving a way to experience Indonesian architecture.

Under the giant paper, there are several precedents that have been chosen to represent the “emptiness” in Indonesian architecture. These include Rumah Betang of Dayak Tribe, which represents our vernacular architecture, and Artotel Sanur by Studio Tonton and Masjid Agung Tubaba by Andra Matin representing modern architecture.

There are two openings on the paper through which people can walk and enjoy the white space. The curators expected the room to remain silent so visitors can enjoy the serenity offered by the installation. What happened is the opposite. The pavilion was constantly full of people, with some seemingly taking in the simplicity of the space, while others are busy taking pictures on site. Picture-taking is understandable, as the installation is indeed photogenic.

The exhibition started on 24 May 2018 and was open for public visitors two days later. Visit the Indonesia Pavilion at the Venice Arsenal and experience the pavilion yourself. The exhibition remains open until 26 November 2018.

Experiencing Vernacular Living

Andra Matin is the only Indonesian architect who is invited by VAB curators to have a solo pavilion in the exhibition. Responding to the main theme, “Freespace”, Andra designed the 5x5 metre space into a wooden construction. The façade of the pavilion is made of thin wood strips and woven by Byo Living, while the interior is made with wooden boards.

The pavilion tells about the levelling in Indonesian vernacular architecture. “Indonesian traditional houses were built on different levels. Some are built on the ground like the Honai (the Papuan traditional house) of the Dani (one of the ethnic groups in Papua), and some others raised the ground even as high as the trees. Here, I designed the pavilion vertically so the visitors can feel the high-level living,” says the architect.

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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.