Opening-up Architecture, Re-thinking Life

By. Roy Voragen

Exhibition info:
Rumah Rumah Tanpa Pintu
Organizer: jongArsitek! (
Curator: Danny Wicaksono (Studio Dasar;
Participants: 12akitek; Daliana Suryawinata (SHAU); SUB Architects; DOT Workshop; Andrew Tirta (ILATAAJ); Indonesian Dreams; Kotakotak; Andreas Susandika; Rumah Indekos (Wagiono Bustami & Team); Setiadi Sopandi; HEH Studio
At Dia.Lo.Gue Art Space (Jl.Kemang Selatan 99A, Jakarta)

Architects can help to shape the multiple ways we live and their work can even empower us. Therefore, from time to time, it’s important to re-think the ways we live and how architecture can assist us in our lives. And the outcomes of this can seem outlandish. However, if we take the seemingly outlandish seriously we could become able to open-up new avenues in architecture as well as in life in general.

And an exhibition on architectural designs of houses without doors seems at first thought such an outlandish thought experiment. On my way to the gallery, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I was worried that it would be another experiment in postmodern architecture to deconstruct the in-/outside divide (in practice it often results in closed-off spaces). I was hoping to see a movie in which young architects go into the suburbs to remove all doors. The exhibition’s title – Houses Without Doors – surely triggered my imagination.

The exhibition is organized by the emerging think-tank jongArsitek!, a group of young architects dissatisfied with the current practice of and writing on architecture, and it’s curated by Danny Wicaksono. The Houses Without Doors exhibition is a continuation of jongArsitek!’s playful but serious exploration into the possibility of designing a house without doors in their submission for an exhibition in Jakarta earlier this year: 1001 Doors, Re-inventing Tradition.

Now, jongArsitek! offers a platform to a diverse group of young architects at Dia.Lo.Gue Art Space. And it’s a suitable place for such a project; the owners of Dia.Lo.Gue (‘dia’ means he or she, ‘lo’ you, and ‘gue’ I) want to instigate dialogues between art, artists, art lovers and the space. Architect Andra Martin did a wonderful job in re-designing this place into a serene, earthy oasis. However, the café and gallery are integrated while lighting and music are attuned to the café to create an intimate atmosphere, the danger is that art on display could be reduced to muted decoration.

The exhibition aims to achieve a mind-set change among practicing architects; they were invited to open their minds to explore new possibilities. This exhibition tries to achieve this by temporarily leaving the client out of the usual design process; most clients are not willing to go beyond what they already know and because they have the money and power, the client-architect relationship often results in more of the same, as we all can witness in Indonesian cities today. For this exhibition, the participants are given the freedom to broaden their horizons – and ours in turn.

In modern housing typology, doors are omnipresent: they obstruct the flow between spaces by establishing a public-private hierarchy. While doors frame places, they are easy to remove. And to push the Indonesian design culture to change, doors were not to be used. By omitting doors, the whole perspective alters and this has resulted in very different and intriguing contributions: from no doors to only doors (an object is no longer a door if it is not used as such, this is shown in the work by Indonesian Dreams).

Upon entering Dia.Lo.Gue one passes through the shop, where products of Indonesia’s finest designers can be purchased, before stepping into the art space where maquettes are placed in solemn silence. It’s a challenge for architectural exhibitions that life-size buildings cannot be exhibited.

A model is an abstraction of reality to clarify a part of reality or to propose a hypothesis for a future reality. The maquettes on display aim the latter. Often models can only be understood by experts and this exhibition primarily aims at architects, but the beautifully executed scale models are so appealing that the attentive lay person can comprehend these as well.

The models, mostly paper-based, miss the tactility of a real building. Participants could have gone more outside-the-box to create a degree of tactility, most models are still too conventional. Moreover, some models, such as those by Setiadi Sopandi & Team, took it as a layout challenge (which resulted in a maze in Sopandi’s case). Daliana Suryawinata’s contribution, on the other hand, achieves openness through the use of beads in different densities. Natural materials, such as bamboo, could also have been used to obtain the needed openness, with the additional advantage that they have a warm, hospitable feel to it (but they are often associated with lower socio-economic classes).

Setiadi Sopandi and Team

Some participants point out that a strict private-public hierarchy, in which the former is favored, is a form of paranoia. However, causes and consequences of this assumed paranoia are not discussed. Furthermore, two issues are left implicit, one practical in nature and the second political. The practical matter is that of comfortable living, in other words: the assumed need for air-conditioning among Jakarta’s middle and upper classes (of whom architects are members), and a.c. requires closed-off spaces.

While the curator opposes the idea of architecture as apolitical, the participants leave the political implications of their work too implicit. Many Indonesians will consider the openness of a house without doors as unprotected. Not only doors, but also window bars, fences, walls, barbed-wire and security guards are customary in Indonesia, which symbolize social status, the graving for security and a distrust of strangers while not providing real safety. Peter Nas and Pratiwo call this the ‘architecture of fear’.

How do open houses relate to the social environment? How to balance the need for privacy and quality public space? To design open houses requires raising the political question how we want or should live together and a multi-disciplinary approach and interactive participation could achieve parts of an answer.

This is a thought-provoking, although work-in-progress exhibition. I left inspired, hoping to hear more from these young architects in the near future. On my way out, I met an architecture student and she felt encouraged to see that there are more ways to practice architecture than she is currently taught at university.

This review essay has earlier been published by THE JAKARTA GLOBE. The author is a Bandung-based writer and he can be contacted at

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