Perspectives: Architecture, Nature and Culture with Indonesian Millennial Architect

Meet Mutiah from Indonesia, a Millennial Architect practicing in Jakarta who has been free lancing since 2014. She graduated from Brawijaya University, majoring in Architecture. Mutiah started working at a young age, encouraged by an architecture competition where she designed modular furniture made of recyclable materials. Her efforts bagged her 3rd place in the competition and gave her confidence to continue using her skills to help others. By 2018, she had designed 2 houses and a small retail store.

1 mutiah the female muslim millennial architect picture 1.JPG

Passionate about architecture and design, Mutiah shares that her profession can help people and add value to their lives.

“Spaces shape you and your daily life, but you also shape the space in the beginning. It’s a never ending relationship with the space.” Layout, new rooms, new trees – these are things that we add to influence the space and make it more comfortable/practical/beautiful but after a while, the space starts to affect the way we think, feel and act. Great spaces are scientifically proven to help people rest, learn or work better – that’s why we have designer coffee shops with beautiful lighting and nice chairs; 5 star hotels with soft cushions and lighting; silent libraries and quiet hospitals which are acoustically treated so that we can all benefit from controlled noise levels.

What Is One Thing You Wish You Could Change?

Mutiah hopes that regulations regarding project selection for public spaces can be changed. The current standard is to pick the cheapest offer, and it results in contractors downgrading a lot of materials, resulting in bad public infrastructure.

“It makes our buildings depreciate quickly because they never choose quality,” she shared.

She was referring to heritage buildings in their area where she saw that the contractor had downgraded the laminates used. In a public structure that has high foot traffic, beauty and quality must come together, otherwise it becomes fragile and breaks quickly.

Nature and Architecture

We spoke at length about how Mutiah loved nature, and she pointed out how architects should listen and observe nature more, incorporating it into their design. “Architecture is not something in an empty space. It comes into a space that was already made before us and we just change the space into something that we can use.”

3 Modern Betawi House in Jakarta, Indonesia. Mutiah's competition entry for Indocement Award, 2015.jpg

She gave an example of how there was library built by a lake in Indonesia back in 2012. Unfortunately, the design did not take into consideration the environment of the area which had higher humidity and softer soil on site as it was close to a body of water. The result is that there are now cracks in the foundation and the cement is unable to hold ground as it should – the building look dilapidated, a waste of public money.

Mutiah points out that unfortunately, sustainability is perceived as an expensive concept in Indonesia, because people look at the cost only. Many continue to build without regard for the direction of the wind, which can cool a room by up to 5 degrees Celsius. Some also fail to consider the sun’s path, opting to put rooms directly in front of sunrise or sunset, thereby making the rooms up to 10 degrees Celsius hotter during certain parts of the day. Adding soil to the rooftop – a new trend starting to take root in Indonesia, is also something that should be widely spread as the soil on top can reduce the heating of the root, and reduce water run off during the rain.

To change this situation, she suggests that there are more competitions for sustainable design, as these can raise awareness for practicing architects. The awarding ceremonies and displays which are usually publicized also help educate project owners. Similar to the Philippines, there isn’t enough information in Architecture University for students to really learn about sustainability, nature and its deep relationship with architecture. “We educate with our designs.” So every building designed sustainably is a near permanent reminder and lesson on how to live in harmony with nature.

4 Mutiah's proposed design for Palangka Raya Monument, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.jpg

Beyond architects, she believes that building owners also need to be educated, and that the legal regulations of construction today should be adjusted to a world with climate change, so that the designs are required to become more nature friendly. Many times, regulations are Western based, failing to take into account the culture and climate of the South East.

Muslim Female Architect

Architecture has a history of being a “man’s industry” so when asked about her thoughts as a Muslim female architect, Mutiah mentioned that there is some perception that women don’t make good architects. She attributes this to the behaviour of some female architects that don’t visit the construction site, and thus look lazy or scared. On a personal note, she makes sure to visit the site on a regular basis to erase any notion of this perceived weakness.

In terms of working with different faiths, Mutiah shared that there are no problems working with those of other beliefs. In fact, one of the biggest mosques in Indonesia – Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, was designed by a Christian architect.

2 her favorite structure which was designed by non-muslim Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta. This is the pic, originally taken from id.wikipedia.org.JPG

Building for the First Time

For those on the first construction journey, Mutiah suggests a list of questions that need to be answered. What you need? Who will use it? What are their habits? How often will it be used? What functions will the space provide?

It’s expensive to make mistakes on a wrong building so she suggests getting an architect so that you learn and save yourself the trouble from costly mistakes. Construction can be very stressful, so the practical knowledge of architects can really help create a space and peace of mind.

Dreams

Mutiah dreams of becoming a philantrophist and architect – a person that can help design community buildings and structures, especially for those that cannot afford it. “Everyone has the right to a good house, not a big one, but one with good quality that provides comfort and proper temperature.” She wants to help those in the slums and give free design, and possibly help them get some grants.

She also dreams of walkable cities with no air pollution – a problem that continues to plague most countries in South East Asia. During the discussion, part of the walkable city plan would be to integrate more trees into public spaces like highways, roads, airports, parks, markets, etc. Trees, as shown in the image below, can help reduce the temperature of different surfaces by up to 33 degrees Celsius. She suggests that a tree class with practical uses for architecture might be very useful.

5 Shop-house in Malang, East Java, Indonesia. one of my built projects in 2015.JPG

Best, Worst and The Future

The best thing about the job is meeting many people, going to many places and solving different kinds of problems. It excites Mutiah and is something she is passionate about. On the other hand, it’s also a really tough job – having to juggle so many things at once, taking so many things into consideration. It’s like a big puzzle with rules for each piece. It’s also difficult to match the idealism of an architect with the realistic regulations and budget limitations of the owner. Finally, one of the most heart breaking parts for some architects is that the designs come from their heart but the building is not theirs and so they don’t have complete control over what happens after the initial design.

To manage the stress, she makes sure that she travels, an activity that makes her very happy and exposes her to other designs and other ideas. “If you are designing, you must be happy. If you are stressed, you cannot produce good things.”

Looking forward, Mutiah shares that she has a mind-set of learning, because if she stops learning then she cannot add value. This learning, she hopes, will help her fulfil her responsibility to build with future generations in mind – children and grandchildren, so that they can grow up in cities that are better than what we currently have.

If you liked Mutiah’s perspective and work, please continue the conversation and contact her at mutiahabdat@gmail.com For more information on acoustic design or how to use trees in partnership with architecture, please email rafdionisio@avdph.com

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