Event Space as the Solution for Kota Tua Jakarta

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Town Hall Renovation in 1973 (photo: James Cobban)

Town Hall Renovation in 1973 (photo: James Cobban)

Jakarta as a capital city suffers many aspects, yet it beholds hidden treasures such as Kota Tua. Especially on the subject of Kota Tua, there has been a high level of desperation. For more than four decades since the first preservation program commenced in 1970s[1], several revitalization plans have failed to be implemented, resulting in piecemeal projects that have fallen short to create substantial positive impact.

The problems in Kota Tua are layered and intertwined. Dilapidated infrastructure and polluted environment have created an undesirable living and working environment, encouraging businesses to move out and squatters and street vendors to move in. Those interested in investing in the area are quickly discouraged by the rigid yet insufficient heritage building regulations, lack of incentives, and lack of priority and coordination within the government to carry out the revitalization plan. Not to mention that the master plan has not been made public or accessible. There are 182 heritage buildings[2] in Kota Tua, most of which are located within the core area of Fatahillah Square.[3]. For privately-owned buildings, which comprise 70% of building ownership (Tambun, 2013), the cost of renovating and maintaining a heritage building outweighs its benefits, while for state-owned buildings; the condition is further restricted by limited lease duration to private investors.[4] While the owners are waiting for a promising change, the centuries old buildings continue to decay and fall apart.

Visualization of Kali Besar after revitalization plan 1973. (source: Cobban, 1985)

Visualization of Kali Besar after revitalization plan 1973. (source: Cobban, 1985)

Recently, however, the current city administration takes Kota Tua revitalization plan into its 12 Priority Programs 2013-2017[5] and announced that Special Economic Zone be planned starting 2014.[6] The SEZ will allow for the 160 hectares historic area to be managed by a single authority to ensure efficiency and flexibility. While the Special Economic Zone may take several years to be formed and the master plan 20 years, this has shed a new hope for the area.

Immediate and collective actions

In the meantime, two agents of change are needed to complement the long-term plan. First, a group of pilot projects that can acts as exemplary urban magnets for the area. This needs to be done immediately as the heritage buildings are becoming increasingly difficult to save with time, and collectively, so that the diversity of owners, users, and programs create engaging, vibrant points of interests and communities within the area. Such initiative is being proposed through the Jakarta Old Town Reborn Program led by Rumah Asuh and Erasmus Huis, which involves notable international and local architects and landscape architects[7] to collaborate with local government and building owners to reprogram 6 heritage buildings and 1 landscape area located along Kali Besar and Fatahillah Square.[8] At the same time, Jakarta Old Town Reborn Corporation has pioneered a pilot project of the conversion of Post Office building into Museum of Contemporary Art and Visitor’s Center, to be opened in March 2014.[9]

Jakarta Old Town Reborn Program Archipunctural Strategy 2013-2014. (source: JOTRW Curatorial Team )

Jakarta Old Town Reborn Program Archipunctural Strategy 2013-2014. (source: JOTRW Curatorial Team )

Second, creative festivals act as catalyst to revive the soul of Kota Tua. Beyond gaining substantial tourism and redefining the image of the city, festivals can be a powerful tool to cultivate the communities of interest Kota Tua aspires to accommodate and be identified with. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities[10], Jane Jacobs states that “a city’s very wholeness in bringing together people with communities of interest is one of its greatest assets, possibly the greatest.” Creative festivals in Kota Tua can be the center where the city’s young and creative minds come together.[11]

Jakarta Old Town Kotaku 2004 plan to "revive kota for artist & creative community within walking distance" (source: JOK document)

Jakarta Old Town Kotaku 2004 plan to “revive kota for artist & creative community within walking distance” (source: JOK document)

Learning from Venice and Malaka

Venice is Europe’s largest car-free urban area. Tourists come for its architectural-urban spatial quality, and mostly the festivals. In the 1980s, the Carnival of Venice was revived and the city has become a major centre of international conferences and festivals.[12] Venice hosts three of the world’s most prestigious festivals: The Venice Art Biennale, The Venice Architecture Biennale, and the Venice Film Festival where all the world’s greatest artists, architects and filmmakers celebrate with a backdrop of elegantly decaying historical buildings and canals. Jonker Walk, a popular tourist area in Malaka, started with regular weekend festivals from 18.00-24.00 initiated by the Malaysian government. Soon, it became a new tradition. Even though urban critics point out that Jonker Walk has become overtouristic and overcommercialized, it has achieved several points in preservation with a new spirit.

Art Biennale, Arsenale, Venice (photo: AudreyH)

Art Biennale, Arsenale, Venice (photo: AudreyH)

Kota Tua can foresee a revival by means of great festivals with contemporary affairs that measures up to international standards. Jakarta has already regularly hosted such events, only they are typically held in shopping malls or conference centers. Festivals such as Jakarta Food and Fashion Festival, Jakarta International Film Festival, Jakarta Architecture Triennale, and Java Jazz Festival can benefit from relocating to the abundance of diverse public and private spaces in Kota Tua.

It is important to note that festivals, if to become a powerful tool in reconstructing the identity of a district, must include participatory and community building aspects to it in instead of only accommodating spectators and consumers. Today, there are regular festivals taking place in Kota Tua, but most are traditionally themed and geared towards spectatorship. In the long run, this can greatly affect the authenticity of the cultural aspect of the district.

Kota Tua Creative Festival (KTCF), supported by Indonesian Diaspora Network, the City of Jakarta, and the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, aspires to be a festival that brings contemporary creative affairs and engage them with the social and physical spaces of Kota Tua. The event is proposed to take place in 2014 as the revitalization program commences. Held in open public spaces and decaying heritage buildings around Fatahillah Square and Kali Besar, the festival programs are designed to provoke discussions and reflections in broad disciplines, as well as propose alternative ways of enjoying spaces in the city. The program of the festival tests the long-term plan to turn the district into creativity and innovation center.[13]  Arts and culture programs have been enduring aspect of the master plans, evolving from proposed traditional handicrafts outlet in 1973 (Cobban, 1985) to proposed Museum of Modern Art Jakarta, contemporary galleries, and relocation of Institut Kesenian Jakarta (IKJ) in 2004,[14] to the realization of Museum of Contemporary Art in 2014 (Ida, 2013).

KTCF also works with LWG DMO Kota Tua (Local Working Group & Destination Management Organization)[15] to develop programs that engage the existing creative communities in Kota Tua. The festival hopes to create for its participants a sense of openness and involvement in the larger revitalization program. As mentioned in The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch, “moving elements in a city, and in particular the people and their activities, are as important as the stationary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part of it, on the stage with the other participants.”[16] The revitalization of Kota Tua can benefit from ideas and responses of its diverse citizens and visitors that feel a sense of belonging to the historic district.

Visualization of Fatahillah Square during Kota Tua Creative Festival 2014. (source: KTCF Curatorial Team)

Visualization of Fatahillah Square during Kota Tua Creative Festival 2014. (source: KTCF Curatorial Team)

City as Event Space

In The Manhattan Transcripts, Bernard Tschumi states that “architecture is not simply about space and form, but also about event, action, and what happens in space.”[17]Architecture and urban spaces are inseparable from events that take place within it. Millions of events construct the daily narratives and meaning of citizens’ lives in a city[18], and architecture and urban space are underutilized tool to construct events that can bring vitality to the city. Festivals are just one form of this. While Jakarta has recently witnessed a rising number of public events, the city could tap into this and use events as a tool to improve the social and physical conditions of dilapidated spaces in a city. For example, the city could establish a policy where incentives are given for events that take place in the places designated for urban change within a given time.

Evolution of Preservation

In Kota Tua, the concept of preservation has always been motivated by tourism.  A supporting motive may also be “not so much of what is being preserved as fear of what will replace it”,[19] since several of Jakarta’s beloved historic urban fabrics, such as Senen, have given way to modern developments insensitive to its unique economic and cultural history. The preservation concept of Kota Tua has evolved from a focus on adaptive reuse buildings for tourism in 1973 (Cobban, 1985) to include a place to live and work in 2000s(JOK, 2004), to become “a town of creativity and innovation” in 2012 (Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy of the Republic of Indonesia, 2013). Although the implementation of the master plan(s) has been painstakingly slow, the evolution of the concept is positive. A city district should not be mummified for tourism, but allowed to flourish into genuine culture by having communities whose livelihood revolves in the area and overseen by urban managers.[20]

While the guidelines concerning preservation in Kota Tua are constraining and may need revisions so it can be beneficial to the district revitalization in a timely manner, the most important aspects that need to be preserved and allowed to evolve are the unique intangible qualities that is not commonly found in many public places in Jakarta, such as diversity of users (tourist, students, locals),  cultural activities (photo-shoots/filming), and  leisure (biking, playing chess outdoors) that create a heterogeneous space unique to Kota Tua.

Although the preservation of Kota Tua will be mostly judged in the success of the revitalization of its physical spaces, the process to reach such state involves many aspects that are not architectural, mainly in creating systems to simplify complex bureaucracy, provide incentives for building renovation and target groups to occupy the district.

Hitting its fourth decade of revitalization attempt, it is too early to say this time the attempt will not fall short. Yet, so far, positive changes have rapidly taken place in the past year, namely the reorganization of street vendors, creation of LWG DMO, formation of Jakarta Old Town Revitalization Corp, Jakarta Endowment for Art and Heritage, inclusion in city administration’s 12 Priority Projects 2013-2017, the plan to create Special Economic Zone, the upcoming completion of Jakarta Contemporary Arts Museum, and the upcoming Kota Tua Creative Festival.

Meanwhile, complex problems need creative solutions. Perhaps the problem of Kota Tua itself is one episode in the city that allows for diverse community with common interest to come together and join forces: all stakeholders, from the building owners to street vendors, from government bodies to architects and urban designers.


[1] Cobban, James L. “The Ephemeral Historic District in Jakarta.”Geographical Review. 75.3 (1985): 300-318. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/214487>.

[2] Tambun, Lenny. “A New Hope for Jakarta’s Kota Tua.” Jakarta Globe [Jakarta] 24 Feb. 2013, Web. 21 Feb. 2014.<http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/archive/a-new-hope-for-jakartas-kota-tua>.

[3] Sugiantoro.  Appendix 2: Jakarta Case Study. 1st ed. Mandaluyong: Asian Development Bank, 2008. 105-162. Print.

[4] Anderson, Charles, and Jennifer Blake. “Saving Batavia.”Jakarta Globe [Jakarta] 4 Apr 2009, weekend ed. Print.

[5] Sak. “12 Program Prioritas Jokowi-Basuki 2013-2017.”Ahok. 4 Dec 2013. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://ahok.org/berita/news/12-program-prioritas-jokowi-basuki-2013-2017>.

[6] “Kota Tua Akan Dijadikan Kawasan Ekonomi Khusus.”Kompas [Jakarta] 26 Apr. 2013, Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://megapolitan.kompas.com/read/2013/04/26/15291755/Kota.Tua.Akan.Dijadikan.Kawasan.Ekonomi.Khusus>.

[7] The architects and urban designers include Dutch architecture practices OMA, MVRDV, KCAP, Niek Roozen + Wageningen University, and Indonesian architecture practices Han Awal & Partners + SHAU, Andra Matrin Architects, Djuhara + Djuhara, and Citra Konsulindo Utama.

[8] Jakarta Old Town Reborn Workshop Curatorial Team Document (2013)

[9] Nurcahyani, Ida. “PT Pembangunan Kota Tua Jakarta diluncurkan.” Antara News [Jakarta] 13 Nov 2013, n. pag. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://www.antaranews.com/berita/404742/pt-pembangunan-kota-tua-jakarta-diluncurkan>.

[10] Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Random House, Inc. , 1992. 119. Print.

[11] The idea of Kota Tua as a center for creative industries was first proposed in 2000s. Source: Jakarta Old Town Kotaku (JOK) Document (2004)

[12] Ciancio, Antonella. “New “kings” of Venice revel in carnival.” Reuters [New York] 20 Feb 2012, n. page. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/20/uk-italy-carnival-idUSLNE81J00T20120220>.

[13] “Old Batavia revitalized through Destination Management Organization (DMO).” Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy of the Republic of Indonesia, 21 Apr 2013. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.indonesia.travel/en/news/detail/940/old-batavia-revitalized-through-destination-management-organization-dmo>

[14] Jakarta Old Town Kotaku (JOK) Document (2004)

[15] Pratawisari, Fitri. “Pengembangan Pariwisata Perlu Peran Warga Sekitar.” Kompas [Jakarta] 10 Apr 2013, lipsus n. pag. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://lipsus.kompas.com/gebrakan-jokowi-basuki/read/xml/2013/04/10/11505024/Pengembangan.Pariwisata.Perlu.Peran.Warga.Sekitar>.

[16] Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. 1st ed. Cambridge: Joint Center for Urban Studies, 1960. 2. Print.

[17] Tschumi, Bernard. The Manhattan Transcripts. 2nd ed. London: Academy Editions, 1994. Print.

[18] Livesey, Graham. “Deleuze, Whitehead, the Event, and the Contemporary City.” Event & Decision: Ontology & Politics in Badiou, Deleuze, and Whitehead. Calgary: University of Calgary, 2007. 18. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://whiteheadresearch.org/occasions/conferences/event-and-       decision/papers/Graham Livesey_FinalDraft.pdf>.

[19] Semes, Steven W. The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation. 1st ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 140. Print.

[20] The idea of “urban manager” was mentioned by Jakarta Old Town Kotaku (JOK) members during a meeting related to workshop held in Erasmus Huis in December 2012

Diana Ang
Diana Ang is a junior architect at Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Hong Kong. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Rice University. Previously, she has worked at Tod Williams Billie Tsien
Architects in New York City
Daliana Suryawinata
She is the founder of SHAU Rotterdam, curator of Open City Jakarta,
lecturer, researcher and PhD-by-Design nestor at the Why Factory, TU Delft. She is chief officer of the Indonesian Institute of Architects, European Union chapter. Daliana is a graduate of the Berlage Institute Rotterdam (MArch) and Tarumanagara University in Jakarta (BSc). She worked at OMA, West 8, MVRDV, andramatin and Han Awal and Partners. Since 2006 she has been teaching at the Berlage Institute, the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture, and Delft University of Technology. Recently she received the ”ARCHINESIA Certificate of Appreciation 2012” and ”Indonesian Diaspora Award for Innovation 2012”. She is also an advisor to the architecture and urban design programs at the Erasmus Huis Jakarta for the period 2012-2016.