Decorative Art in Architecture as a Part of Bandung History

By: Dibyo Hartono
Bandung Society for Heritage Conservation (Indonesia)

Historical Backgrounds

Bandung is the capital city of West Java, Indonesia. Its roots dated from prehistoric time, when a group of prehistoric people lived on the northern part of an ancient lake. Some thousands' years ago the lake became dry and changed into the present Bandung valley. The city is located on high land surrounded by spectacular hills and mountains, and because of that has a much cooler climate than most of Indonesian cities. The name of Bandung has been known since the fifteenth century as a part of the Hindu Pajajaran kingdom. From 1821 until 1852 the city was closed to the European and Chinese people.

Art Deco

Art Deco is the contemporary Modern Design, Architecture, and a broad spectrum of Decorative Arts. It drew renewed inspiration from ancient arts and primitive arts, and was purified by ideas of the functionalists. In the United States it was known as "Modernism," and in France as "Art Moderne." Some said that it was a reaction to "Art Nouveau," and the other said that it was an extension of "Art Nouveau."

The term "Art Deco" was first used in 1968, in a book written by Bevis Hillier to describe the interrelated art and design movement of the era. Parallel to the movements in the United States were the three main movements in Europe. The first one was started in Austria and Germany, known as "Jogendstil." In contrast to "Art Nouveau," it emphasized the functional design that was based on logic and geometry. The second one was the decorative movement as an extension of "Art Nouveau," that can be identified from the highly colorful and ornamental style which ruled Paris in the immediate post World War years. Instead of maidens and flower sprays, arches, sunbursts, colorful geometric patterns, and floral abstraction themes were introduced. The third movement was the principle of Dutch Modern Decorative Art and Decorative Movement in Architecture, as the peak of the Amsterdam School from 1910 to 1930. It was the Dutch modern expressionist architectural style, a rational architecture which elements were derived from the structure.

The climax of Art Deco came in 1925 with the "Paris Exposition International des Arts Decorative et Industries." It had originally been proposed in 1912 for 1915, in order to inspire the French designers to develop works equal to that produced by their German contemporaries. The designers produced various abstract floral ornamentation's derived from "Art Nouveau."

In Architecture, the 1920's style was characterized by the design of pavilions with zigzagged setbacks, the use of unusual materials, the incorporation of decorative wall paintings, ornamental metalwork's, and decorative glasswork on geometric and floral themes. Many examples of the works from the peak of Amsterdam School era can be seen throughout the Netherlands. Many buildings are of an exceptional quality and have superb details.

Art Deco and the Amsterdam School in Bandung

Just like the influence of Hindu and Buddhist cultures in the 7th century, followed by the Islamic and Chinese cultural influence in 13th century, the Dutch cultural influence can be seen as just another part of other influences from abroad which shaped the Indonesian culture.

After the first World War, there were various movements in design and architecture, two of which were the Amsterdam School and De Stijl. The Amsterdam School stream has often defined as a reaction to the strict rationalism of Berlage in mid 20s. It is described as a non-theoretical and unsystematic in character, the very antithesis of Berlage's concept of communal architecture. It emphasized the individual artistry. It has same concept of decoration and design as Art Deco.

The Amsterdam School was a plastic and organic expressionist architectural movement with reference to Wright, and followed more constructional and functional principles. The Amsterdam School architects designed building masses of craftsmanship in wood, brick, iron, and painted glass. The architectural works were dominated by the undulating organic forms, used rough wrought stones, concrete, and iron. Their new communal housing projects were much more plastic in their accumulation and related fully to their immediate surroundings. The design concept showed the appearance of organic architectural plans. Building structures were not concealed and clearly visible. The decoration was derived from the structure.

There is an eastern cultural influence on the architectonic conception, including the Sundanese roof style. Of the important people in this movement are Van der Mey, De Klerk, Luthman and Kramer, who are among the most admired influence in Indonesia. These architects seem to have design influences on Indonesian architecture.

The city of Bandung architecture of that era was strongly influenced by Dutch design. It is the amalgam of Western and Eastern culture, which is sometimes called the "Indo-European" culture. In the first generation of Bandung Art Deco buildings, the similarity of the modern expressionist design concept of Van der May and Frank Lloyd Wright buildings were seen, for example in the Preanger Hotel designed by C.P. Wolff Schoemaker, with its geometric decorative elements on the exterior walls.

In the second generation of Bandung Art Deco buildings, the volume is the effect of static solidity, and is more accurately of plane and surfaces. The pure architectural symbol is the open box, as well as planes surrounding a volume, a geometrically bounded and weightless space. The villa of Ang Eng Kan designed by F.W. Brinkman in 1930 exhibits this aesthetical quality.

In the second half of the period, the architects used more simple design patterns like lines, and the towering cylinder that has a basic design similarity with the Isola design by Wolff Schoemaker in 1931. The dynamic interior space concept is clearly seen in the interior lay-out of the building.

A.F. Albers and the Late Art Deco

Architecture expresses the life of the epoch. The architectural concept of the modernist architect was defined by the aesthetic demand for return to simplicity of form. The play of basic form of masses brought together in light and shade. Some of the buildings designed by Brinkman, like the Singer building in jalan Asia Afrika and the villa Ang Eng Kan in jalan Sangkuriang which were built in 1930, expressed the modern composition of boxes of De Stijl.

The other beautiful basic building form which produces plastic power and aesthetical emotion, instead of the box composition mentioned before, is the cylindrical composition of form as the IKIP building design by C.P. Wolff Schoemaker built in 1928, and located in the northern hills of Bandung.

Decorative Art in the late period of Art Deco was related to the style of the modern dynamic and plastic architecture. It is the "streamline" architecture, and is one of the stylistic references of world modern architectural technology. The lightness of the building structure and the dynamic streamline facade of Homann hotel, Bank Pembangunan Daerah, Three Colour Villa, and the Dago Thee Villa, designed by A.F. Aalbers between 1935 to 1938 are the four examples that we can find in the city.

People sometimes called it the "Ocean Liner" style, its reference to the ship design expressing the goal of a modern society. It is the translation of machines into architectural terms; the expression of motion, modern technology, optimism, and social order.

The Decorative Art and the architectural development shows how the acceptance of the later and best of Western architecture allowed the Dutch influence to be absorbed without destroying the city's long term identity. We should see the cultural mixture as an integral part of a cultural continuity and part of the whole history of Indonesia. The buildings of the period are the treasure of learning, the delight in the work of another era and have to be taken more care of.


  1. Akihary, Huib, "Architectuur en Stedebouw in Indonesie", Grafiplan, Geeuweebrug, 1988.
  2. Duncan, Alistrair, "American Art Deco", Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1989.
  3. Hartono, Dibyo (, "Studi Sejarah Arsitektur Pusat Kota Bandung", Bandung Society for Heritage Conservation, Bandung, 1989.

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