Bandung Art Deco
Admiring the beauty of old buildings in "Parijs Van Java" for the sake of nostalgia
Bandung has been attracting visitors for years. In 1941, approximately 200,000 visitors flocked to the flourishing city, making it a major tourist destination. At that time, Bandung was the most modern city in Indonesia due to its meticulous urban planning and large profits from productive plantations.
Today, Bandung’s precious heritage from its heyday is still well preserved and remarkable to see – specifically Bandung’s Art Deco buildings. Art Deco is an infl uential visual art design that combines eclectic traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. It was first born in France and went worldwide from the ‘20s up until the ‘40s. In Indonesia, Bandung has the largest area of Art Deco buildings. This city is also home to one of the world’s largest remaining collections of Art Deco architecture from the 1920s.
So prepare your camera and come with me as I stroll around the city on the hunt for Art Deco buildings. But before that, let me take you back in time to when Bandung was first developed...
Back In Time
Bandung was just being inhabited at the beginning of the 19th century. The fertile surroundings of the Priangan highlands attracted the Dutch in developing this area, which at that time was mostly covered by forests and sparsely populated. Access to the area was difficult, as one needed to take an arduous trip by a boat or raft and to cross mighty rivers like the Citarum and the Cimanuk.
The first coffee plantation was established on the southern side of Tangkuban Perahu in 1789, and a horse track was built three years earlier. During the Raffles’ tenure (1811-1815), some state land was sold to entrepreneurs – who cleared the forested slopes and started to plant coffee, tea and cinchona (kina), all of which flourished since Tangkuban Perahu has fertile soil due to the volcano. From 1831 to 1870, under the harsh “Cultivation System”, a lion’s share of the profits sent back to Holland came from the coffee beans grown in this area.
By the end of the 19th century the Priangan highlands were open to private investors and the number of plantations jumped to over 150. The Dutch then decided to develop Bandung as a modern city – they even decided to move the colonial capital to this city. Fast forward to 1955, when Bandung hosted the first Asia-Africa Conference, one of the most important events leading towards the Non-Aligned Movement. Today Bandung is home to 2.5 million people, and has a major highway and a busy airport that connects the city with the outside world.
With such rich history, there is no doubt that Bandung has a number of old buildings that are very interesting to see as they are well preserved. The first place to visit is on Jalan Asia-Afrika, which is the largest area of Art Deco buildings. One of the most interesting architecturally is the Societeit Concordia, the first notable and most historical building on this street and probably in the whole of Bandung for that matter.
Built in 1895, Societeit Concordia served as a clubhouse for the rich in and around Bandung, mostly the successful Preangerplanters. This building also hosted the first Asia-Africa Conference in 1955, also known as the Bandung Conference, which was attended by representatives from 29 countries. Prior to this international conference, Indonesia’s first president Sukarno changed the name of the building to Gedung Merdeka (Independence Building).
In 1965, Gedung Merdeka witnessed another international event, the Asian-African Islamic Conference. In 2005, some of the conferences of the Asian African Summit, and was attended by representatives from 106 countries, were also held here. And in 2015, Gedung Merdeka became a part of the third and 60th Anniversary Conference Summit that was attended by representatives of 109 countries. Today, Gedung Merdeka serves as a museum commemorating the Bandung Conference.
Still in the same neighborhood, the Grand Hotel Preanger (now Prama Grand Preanger) and the Savoy Homann Hotel are two other Art Deco buildings you must see. These two also took part in the international conferences held at Gedung Merdeka by providing accommodations for the delegates. Many of the Third World’s luminaries stayed there. What’s more interesting? Visitors can see the hotel’s guestbooks that are full of the signatures of the world’s important people.
Those two hotels as well as Gedung Merdeka are such superb heritage examples of Art Deco architecture in Bandung. Although most of them have undergone some renovation, they still retain the original facade of horizontal lines, curvy corners and geometric boxes that are the characteristics of Art Deco design.
Let’s move on to Jalan Braga to find more Art Deco buildings. Braga is the heart of Bandung in its golden era where one could find a Swiss watch, a tailored suit, and more. This street is also home to the Majestic, the first cinema in Bandung that was built by Schoemaker in 1925. There is also the former DENIS Bank, designed by Aalbers in 1935, which now belongs to Bank Jabar Banten (BJB). Like the Savoy Homann Hotel, the Majestic Cinema and the DENIS Bank also have curvy facades and vertical towers. Despite the modern life in the area, Braga still boasts the trace of Art Deco’s heyday.
The Parijs Van Java
Now, let’s leave the city center and go to the Gedung Sate area where the golden era of Bandung first flourished in 1920s. In 1918, the Dutch began constructing a “new town” to the northeast of the old business district. Gedung Sate (the city’s icon) and its surroundings, including the beautiful De Driekleur (now BTPN Bank), are the result of this development. Adorned by trees along the streets as well as parks and Dutch colonial houses and villas, this area is why the locals have dubbed Bandung “Parijs van Java”.
Jalan Riau, Jalan Aceh, Jalan Belitung and Dago are also must see for everyone coming to Bandung, but since we are still on the hunt for Art Deco buildings, I’m going to take you up into the hills. On the road heading to Lembang (the hilly area in Bandung), stands Vila Isola. Built in 1930s by the founder of Indonesian news agency ANTARA, Vila Isola is now a part of the Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI). This building is remarkable for a photograph – it is a masterpiece of Wolff Schoemaker, the Java-born Dutch architect. Guests will need an official permit to see the interior, but everyone can admire this beauty freely from the outside.
One doesn’t need to be an urban archeologist to enjoy the Art Deco heritage in Bandung. All that is needed is this basic information and Google maps. Here’s a little tip, don’t ask the locals where to find the Art Deco buildings as most of them have little knowledge about the term “Art Deco”. For the ultimate experience, just browse the internet to find a Bandung city tour that focuses on the subject. One more note; it is best to visit Bandung during the weekdays to avoid the traffic jams. Other than that, please enjoy Parijs van Java and all its old preserved architecture!
Contributor : Fadil Aziz
Magazine issue > Beyond Bali