Harm, his friend Roel and I are following news lately about the re-use of the ex-Immigration Office in Teuku Umar Street, Jakarta. The Dutch called it Kunstkring Gebouw built in 1913. Kunstkring means network of art. It used to be a building for art and artists in Batavia. After the Independence, it had various functions before it ended up as the administration building for the Immigration office. Harm and Roel were the Dutch tourists who were impressed with the beauty and elegance of this building that led them to produce a website and tried to raise awareness about heritage value of this site. Not so much happened from their side but the Indonesians in Jakarta were fully aware of the value of the location, the ex-Immigration Building is in a prime downtown area, and this is the selling point which made this building handed over from one hand to other hand over the years until the Jakarta Government has bought it and spent almost 3 million US dollars for its renovation.

In December 2008 the building was launched as a venue for the French lounge chain Buddha Bar, following its predecessors in New York, London, Dubai and Kiev. So it is the first Buddha Bar in Asia. With cathedral-high ceilings, a restaurant upstairs has a six-metre (18ft) Buddha overseeing seating for 240. A cocktail club downstairs throbs with lounge music. It has quickly turned into a hotspot for the young and wealthy.

But this new life didn't last long. Opposition to Jakarta's Buddha Bar escalated this March when the Indonesian religious affairs minister, Maftuh Basyuni, asked the French operator, Paris-based George V Hotels and Resorts, to consider closing down or changing the name. Jakarta's legislative council repeated requests to close the club, saying it would be the best way to ensure Buddhists are not offended. Protesters say it is wrong to associate Buddha with a bar because the faith prohibits alcohol. And then Corruption Watch will investigate the ownership of the heritage site by the daughter of the Jakarta Governor whose administration approved the building's restoration, and the daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

My opinion? I don't want to get involved with the issue of the name and ownership. Simply too complicated as an outsider although I am familiar with the situation since I was involved in similar complications before. But talking about the re-use of the building itself is a big dillema in Indonesia; it bumps always to the unavoidable situation that the new function go to the direction of elites and the have's. Or re-use as a museum and almost empty without sufficent income for maintenance. So far no example of re-used historical building which makes everybody happy. It seems (because I could only observe) difficult to find compromise in between. From perspective of finance and conservation standard are complicated enough, plus added by social, religious and political dimensions. No wonder that heritage conservation efforts in Indonesia challenge the best of the best experts if they exist at all, although I am afraid this doesn't help either since no conservation theory teaches someone how to solve power conflict and social tension in a building re-use function. The unspoken situation is much more challenging than the physical conservation side.

So far there were two sorts of news (which reached me) related to the historical buildings or sites : demolition which lead to demonstration and protest of the public which in most cases were too late or not heard; and re-use of historical buildings which were not fully approved by all parties. I wonder if this is a phase that Indonesia should go through to reach a maturity phase in heritage conservation when we will see a lot of re-use of historical buildings with peaceful pride and joy of its community, when re-use of histroical buildings generate sufficient finance for their maintenances without involvement of the Corruption Watch, when regulations and rule of games are clear to every stakeholders, when...when...does it happen?
(pictures are courtesy of Buddha Bar and Kunstkring webite)


Popular posts from this blog