Published Article: Kota Tua

Monday, December 24, 2018

Ngotjeh Magazine  |  March 2018

I was nine years old when my father took me for the first time to Jakarta History Museum. It was located in an old builing built in the 18th century by VOC (Dutch East India Company) as the city hall of Batavia (former name of Jakarta). As a kid, I was very much impressed and amazed by the grandeur of the building, its high ceilings, huge tall windows and doors, and also the thick walls that to me, looked like a fort.

The museum also had a prison at its backyard, which were no longer used, comprising few cells which were used to detain the rebels who were considered as threats to the interest of VOC. All the cells were located lower than the ground level outside. So it was completely dark inside. I was of course terrified and couldn’t help but asking my father to leave the place as soon as possible.

I later learned that there were many horrified stories happen in that building in the past. Not only inside the building, but also in its surroundings. They witnessed the notorious Batavia’s Chinese Massacre in the 18th century, the execution of many rebels, including the one of Pieter Erberveld, a Eurasian man who was accused of plotting a rebellion against VOC. Today, the museum and its surrounding were conserved as a heritage of Jakarta, called Kota Tua (Old Town).

Many cities in Indonesia were founded during the Dutch colonial time. Each city has its own old town which actually comes with its own story. The old buildings in Surabaya and Semarang for instance, were mostly dominated by trading companies as there were trading ports in those two cities. In cities like Bandung, Malang, and Medan, many old buildings were built by planters as there were many plantation established in those regions.

As an architect who was interested in conservation, I become aware of the importance of sustainability in architecture. I believe when we decide to conserve an old building or environment, it is not only the building that we conserve, but most importantly, the stories behind it.

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