In Autumn 2021, an exhibition will bring together contributions from four Southeast Asian cities and a contribution that sheds a light on the exchange between the two Germanies and Southeast Asia in the 1950s to the 1970s.
The exhibition will take as its starting point the respective attainment of independence in the participating countries and their respective capitals and contrast the architecture and urban planning of this period with contemporary perspectives and challenges.
Exemplary buildings and established narratives from the period after independence will be subjected to critical revision and juxtaposed with current urban discourses and practices. The history of reception, different influences and local adaptions of modernism within Southeast Asia will be illuminated as well as connections between East and West Germany and the region. In the field of tension between post-colonial settings, contemporary positions and current urban issues, the exhibition will create an echo chamber for discourses on the significance and future of modernist buildings and alternative concepts of use that can withstand today’s urban development pressures.
The contributions build on four pop-up exhibitions curated by the Southeast Asian project partners in 2019 as part of Encounters with Southeast Asian Modernism in Jakarta, Phnom Penh, Yangon and Singapore. They will question, expand and complement existing narratives on modernism and illustrate expert and civic engagement in the preservation of built heritage in Southeast Asia.
A new contribution developed by the Berlin curators will highlight the exchange relations between the two Germanies and Southeast Asia in the 1950s to the 1970s and presents both connections and transfers from East and West. With this, the topic will be brought into focus for the first time.
The exhibition venue, Haus der Statistik (House of Statistics), establishes a direct link to the contents of the exhibition. The late GDR modernist building and its current reprogramming under the contractual cooperation of civil society, politics and administration embody not only a new approach to late-modern architecture in Berlin, but also a vision of solidarity and community for the city of tomorrow. The House of Statistics sets the stage for a dialogue between Berlin and Southeast Asia, which will foster new insights into the history, meaning, and future of modernity at the intersection of globalization and local specificities.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The title Folding Concrete comes from three folds. First, in the 1960s, many advances in technology gave architects and engineers more possibilities in the design and construction of buildings, and folding concrete was quite popular in Cambodia. Second, the image of folding concrete represents identities of the modernist movement in Cambodia which were expressed in public buildings, villas, and monuments built during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (Popular Socialist Community, the party-like organization under Head of State Norodom Sihanouk). Last, the folding form of concrete is not a straight line but bends in multiple directions like the “modernities” in Cambodia. They have not come from just one field of discipline, but emerged from multiple fields including art, culture, architecture, urbanism, industry, and technology.
Cambodian modernism was already manifest in various disciplines during the late French colonial period – either through the colonial power or in negotiation with its Cambodian counterparts – such as customary practices, education, literature, art, and architecture. There was an insistence on departing from previous or traditional frameworks of thinking and cultural language, and embracing new, innovative forms and expressions that reflected the conditions and realities of the time.
Folding Concrete presents interwoven narratives of modernism in Cambodia through architecture and urbanism and their social and cultural histories. The exhibition primarily considers the period of post-independence from the 1950s to 1970s, yet also extends its view back to the prior late-colonial period and forward to the present day. While architecture and urbanism are the main focus, intersections with the fields of art and visual culture are also highlighted. Drawing on archival materials, research projects, and artworks, the exhibition presents a rich texture of architectural and cultural language that shaped and is shaped by Cambodian modernism.
The exhibition is arranged into five sections. The first section showcases Modern Khmer Architecture, which includes major state buildings as well as residential villas from the 1960s–‘70s. The second section focuses on the White Building – an experimental, modernist apartment complex that was built in 1963 and demolished in 2017. The third section is dedicated to Cambodia’s most prolific architect, Vann Molyvann, showing two of his most important works: the national sports complex and his house in Phnom Penh, which is under threat of demolition today. The fourth section looks at Cambodian cinema culture, which flourished during the same period. The last part presents various publications that were distributed by the state during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era. They illustrate how the modernization process in Cambodia was officially communicated.
The Berlin edition of Folding Concrete is a continuation of the first edition held in Phnom Penh in 2019.
Pen Sereypagna and Vuth Lyno
With contributions by:
Jessica Austin, Chhum Phanith, Stéphanie Janin, Loeung Sakona, Pen Sereypagna & Genealogy of Bassac, Poum Measbandol, Prak Dalin, Roung Kon Project, Vuth Lyno, White Building Collective
On the outside, the National Monument of Indonesia (Monumen Nasional, abbreviated as Monas) in Jakarta is a gold-topped obelisk surrounded by an incredibly vast, green, lush park. Most of the park area is open for visitors to sit, have a picnic, study, draw, and other activities. The impression we get from the exterior of this monumental structure is that it is majestic yet convivial, open to everyone, and inviting to people to come and spend time on the grounds.
The Monas museum contains 52 domes filled with dioramas which narrate the history of the Indonesian struggle going back to the prehistoric times. Similar to dioramas at other museums on Java, the dioramas present a reconstruction of past events, using figurines and objects and a backdrop of depicting the surrounding landscape, be it outside in nature, indoors, or cityscapes.
The dioramas at Monas Museum were created by one of Indonesia’s famous sculptors, Edhi Sunarso. Sukarno, the first president of the independent Republic of Indonesia, commissioned him in the early 1960s to develop hundreds of dioramas in order to tell and consolidate the Indonesian history for the public. In 1965, Haji Mohamed Suharto was appointed as the presidential officer. He was then chosen to be the second President of the Republic of Indonesia. Under President Suharto’s regime, the construction of this symbolic and eminent monument of the Indonesian nation continued.
In July 1966, amidst the turmoil of massive political shifts, Edhi Sunarso was summoned to Jakarta to oversee the construction of Monas. At the time, a number of dioramas had already been installed in its museum. The remaining few were being completed by Edhi at his studio in Yogyakarta together with his students from ASRI (Fine Arts Academy of Indonesia). The call to Jakarta was a notice that the installation of dioramas was to continue, with Edhi still overseeing the process. But there was a change in terms of responsibilities. The new commissioner ordered that changes be made to the narratives told by the dioramas. You might wonder: but isn’t this a historical diorama? Can you change history?
Nearly ten years later, in 1977, Monas Museum finally opened to the public. The installation of screens in this exhibition enables visitors to immerse themselves in a diorama and listen to people’s versions of histories departing from those dioramas. The audio guides were created by participants of Gudskul 2019 as a storytelling exercise to ensure that even if the dioramas were made with a homogenizing purpose, the nation’s diversity will not be overruled by the state.
Curated by Hyphen –,
Visualization of National History: From, by, and for Whom? (2) came into being with the minds and hands of Akmalia Rizqita, Alghorie (Arie Syariefuddin), Ary “Jimged” Sendy, Grace Samboh, Nissal Nur Afryansah (Lindung), Rachel K. Surijata, and Ratna Mufida.
The modernist architecture journey in Singapore started in the 1930s, following on the heels of Western Europe. However, it was the postwar period that witnessed a tremendous surge in building activities in tandem with the rise of nationalism. This culminated in partial self-government in 1959, independence as a part of Malaya in 1963, and full independence as the Republic of Singapore in 1965. Transiting into a modern society, the new government worked hard at providing a better and modern living environment for the citizens by clearing the slum and squatter area and engaging in a massive public housing building programme to relieve the dense and congested city centre. In the immediate postwar period, the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru and the satellite town of Queenstown were enlarged with new housing blocks, and Toa Payoh New Town was established. The new Housing and Development Board (HDB) was set up and tasked with the planning and construction of public housing. In five years it managed to complete twice as many units as those built during more than a century of British colonial rule.
The thrust in public housing by the new republic was seen as a march towards modernity. Unsanitary urban conditions were eradicated and modern living patterns created with the aim of promoting social harmony. Public housing, together with the associated amenities and green open spaces, can be seen as a vernacular modernity which is inextricably tied up with a modern Singapore identity.
Individual buildings constructed during the first decade of the new republic in both public and private sectors also took on a modernist expression, adopting the Brutalist language with a tropical sensibility. Some of the best examples in Singapore are featured in this exhibition. They reflect the development of modernist architecture in the country and the Singapore spirit with its international outlook.
In our contribution we present a selection of buildings that once embodied the spirit of the times. However, steadily rising land prices have led to the demolition of ever more of these housing estates. The (past and imminent) destruction of historically significant buildings has given rise to a number of initiatives in recent years to preserve, document, and raise awareness of this architectural heritage. Some of these projects are also introduced in the exhibition, such as Too Young to Die, a photographic documentation by Darren Soh; the meticulous illumination of the inner life of housing estates in the book, HDB Homes of Singapore; and the award-winning documentary film, 3 Flats.
Ho Puay Peng, Professor and Head, Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Johannes Widodo, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, NUS
Nikhil Joshi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Architecture, NUS
Exhibition Content Contributors
Chua Ai Lin, Executive Director, Singapore Heritage Society
Chen Xing Sheng, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Darren Soh, Photographer, based in Singapore
Eunice Seng, Associate Professor, Faculty of Architecture, HKU
Gaius Leong, Former student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Ho Weng Hin, Partner, Studio Lapis, Singapore
Jaclyn Liam Yue Qi, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Liang Tailin, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Lilian Chee, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, NUS
Lin Zhengyu Leo, Former student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Liu Heng, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Ng Xin Yi, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Nge Zhen Yang, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Noor Syahindah Bte Gazali, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Richard Edrick, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Sheares Quek, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Tan Jia Xuan, Student, Department of Architecture, NUS
Tan Pin Pin, Filmmaker based in Singapore
Tomohisa Miyauchi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Architecture, NUS
Victor Chin, Visual Artist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Wong Yunn Chii, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, NUS
Zuliandi Azli, Graphic Designer based in Singapore
The modernist architecture that emerged in Indonesia in the early 20th century was both a surprise and a necessity. Its introduction by Dutch architects came as an elitist and exemplary cultural shock to the racially divided colonial society. The soaring brick and reinforced concrete structures, in contrast with the vernacular organic buildings, offered a new form of expression and even upward mobility among the ruled society.
During the first 20 years of independence (1945–1965), architects went on building new towns, houses and housing, banks and corporate offices, research institutions, as well as many essential infrastructures. But only after the high tide of nationalism and the shift to authoritarian regime did Indonesia start to incorporate state-sponsored modernist architecture as a vehicle of mass communication – to show both the world and the citizens that the country was on par with others. The government built colossal institutional buildings throughout the capital of Jakarta.
While we can assess modernist architecture in terms of its universal ideals, its evaluation would fall short without addressing the historical and cultural nuances in which it was imbedded. Modernist architecture was designed to represent an escape from ethnicity, locality, “backwardness”, social and cultural barriers, and traditions, but also the promises of a new civilization. The modern epoch was conceivably to stimulate the creation of architectural spaces that encouraged egalitarian, transnational, and progressive behaviour. With regard to the Indonesian context in particular, the narratives that accompanied the new architectural spaces were often imbued with anticolonial sentiment and a strong sense of national unity.
But narratives fade eventually; novelty has an expiry date. As time passed and modern life evolved, once magnificent architectural spaces were devalued and stripped of their initial functions and contexts. This should not necessarily be seen in a negative light, as spaces may be actively rehabilitated, repurposed, and injected with new values that are in line with the era.
Occupying Modernism takes a look at how Indonesians appropriated the spaces of modernist architecture after they were built. The exhibition features rich descriptions of five exemplary projects, exploring how they were lived in, celebrated, reinterpreted, altered, loved, loathed, abused, and rediscovered throughout the decades.
To give the audience an impression of how modernist architectural structures are commonly experienced in Indonesia today, the exhibition is designed as an informal space, echoing the typical attitude taken towards nearly all architectural monuments in major Indonesian cities. In doing so, we aim to highlight the apparent gap between the intentional design of modernist spaces and the relaxed atmosphere of everyday life.
Curators: Avianti Armand, Setiadi Sopandi
Assistant Curator: Rifandi Septiawan Nugroho
Alvin Tjitrowirjo, Cecil Mariani, Goenawan Mohamad, Hikmat Darmawan
FFFAAARRR – Andro Kaliandi, Syifa Binaditia, Ali Zulfikar
gemasemesta.co – Gema Semesta, Immanuel Palar, Kinanti Della, Belmiro Hasballah
German Influences and Projects in Southeast Asia
This part of the exhibition attempts for the first time to take stock of planning and building activities that took place with German participation in Southeast Asia from the 1950s to the 1970s. Architects, engineers, companies, and state-owned enterprises of both the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) were active in the region.
In South Vietnam, for example, West Germany provided humanitarian aid as an ally of the United States. With hospitals, children’s villages, and vocational training centres for young people, it aimed to support the country’s development. East Germany, on the other hand, was active in North Vietnam, and made significant contributions to the country after the end of the war in 1975.
In the 1950s, Myanmar decided to ignore the West German Hallstein Doctrine, which aimed to prevent diplomatic relations between East Germany and other countries. It forged bilateral relations with both East and West Germany receiving development aid for civilian as well as military purposes. In 1965, for example, East Germany sold arms to the military junta. From 1953 to 1988, the West German company Fritz Werner, which was nationalized in 1965, was active in Myanmar with a large number of civilian and military projects, and directly and indirectly supported the military dictatorship of General Ne Win.
With projects in Indonesia, Singapore, and Cambodia, both German states also sounded out markets for their products, often competing with existing networks established by the former colonial powers.
In Malaysia, the German-born exiles Julius Posener and Vernon Z. Newcomb (Werner Zunz) worked on behalf of the British colonial government to establish the country’s first architecture institution and the Federal Housing Trust, respectively, in Kuala Lumpur. Influenced by the likes of Hans Poelzig, Max Bill, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius, the new architecture teachers, among them the German architect C.W. Voltz, attempted to nurture an atmosphere that encouraged the adaptation of modernism’s universal concepts to the local climate and ways of living.
There is much more to learn about the architectural legacy of East and West Germany’s involvement in the region. Such research could provide deeper insight into colonial and postcolonial assumptions about politics, society, and culture that shaped the two country’s policies of socialist solidarity and development aid, respectively and their underlying notions of progress and civilization.
More recently, the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021 reveals problematic aspects of Germany’s foreign involvement today and raises questions about its long-term responsibilities in the region.
Sally Below, Moritz Henning, Christian Hiller, Eduard Kögel
Advice on East Germany’s architectural exports was provided by Andreas Butter, who researched this topic at Leibniz Institute for Spatial Social Research (IRS) in Erkner, together with Christoph Bernhardt and Monika Motylinska.
The presentation on the city of Vinh, Vietnam, was generously supported by Christina Schwenkel.
Synthesis of Myanmar Modernity investigates how modernization transformed the built environment of Yangon. Questioning architecture and urban planning in Myanmar had fallen silent for decades. Since the reintroduction of democracy, the interest in modern architecture is growing again. A young generation of architects and scholars, as well as the general public, are asking about the historical significance and current value of the architectural heritage of this period. But in a multiethnic society, with a population that speaks hundreds of different dialects, the renegotiation of modern architecture is a great challenge and only just emerging.
Historical and contemporary documents of five public buildings show how modernity was translated into an architectural language in Yangon. The selected buildings reflect in very different ways the ambitions and promises, but also the fractures, upheavals, and new dependencies of the young nation after the attainment of independence.
Interviews with eminent artists and architects captured by filmmaker Kriz Chan Nyein provide rare insights into the personal reception of modernity in Myanmar. The work Irene, edited by Swiss photographer Lukas Birk, offers a very private view on modern living in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Pwint and Win Thant Win Shwin