Interview: Andra Matin
From antique Javanese shutters to sacred building blocks, each of our properties share one-of-a-kind architecture. Seamlessly blending the traditional with the modern, leading Indonesian architect Andra Matin is the man behind the bricks.
Katamama is very fortunate to work with you. In fact, Potato Head Family has had a long-lasting, fruitful relationship with with you for many years. How did it all start?
When I first met Jason and Ronald, they were planning to open a restaurant, which would sort of double as a library. I love books, so I got very excited. In the end, we couldn’t turn this plan into reality, but some time later, Ronald came up with another idea – this time a kind of urban park. Walking is something I do a lot of – especially when I’m on vacation – so I agreed right away. But since the governor of the city wanted us to finish it before he resigned, it just wasn’t possible.
Luckily our third endeavour – a restaurant project at Pacific Place, Jakarta – worked out wonderfully. Ronald’s wife Sandra had just spent time in London at culinary school, and so the first Potato Head was borne from Ronald being interested in opening a restaurant where his wife could share her skills.
Potato Head Jakarta is regarded as one of the city’s “new wave” bars. The forward-thinking design must have helped get it noticed…
When I had the initial 3D plan for Potato Head ready, Jason and I visited a new restaurant in Jakarta – only to discover that our project looked worryingly similar! This meant we had to change the direction of our concept completely.
Jason suggested incorporating his collection of antiques into the design. This triggered the idea of using old, recycled materials as much as possible – such as Jason’s beautiful old wooden doors and shutters. I quickly realised I wanted these shutters all over the walls and on the ceiling. In the end, the shutters were a central hook for the restaurant’s whole design concept.
With Potato Head brasserie and bar completed, you switched to a totally different project…
Indeed. A residential complex called Tanah Teduh. Ronald had a plot of land in South Jakarta – a tricky area with two uneven, sloping hectares. The previous owner had a plan to cut down all the century-old trees to level the land. Happily, Ronald’s decision was to keep the natural curves, save the trees and the lakes, and build side by side with nature. He wanted a project that would showcase contemporary Indonesian architecture and so I was asked to invite my friends to help me with the project. I collaborated with nine other architects and it took us four years to complete the 20 houses. Despite the time it took, It was definitely worth it; I was so happy with the result.
And then came Potato Head Beach Club in Bali?
Yes, yet another unusual task. This time, I had 4,000 sq. m. of beachfront land on which I was asked to build something that Bali had never seen before. We made so many sketches for the design, but nothing was clicking. Then Ronald went to Rome for his honeymoon and when he came back he said, “Hey, I know what I want – an amphitheatre!” I replied, “What?” But the seed of the concept was planted. I tried to rework Ronald’s idea, thinking, “Okay, I don’t have to copy the original Colosseum, I’ll give it a twist”.
Is that when you conjured the idea of using 1,000 antique wooden shutters?
Exactly. We used them at Potato Head Jakarta, and everyone loved it. So we did it again in Bali – it became our signature. We sourced all of those antique doors and shutters regionally, from Java, Sulawesi and other parts of the archipelago.
Potato Head Beach Club has become an iconic building, yet you decided to build Katamama in a very different style. Why?
I love the idea of balance. Not as in classical art or architecture, where perfect symmetry reigns. I like it when monochrome meets multicolour. When a strong vertical line is balanced with a smooth horizontal line. When one dramatic angle complements another dramatic angle.
My vision for this duo of establishments was based on that kind of balance; where the peaceful five-star hotel is paired with the dynamic beach club; they co-exist, but they also provide two completely different guest experiences. While the beach club was planned as a hip, funky playground, the idea behind Katamama was to represent Bali. It was intended to feel Balinese, but modern at the same time. The main concept was actually the modern architecture of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s very geometrical. These days, when almost every hotel in Bali is planned and designed with curved lines, it stands out.
What else is remarkable?
Not having a lobby on the ground level. Katamama’s reception space is elevated, so you can see the pool and the garden from there. To use the space on the ground floor, I designed the rooms that occupy the lower floor – these are sort of introverted – with a secluded garden view. The idea was that from every level you can see a different angle of a landscape. Every Rooftop Suite has a garden in the centre of the room – I personally love this, it’s unique – and natural sunlight pours through the glass rooftop.
Those naturally coloured bricks tell an important story, too?
These hand-pressed bricks are normally used for the temples in Bali. Ronald and I explored the old temples in the traditional villages of the island, and finally found the type of bricks we loved. It’s important to understand that in modern Indonesia it’s very uncommon for construction just to use one material. Generally, clients want to use more of everything – this wood, that stone, those tiles… It’s considered boring to use only one product. I’m incredibly glad that Ronald shared my single-material vision.
To some, Katamama’s facade recalls mid-century modern architecture from the ’60s. Were trips to Europe a source of inspiration?
It’s probably a coincidence, but I do love going to Europe – to the Netherlands, Brussels, England – to observe the architecture and the use of materials. Perhaps my subconscious played a trick on me.
Does rural, tribal Indonesia inform your work?
There is so much to be inspired by here! In his book, Fundamentals, Rem Koolhaas put together examples of roofs from around the world. Seventy-five of the most unique roofs were from Indonesia – there were examples from the Batak, Timor and Toraja tribal communities – all of them different!
I love the idea of the traditional elevated house. Study my projects and you’ll notice that I always try to incorporate this feature into my constructions.
Ramps are favoured over stairs in your designs. Is this to create a special experience or is it for aesthetic reasons?
For me, stairs are like a photograph while ramps are like a video. A ramp gives the impression of fluidity, while steps try to stop you. Even in my own house, I use ramps instead of stairs. I love the idea that, with ramps, everything is easily accessible – for old and young, even for small kids with their bicycles.
Up-and-coming Indonesian architects?
There is a new wave of talent, not only from Jakarta but Jogja and Surabaya. I’m the founder of the Arsitek Muda Indonesia (Young Architects of Indonesia) and every week, we gather to talk about trends, let the newcomers critique our new projects, and invite fellow architects to see freshly submitted projects. It’s an evolving community and together we’re growing stronger.
About 20 young architects have graduated from my office, and they are all very promising. I keep telling them: “Remember, establish your own character but don’t forget it should be blended with Indonesian character. Otherwise, all the architecture in the world will become identical, and we don’t want that to happen”.
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