Matthew Teismann will speak at the 33 Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ). The conference will take place July 5-7 at the University of Melbourne. This year's theme is GOLD. Teismann will present his field work 'Architecture Without Origins' in Indonesia for the plenary session 'The Opposite of El Dorado: The Cultural Logic of Urbacide.'
This paper is based on Teismann's fieldwork in Jakarta, Medan, Bawömataluo, and other villages in South Nias in 2014, archival research, and interviews with experts on Bawömataluo and faculty at Universitas Indonesia whose work focuses on the interaction of architecture with socioeconomic politics. Furthermore, it is informed by the few other scholars who have written on South Nias and the omo sebua. Building on Jerome Feldman’s work on the history of the omo sebua, this research moves beyond the frontier of knowledge by indicating the potential role of architecture as the embodiment of sustainable social identity.
Beginning in the ‘National Awakening’ Indonesia is experiencing a ‘cultural crisis,’ where the ways in which social identity is shaped by politics has been largely unnoticed and unstudied, particularly through the discourses of architecture and urban space. Barry Dawson in The Traditional Architecture of Indonesia, writes: “the outer islands are still little affected by the baleful acculturizing influences of the industrialized world,” thus invoking a convergence of neglected cultural heritage of the ancient peoples and the universalizing effects of national modernization. Devoid of social identification and cultural identity, the political and economic forces of postcolonial Indonesia do not seem to acknowledge an awareness of the displacement of indigenous cultures wrought by colonization. No more is this manifest than in modern architecture and urban space in the economic centers of Jakarta and Medan.
‘Architecture Without Origins’ addresses the impact of modernity upon traditional societies, especially upon their built environment. The paper offers an historical and theoretical analysis of a particular house type (omo sebua), discussing it in relation to both the colonial history of the island and the more specific formal, constructional and symbolic dimensions of this house type, making a compelling point about “cultural signification” as an integral and important dimension of house and housing studies. Also nuanced within the critique is an acceptance of an inevitability and irreversibility of modern transformations, suggesting that architects and design professionals can shape this process better if they engage in social and cultural research that may give them the clues for creative re-interpretations of vernacular building traditions.