Danny Wicaksono: Building Impact Through Architecture

Constructing more than just buildings

Words by
Joice Tentry

Danny Wicaksono is the only Indonesian architect who is a member of Comité International des Critiques d’Architecture, a Paris-based non-profit organisation of international architecture critics. He is also the co-founder of the architecture studio Studio Dasar and architectural magazine Jong Arsitek!

Known for his works that are based on consciousness of the environment, some of Danny’s most-known works are Anjung Salihara, an art compound managed and curated by Komunitas Salihara, Jatibening House, Minimal House and Anyar Market.

Survival instincts drove him to begin his architectural journey, and he has since continued it, driven by a passion to bring about a positive impact on society through his buildings and quality living for all Indonesians.

How did you discover the world of architecture?

To be honest, I am not sure. I wanted to be architect when I was 17. I wanted to have an education that would allow me to work independently and not have to rely on a company. At the time, there was an economic crisis and I saw many people lose their jobs. I didn’t want that to happen to me. As for why architecture, as I said, I am not sure.

Born and living in a city like Jakarta, I have never experienced any architecture that has moved me or heightened my perception and appreciation towards architecture.

Maybe it was purely a sense of survival? I needed to find a skill to help me survive, and I happened to choose architecture.

How do you perceive architecture as a way to bring social and environmental impact on society?

Architects have to be aware of their position in society. That they are first citizens before architects, citizens who have specific knowledge about creating and building environments. Because of this, there should be a sense of obligation for architects to “donate” part of their time and creative mind to raise the living quality of their community and the people around them. I think with this perspective, more architects can leave an impact on society in more diverse ways.

What is your philosophy when building Studio Dasar and architecture in general?

At Studio Dasar, we divide our projects into three types. First, commissioned projects — projects that we’ve been asked to do. Second, Regenerik — we rethink or redesign architecture that is already considered “generic” in Indonesia. Third, prometheus projects — these are projects that are education related, such as writing essays, curating exhibitions and translating English architectural texts into Indonesian.

In terms of architectural design, I always try to react to contexts and problems that surround every architectural project. Different projects have different contexts that can be problems or advantages. I try to react to these situations.

Also, every time I design, I always think first about how a building works: its circulation, people’s behaviour, what people see and experience every time they are in a certain space.

Second, it is how the building is built. This helps me to find the best construction method for each project. Third, it is how the building looks, so it looks good, at least according to us.

What is the project that you are most proud of and why?

My first project, Anjung Salihara, because of the client and the design. The client was a poet and journalist who was 40 years my senior. Yet, he gave me complete freedom to design the building. At the time, I was 27 and hadn’t built anything. The design was built exactly the way I wanted. It was my take was on mid-rise tropical architecture that was built on a reasonable budget for Indonesia’s context.

The second one is a low-budget house that is currently under construction. It costs about $20,000 or S$28,000.

How do you perceive the progress and impact of contemporary architecture, specifically in Indonesia?

I think the past 3-4 years have been a very exciting time for Indonesian architecture. I have never seen such huge energy from Indonesian architects. Architects are working on projects, architecture events are everywhere, and everybody just seems to always be working on new projects. But I think we need more perspectives, fresh new ideas and approaches to change our immediate surroundings. Ideas that can be applied or leave a greater impact on more people.

What is the plan for your next architectural works?

I wish to design a living space for Indonesia. A “city” if you like to call it that way. To rethink our living space in this country. A realistic one, not a “futurist-utopian” design. A “realistic-utopian” idea of a living space for Indonesians. This is how I like to say it.

I hope to design a library one day. I also want to write a book and hope to build an architecture school before I die.

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