Topical Art déco galore
Published/Last edited or updated: 29th May, 2018
One of Bandung’s major drawcards is the tremendous collection of early twentieth century colonial architecture. The 1920s and 30s were Bandung’s booming Golden Age when this (then) Europe-style city was dubbed “Parijs van Java” (the Paris of Java) and Topical Art déco architecture was the flavour of the month.
New buildings were constructed or given major facelifts to follow the style of the day and attract the wealthy planters from the surrounding highland’s tea, rubber, coffee and cinchona (quinine) plantations to party in the streets. Sadly today, much of this former splendour is neglected but the crumbling remnants are peppered with a handful of well renovated examples throughout the town and an architectural treasure hunt makes an interesting half day walk.
Beginning at the Grand Preanger Hotel on Jalan Asia Afrika, formerly De Groote Postweg (Great Post Road) the trans-Java highway of the time. This grand luxury hotel was originally built in the late 19th century and extensively redesigned in 1929 by Indonesian Born Dutch architect, C. P. Wolff Schoemaker, a major contributor to Bandung’s Art déco cityscape. Interestingly, he was assisted in this project by one of his former students, none other than the young Sukarno, who would later become the first President of the Republic of Indonesia. The hotel houses a small museum, worth a quick look. Ask reception staff to escort you and take your time admiring the hotel’s Art déco details as you wander around.
When you exit the hotel, glance across the road to the old Bank Pacific on Jalan Tamblong, built in the 1920s but now abandoned. Continue west along Jalan Asia Afrika to Kilometre Zero, the official centre of Bandung marked with a (steam-driven) steamroller likely used in the road’s construction. Next to this, the office of the newspaper Pikran Rakyart was also designed by C. P. Wolff Schoemaker in the early 1920s—look for the lovely original stained glass on the second floor. Adjacent to the building, an old printing press sits juxtaposed with digital versions of today’s paper for passersby to read.
Opposite is Bandung’s most famous hotel, the Savoy Homann, a late 1930s Deco re–imagining of an earlier 19th century construction designed by Albert Aalbers another influential architect of Bandung’s scene. Admire the sweeping curves from the street then pop inside to see the three dimensional map of Java outlining the Groote Postweg or enjoy a cuppa in the glass enclosed atrium. As you exit, note the guestbook with signatures from early world leaders here to attend the 1955 Asia Africa Conference, and near the door, the old elevator, one of Indonesia’s first.
Proceed to the corner of Jalan Braga, on your right is the Warenhuis De Vries (De Vries Department Store). This Indies Empire style building was established in the mid-19th century and renovated in the 1920s although it retains much of its original features including Dutch signage indicating goods and services provided: “Sigaren” (cigars), “Landbouwbenoodigdheden” (agricultural equipment), “Kunst” (art), “Boek” (books) and Import Export—it is now occupied by OCBC Bank.
On the opposite corner, the curved building along with the adjoining more angular construction, another of C. P. Wolff Schoemaker’s designs with a later contribution from Albert Aalbers, housed the supper club and ballroom for the elite “Societeit Concordia”, a venue for the wealthy to kick up their heels (usually guests of the nearby Grand Preanger and Savoy Homann Hotels). After independence it was renamed Gedung Merdeka (Freedom building), and in 1955 this building hosted the Asia Africa conference, an international gathering of mostly newly independent heads of state aimed at opposing colonialism and promoting economic and cultural cooperation, laying the foundations for the Non-Aligned Movement. Today you can visit the Museum Konferensi Asia Afrika (Museum of the Asia Africa Conference) housed within.
Continue along Jalan Asia Afrika towards the Alun-alun (the town square), and on your right you will pass Bank Mandiri—note the inscription Nedhandel NV—which formally housed the Netherlands Trading Society (Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij) built in 1912. You won’t miss Masjid Raya Provinsi Jawa Barat, the State Mosque with modern Arabic-style triple domes and its towering 81 metre high twin minarets, one of which you can take a lift to the top for views over Bandung for a small fee (open: 10:00–16:00, closed Friday. Dress respectfully). The original mosque built in 1810 was by early illustrations a charming triple-roof Sundanese style and has since undergone at least a dozen renovations—it saddens us a little when the traditional Indonesian Islamic style is lost to Middle Eastern influence, however this is a popular spot with the locals so expect crowds on weekends.
From here you could continue and turn right at the next intersection to warder around Pasar Baru and Bandung’s Chinatown area, but we’ll backtrack a little into Braga Street which in its heyday was the epicentre of Bandung chic and is still a popular spot for both locals and visitors, crammed with cafes, restaurants and bars.
Just past the Museum Konferensi Asia Afrika, you’ll see the wonderful Majestic Theatre which quite lives up to its name with its rounded facade and golden Kala head surveying the street—an element borrowed from ancient Javanese temples—built in 1925 as a cinema by Bandung’s Mr Art déco, C. P. Wolff Schoemaker. In 1926, the first domestically produced (Dutch directed) feature film with a local cast “Loetoeng Kasaroeng” (The Enchanted Monkey) based on a Sundanese folktale was screened here. Today the theatre is open once again to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays 19:00–20:00 for cultural performances.
As you wander along Braga Street on the corner of Jalan Naripas is the BJB Bank (originally DENIS Bank) which you may notice the resemblance to the Savoy Homann Hotel, as it’s an earlier 1935 design by the same architect, Albert Aalbers, radically modern at the time. Opposite the bank on Jalan Naripas the unassuming building occupied by Yayasan Pusat Kebudayaan was the home of Indonesia’s first locally (as in by Indonesians) published newspaper, Medan Prijaji, in 1907.
Stop in at Sumber Hidangan at Number 20-22, for some old style Dutch baked goods, this fabulous old establishment has been in business since 1929. We love to watch the human powered bread-slicing “machines”, perfect every time. If you’re hungry, stop and eat at one of the many terrific eateries along this strip. At number 33 is another C. P. Wolff Schoemaker building, formally the administrative office of the Netherland Indies Gas Company (Nederlandsch Indische Gasmaatschappij (NIGM). The massive teak doors on this building certainly make a grand entrance.
Other striking buildings lining this famous street include the Centre Point building on the corner of Jalan Suniaraja, This was formerly W. Naessens & Co. piano store selling instruments built from tropical woods to withstand local conditions. Just before here, keep your eyes peeled for the lovely old neon signage at the Leather Palace shop.
As the shops thin out, after you cross the railway line, Deco style BJB Bank Syariah will be on your left, and the neoclassical Bank Indonesia on your right. The BJB bank was another of C. P. Wolff Schoemaker’s contributions built for NV Oliefabrieken Insulinde in 1921 and later extended to the gleaming white and red building you see today. Bank Indonesia is a particularly fine and stately example, built in 1917 for the Javasche Bank, designed by Edward Cuypers. Note the beautiful glassed atrium, peering lighthouse like on the roofline. Cuypers also designed the Javasche Bank in Jakarta, now Museum Bank Indonesia. We believe Bandung’s Bank Indonesia also houses a small museum, however security guards would not let us enter nor offer any information on opening times.
Continue to the Bethel Church (GPI Gereja Bethel) on the next corner, also the work of C. P. Wolff Schoemaker (1925). Note the tiered pyramid roof on this Protestant church—a reference to traditional Javanese mosques and earlier Hindu temple design. Head east to Jalan Merdeka to C. P. Wolff Schoemaker’s earlier church design, this time the Catholic Cathedral, Gereja Katedral Santo Petrus (Saint Peter’s Cathedral) (1921) a mix of restrained neo-gothic and Art déco. Take a quick peek inside to see the stained glass, but for us the adjoining school holds more interest architecturally.
If you are feeling energetic, you can walk two kilometres to Gedung Sate, or jump on an ojek to see this most iconic of Bandung’s landmark buildings. Gedung Sate (Satay Building) is the popular name for the West Java Governor’s office referring to the spire that looks like a satay skewer. Lovers of architecture should not miss this significant sight, one of the first buildings to combine Indonesian and European styles, as impressive today as it was in 1920 when it was designed by Dutch architect Johan Gerber. To learn more of the history of the building and the many architectural references, visit the splendid (and free) Museum Gedung Sate, at the rear of the building.
Nearby you can also visit the Museum Pos Indonesia in the Central post office and the Museum Geologi, both constructed in the late 1920s and serving similar purposes for which they were originally built. If you are keen to see more of Bundung’s considerable architectural treasures, it’s probably best to venture by ojek or taxi as they are somewhat spread out.
Worth noting is the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) establish by the Dutch in 1918 as Technische Hoogeschool Bandoeng, designed by Dutch architect and archaeologist Henri Maclaine Pont who was also responsible for the establishment of the Majapahit Museum at Trowulan near Surabaya and it is largely due to him that this important heritage is preserved.
One of the architects with considerable notable buildings in Bandung, C. P. Wolff Schoemaker, taught as a professor at the institute and as mentioned, Sukarno was one of his students. The building here is again significant for combining Indonesian and European vernacular with the roof style borrowed from local traditions—many sources site Batak Karo or Minangkabau from Sumatra as the influence, but it was more likely from West Java’s Sundanese traditional design, now no longer in existence. One story is that during Japanese occupation this roofline reminded the Japanese soldiers of the temples in Japan and was thus saved from being destroyed. Take a peek into the West and East Auditoriums (you may only be able to see through the window) at the incredible engineering of the unusual parabolic arched beams constructed from bent laminated tropical woods and steel bands.
Another of Bandung’s universities with notable architecture is the Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI) in the north of the city which houses Vila Isola a former private home of media magnate Dominique Willem Berrety designed in 1932 C. P. Wolff Schoemaker, considered his master work and worth a detour when you visit the sights in the north of Bandung such as Gunung Tangkuban Parahu or Air Terjun Pelangi (Curug Cimahi).
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Bandung