We had the chance to speak with Ko Wibowo, of Architecture for Everyone, a Pierce County-based Architect who’s education in both traditional Eastern, and classical Western schools of architecture contribute to his unique perspective, and design philosophy.
Tell us about your background in architecture.
I was interested in math, physics, and drawing/painting/design when I grew up. Trying to combine all of those into a profession was what led me into architecture. I then attended Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia and received my bachelor degree in architecture in 1994. Although I practiced while studying, I found that my design skills and understanding were lacking. This made me determined to continue studying overseas (masters programs in architecture were not offered in my home country at the time). I went to Texas A&M University in College Station, TX in 1994 and graduated in 1996 with Master of Architecture degree.
I experienced quite a contrast between the two architecture education methods. One was so practical in its approach while design was only in the periphery of the education. It trained me to be a competent architect with technical capabilities in structural and utilities design without being able to confidently elevate the building I designed aesthetically into architecture. The other was so centralistic in its design pursuit while structure and utilities were almost neglected. Going through both made me a well-rounded architect and to some extent a wiser design decision maker.
What is Architecture for Everyone? Explain the idea behind the principle.
Modern architecture was born in the 1920s with the idea to provide great design to the masses. Stripping of unnecessary elements, such as decoration thus “ornament is a crime” (Adolf Loos’ famous maxim), horizontal window (Le Corbusier famously proved horizontal oriented fenestration brings light more than vertical), light color interior, lower ceiling, etc. were all design strategies deployed at the time to produce and to prove that affordable, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing building/architecture was achievable. Fast forward to the present condition, current modern architecture is expensive beyond the reach of most people. You can argue modern architecture can only be owned or lived in by the 1%, not the 99%. Unfortunately, this great idea has been slowly eroded by the search of a formalistic style. Modern architecture now has become another exclusive architectural style only afforded by the wealthy.
It is my goal to bring this idea back to its original track to provide great architecture for all. Instead of using formal compositions (that produce individualistic art), I believe in establishing an abstract conceptual idea combined with careful attention to context, detailing, and pragmatism (affordability/cost, social context, etc. to produce socially oriented art) as the guiding forces toward great architecture. This idea is then translated into a formal resolution, exercising objective decision in form making. This approach allows me to avoid a stylistic trap and to be able to produce architecture regardless the what the constrains might be. Architecture becomes not for selected few but for everyone.
Explain your pragmatic approach to design, and how your education in both Eastern and Western schools of architecture have shaped your approach to design.
In each decision I make in creating architecture, I try to question whether or not that decision is in line with the intention of the set abstract conceptual idea guided by the circumstances of the project. The decisions must be done objectively and satisfy the circumstances, not only my aesthetic preference. My creativity is then needed to bind all those decisions into integral design expressed in architecture. Therefore the outcome can be understood or explained rationally and objectively.
In a developing country, you need to use your resources prudently because they are expensive and may be scarce. This is what leads to a practical approach in its school of architecture. This approach guides me to the most effective and efficient solution. While the Western school of architecture provides me with skills in ensuring those decisions are integrally guided to be an aesthetically pleasing solution as well. Interestingly, with sustainability at the forefront of Western architectural practice now, Eastern practical approach is found to be sustainable and very much needed to be infused into Western architectural practice. Using your resources prudently is plain and simple environmentally friendly regardless whether you are poor or rich.
Are there projects you’ve completed that have a special significance to you?
I’d like to highlight two projects. One is for communal use and the other for the individual.
First is Tenggarong Theological Seminary Dormitory in Tenggarong, Borneo, Indonesia. This project was successful in fulfilling its requirement to be constructed anywhere on campus (the site was not determined at the time) with a limited budget as well as the necessity in fitting with the local culture, climate, and construction. Although the client supported the design, the building ended up being modified during construction (materials changed but floor plan intact) to satisfy the image of progress and false modern style imposed by the school board. I was certainly disappointed but reminded that my real client was neither my contact nor the school board but those students who used the building. They would still be impacted by the building layout and intended use. The aesthetic of the building became less important while the impact of the solution came to the fore albeit not as powerful.
Second is Stevens Addition in Tacoma, WA. The project accommodated not only the husband’s basic physical needs but also his neural and psychological needs while fitting contextually in the wooded site and the existing modern Northwest style house. I believed the project brought joy to the husband and, maybe, prolonged his memory in his last stretch of life after Alzheimer’s. It was a privilege to witness him as the center of the addition and smile in ratification. Furthermore, being recognized and understood by my peers was a nice confirmation, especially when The jurors of AIA Seattle Honor Awards 2014 were emotionally moved by how the home is “not asking for attention, but asking to be lived in.”
Do you have any current or future projects you’re working on that you would like to discuss?
Banteng Tinggi Chapel near Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia will be constructed soon. The project posed the problem of how to express Christian belief in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood without using any traditional Christian symbol, such as a cross, on the exterior of the building. Here, the conceptual idea is translated to visitors’ experience in space rather than visual or formal expression.
Future exciting projects are dormitories and cottages on Banteng Tinggi Chapel campus as part of a future retreat center. I am excited to be able to work together with my brother who is also an architect in Indonesia.
A further future project that eludes me is to self-develop a project in Tacoma (or anywhere in an underdeveloped urban setting) to test my ideas on the urban environment.
What is it that you love about the modern design aesthetic?
What I love is not the aesthetic but the ideal or the reason behind the aesthetic: social art and social justice but yet still individualistic.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. If you’d like to learn more about Ko Wibowo, check out Architecture for Everyone.