The mode of how architectural practices procure work is changing. In a traditional world, a client comes to an architect with a project, the architect prepares a fee proposal, the client accepts (or declines!) and the project commences.

Melissa Liando and her partner Laszlo Csutoras run their practice Csutoras & Liando from Jakarta, Indonesia – and it sounds anything but traditional. During her talk, Melissa shared pictures of labourers scaling scaffold as it were a palm tree, and told stories of workshops akin to panel beaters producing bespoke light shades. It was not surprising to hear that the way Csutoras & Liando take on work is also approached from a different angle.

Melissa and Laszlo put together a design for an open-air cinema for a central square in Jakarta, nostalgic to those Melissa visited as a child. Their proposal was initially born out of a frustration with the lack of parks and real public space in their city, and that the majority of the population can’t afford to go to the movies anymore, as they are all run by large commercial multiplexes.

The project was hypothetical and had no client, it was initiated by Csutoras & Liando themselves.

A not-for-profit organisation called Kineforum picked up on the proposal, and together with the architects they submitted applications for Government grants so the project could be reaslied. It was then built as part of the Jakarta Binnale in 2013. Without the initiative (and ‘pro-bono’ work) of Csutoras & Liando, the project would not have been funded, and never been built. While it can be a dangerous place to do speculative work, it made me reflect on the idea that if you want a project, why not go after it? There are examples of this happening in Australia too – Monique Woodward of WOWOWA in Melbourne shared last year that they too have approached clients to pitch ideas about projects they themselves have initiated. The firm put together a sketch design and visualisations for the Kalora Park footy club, in order for the project to get funding. WOWOWA had tried other tactics to get in to the public work sector for sometime – a hard market to crack – and in this instance, they made their own path and went after it. The work of Csutoras & Liando is a refreshing approach for emerging architects, we often feel limited by our folio of previous experience and contacts, and forget there are alternative approaches to the traditional procurement of work.

Csutoras & Liando have a strong desire to contribute to the city of Jakarta that is both inspiring and admirable. Both talented architects trained at Delft University and in the UK, with experience working at reputable practices in London, they would not be hard pressed to get commissions that would be easier to execute, more ‘glamorous’, better paid and coming from more educated clients. However they are choosing to use their skills where it is needed more. Much more. People are becoming more aware of the value of architecture in Indonesia, but it is still far from commonplace.   Their public projects have the ability to reach people who would otherwise have no exposure to good design.   It is in this way Liando seemed genuinely delighted by the happiness the Kineforum Misbar project brought the public; joy through architecture and experience.

There is a different standard of construction and finish in Indonesia.

Csutoras & Liando have taken their level of architectural detail and applied it to the local context, with sensitivity and an understanding of the social and economic environment they are designing in.

They know when to be up-tight with detailing and when to let things happen in an ‘Indonesian way’.

Melissa was such an enjoyable speaker to listen to, both direct and humble. There were many projects that she shared that are starting construction this year and the next, and it will be exciting to see how these buildings take shape and continue to impact Jakarta, and hopefully, greater Indonesia and South East Asia.

by Louisa Gee

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Kineforum Misbar Monas (2013), Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Csutoras & Liando
Photo 2: Melissa Liando compares their designs to traditional Indonesian architecture.
Posted by