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In the 1920’s when the Dutch decided to gradually move its colonial capital to Bandung, it was the heyday of Art Deco. That is the reason why until today Bandung still holds some of the best examples of Tropical Art Deco architecture in the world. Bandung then prospered with more and more large plantations and large companies headquartered here. By 1939 Bandung’s cinchona plantations produced 90% of the world’s quinine, while Dutch coffers were filled with the sale of coffee grown around the city. As the new town became the home of the Dutch wealthy elite, Bandung came to be known as “Parijs van Java” – the Paris of Java.
As your train arrives at the Bandung station, you are already greeted by a fine example of Dutch architecture. When you disembark from the train, turn right and you will find an authentic interior of an Art Deco building. Constructed in 1884, Bandung’s train station still maintains its authenticity and originality up to this day.
The Savoy Homann Hotel as well as the Grand Hotel Preanger are both prominent examples of well-preserved Art Deco architecture. The Preanger Hotel was built in 1929 by a Java-born Dutch architect, Charles Prosper Wolff Schoemaker, who previously worked for a famed American Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Schoemaker, who was then lecturer at the Bandoengsche Technische Hoogeschool, now the Bandung Institute of Technology , hired Soekarno, a draftsman who was also his student. History has it that this student draftsman would ultimately become the founding father and the first President of the Republic of Indonesia. The Grand Hotel Preanger has been modernized, but its original sections are maintained.
There are other buildings associated with Schoemaker’s name. On Braga Street, his creations include Majestic Cinema, now the First Asian-African Conference Museum, and the adjoining Societeit Concordia Club House, currently Gedung Merdeka. The neo-gothic, Art Deco Catholic Cathedral of St. Petrus splendidly stands on Merdeka Street, a block from Braga Street. Schoemaker’s masterpiece is Villa Isola on Dr. Setiabudhi Street, built in 1933 as a residence of a millionaire, D.W. Beretty. The house later turned into a hotel and is now used as the main office of a nationally-renowned university. This architectural jewel is considered as “Indonesia’s greatest contribution to the world of art-deco”, boasting curvaceous shapes that blend beautifully with the terraced garden landscape.
Another prominent name that is also equally renowned for Bandung’s Art Deco architecture is Albert Frederick Aalbers. Born in Rotterdam, the Dutch architect moved to Bandung in 1928 to try his luck in the Dutch East Indies. The architect’s signature style, ‘Streamlined Deco’ on the façade, and ‘Tropical Deco’ inside, can be seen on Denis Bank, now Bank Jabar on Braga Street, and the nearby Savoy Homann Hotel.
Perhaps the most well-known art deco building stands precisely in the center of the city. The Gedung Sate, the building that is now the governor’s office, was completed in 1920, and designed by J. Gerber. Famous for its skewer-like antenna - Satay or Sate - which gives the building its popular name, it combines neo-classical style with native elements and creates grandeur and a unique mixture of Western and Eastern atmosphere.
The Dutch East Indies architectural trails can still be seen in Bandung. The high concrete walls and decorated windows structure still stand silently today as a reminder of a bygone era, within which different cultures were assimilated. So, what are you waiting for? Pay a visit to the past. Be the one to witness, that there is still a little bit of ‘Europe’ in Bandung.
For more information on Bandung’s Art Deco and other heritage buildings, visit:
Bandung Heritage Society: http://www.bandungheritage.org/
Bandung Trail : http://www.bandungtrails.net
It is best you rent a car for a day or two if you want to explore all of Bandung Art Deco experiences. Taxis are also available if you want a bit of practical and comfort. You may want to try to get around Bandung using the local public transportation popularly known as “angkot”, but you have to learn about the routes to avoid getting lost into wrong directions. Some Buildings are within walking distance, so you can just stroll down the sidewalk from building to building. For instance, you can start from Gedung Merdeka, continue to Hotel Savoy Homann, Hotel Grand Panghegar and make your way into Braga Street.
Ways to reach Bandung from Jakarta may be as many as to Rome, so to speak. You can ride trains, buses, or use the many shuttle services with hourly schedules. Flights are less favored because the time it takes to travel to Jakarta's airport (Soekarno Hatta) and check in may take longer than travelling by car.