History of the Dutch builders in Menteng

If you’re interested in Dutch East Indies architecture this is your wide-ranging, comprehensive website. Or, to purchase a copy of either Menteng: Indonesia’s Original “Garden City or  Historical Sites of Jakarta then here’s your link to author Adoph Heuken.

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Jakarta wasn’t designed for modern traffic.  And much of it wasn’t designed at all. So it’s a shame that visitors’  first impression — depending on arrival time since night driving rocks  — is that the city’s somehow ill or damaged.

By contrast, visitors to colonial Batavia often gave “baby Jakarta” fairly high marks for design and layout, especially for gardens.   Most Dangerous Places’ travelogger Captain James Cook in October 1770 ‘logged that:

The environs of Batavia [now Jakarta] have a very pleasing appearance, and would in almost any other country be an enviable situation. Gardens and houses occupy the country for several miles. (Jakarta, Jayakarta, Batavia aka The Jakarta Book).

My coming to Jakarta experience was right along the lines of veteran Asia correspondent John McBeth:

Coming from a country where buildings had barely risen above the second floor, I was in thrall of [the] size and the air-conditioning [at then ultra-cool Hotel Indonesia]. But more startling was the contrast between the modern, luxury hotel and the slum that sprawled out under its shadow. That and the canopy of trees lining the then-quiet streets of neighboring Menteng were to become enduring fixtures of my mind.

Much of the Jakarta, however, was laid out in line by regionally and internationally known urban planners in line with the avante-garde “city science” of the day.  Moreover, there’s evidence that some of the most successful planning incorporated local forms /ideas extensively,  blending them with foreign ones (Dutch, Spanish, English and Islamic).

Among the success stories — as far as the central part of Jakarta is concerned — you will find Menteng and New Menteng (where the Sharehouse is located). Menteng, was laid out by PAJ Mooijen a Dutch architect whose interests in Indonesian form ranged from Balinese dance to painting. He was the president of the Jakarta Art Circle whose headquarters now houses Jakarta’s Buddha Bar.

Christropher Silver in his invaluable book, Planning the Megacity: Jakarta in the Twentieth Century (2008), says that Mooijen’s original plan “bore a striking resemblance to the garden city model of the English reformer Ebenezer Howard, in that it combined wide cross- cutting boulevards with concentric rings of streets and a central public square.”

Silver says (p. 60):

Whereas many emblems of the the colonial past were shunned, Menteng as a neighborhood of prestige persisted. It provided a residential anchor for the central core of

the city that remarkably withstood the pressures of commercial encroachment in later years. This should be attributed, in good measure, to the quality of the community’s original plan, which effectively incorporated elements of interconnectedness with adjacent areas while preserving the area’s spatial integrity through an ingenious system of streets and boulevards and contiguous structures that conformed to the system.

Sadly, precisely as in Tom Hanks’ Ember, the Builders took the source code for the city back to Belanda with them after WW II, leaving the colonists and colonized in the dark : )

nd much of it wasn’t designed at all. That part is, has been and may forever be the “as is” product of happenstance and history. Howev

er, vast swaths of a city that is massive in terms of geography and population were constructed as per the meticulous plans of the leading East

Indies’ architects and planners of the day. Most but not not all of them were Dutch.

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