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Budhi Harmunanto on Modern Tropical Architecture

As an architect with several mega-projects under his belt, Budhi Harmunanto saw his career take a unique turn after deciding to go back to his hometown and establish BHA Architecture in Surabaya. Since the beginning, Budhi has kept to a design philosophy stressing modern tropical architecture and focused on locality in every aspect of design. The result has been a distinct body of work that has garnered him a reputation as an architect steadfast in presenting his own style. He talks to Indonesia Design about why he strives to promote local wisdom, which many Indonesian designers are beginning to leave behind.  

Photo by Bagus Tri Laksono and BHA Doc.

How did you get interested in design?

When we start to focus on one field, everything that follows seems to happen by chance. The more we are aware of this, the more the subject becomes interesting–and what we do become a life calling.

What was your first professional project?

Our first work was the master plan for Ciputra Surabaya–a 2,000-hectare project. We finished it together with several of our colleagues on one design team.

What one project in your career offers you the most profound memory?

I think that all of our projects have been memorable because each project has its own story. In addition, each project comes with a message for us to learn–to enjoy it, along with its ups and downs.

Why have you gravitated toward tropical designs with Indonesian element?

A tropical style is a given for architectural designs in Indonesia. Like it or not, we live in a tropical country. It is basically our choice how to translate this tropical element into design, regardless of style. This “tropical philosophy” can be interpreted by all forms of architecture and not only limited to technical and functional issues or ambience. The soul of tropical philosophy should be felt throughout the design. Similarly, locality should be viewed as a culture–a formed habit that has an impact on architecture and the built environment that is has created. This does not only concern genius; it involves local wisdom. This is important: Essentially, when we enjoy a cup of coffee, we are enjoying the content–and should not only get excited because of the condition of the cup.

Do you think there is a right or wrong design ethos?

Right or wrong become relative in design. Perhaps we would prefer to use the terms “accurate” or “inaccurate” in regarding how we view things, based on context. When we talk about design, the following will come up: Tangible and intangible elements, private and universal elements, and so on… [and] we might be biased when asked about the right or wrong aspects of the elements. As a result, we need to realise design in terms of its contextual value and holistic capacity. This is where the wisdom within ourselves is truly tested.

What do you think about design in Surabaya?

Design development in Surabaya is growing favourably along with the changes in the times and trend. This has prompted people–not only designers–to start appreciating the world of creative industry, which is a positive thing for the design world.

Why give up career track in Jakarta to make your name in Surabaya?

I did not deliberately choose to start a career in Surabaya. Everything seems to have just fallen into place and happened naturally.

Budi Harmunanto

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