Benny Gunawan: Preserving Colonial Architecture in Surabaya


Like several other prominent architects around the world, Benny Gunawan has shown a passion and vision for design that has led him to branch out into the fields of interior and furniture design. In 1989, Benny established BGNR Architects in Surabaya. In 1995, he founded INSIMA Furniture, to focus on interior projects. Benny talks with Indonesia Design about Surabaya and working in the city.

Photo by BGNR Architects Doc.

How did you first get involved in architecture?

My brother, the late Freddy Gunawan was an architect. He had a studio in our house, so I had always been familiar with his line of work. This familiar feeling finally encouraged my brother, my sister and me to become architects, too. My son Giovanni Gunawan followed in our footsteps by becoming an architect.

What was your first project?

It was a private home on Jalan Raya Darmo, Surabaya. I began the project in 1985, just over a year after I graduated from university.

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

I once made a plan for a campus with a candi (temple)-like concept, so that the ambience reflected the quality of a candi–full of philosophy and meanings.

What do you think about design in Surabaya?

The design scene in Surabaya has greatly advanced. There are a lot of local and international architects who have been eyeing several projects in this city.

Why live and work in Surabaya?

Obviously, to be close to my family, who have lived here for years. Another reason is because Surabaya is the second-largest city in Indonesia. This city is strategic for business, considering its location, which makes it easier to access the eastern parts of Indonesia.

What’s most interesting about Surabaya?

Surabaya is a unique and selective place, both in term of its locality and the people. As architects, we have to be smart in planning a building so that the public can accept and appreciate it.

What are your hopes for Surabaya?

I hope that Surabaya can be even more developed in the future. As an architect, I also hope that building permits in the city can be obtained more easily and more flexibly – but still within the corridors and constraints of city planning regulations. I would also like to invite and urge the architects of the city to respect the legacy of colonial architecture in the city, and try as hard as they can to preserve them and assign them with modern functions. Hopefully, functional skyscrapers in the city that are designed with high aesthetic value can stand side by side with the historical part of Surabaya.

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Barbara Hahijary
Barbara earned her bachelor's degree in architecture from the Interior Architecture Program of the University of Indonesia in 2013. Historical or heritage buildings, as well as utilitarian design, fascinates her as it is the interaction between people and architecture that remains her favourite topic to explore. Besides architecture, her interests include design, handcrafts, literature and social issues.

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