Many in Jakarta have forgotten that the city once had an airport in its heart, Kemajoran International Airport Djakarta. It’s a great example of the importance of protecting heritage sites close to us.
Story & Photo by Aditya W Fitrianto, IAI
Today, the remaining structures in Kemajoran airport appear derelict and neglected behind unkempt bushes and trees in one of the blocks in Kota Baru Kemayoran. Among the several structures that are still standing, the ATC (air traffic control) tower is the only one legally conserved as a heritage building in Jakarta. This is arguably the best move by the government in providing the area with a unique identity.
For the purposes of the preservation, guidelines were drafted by the Urban Design Study Centre Team of the Bandung Institute of Technology, an organisation under architect and senior city planner M. Danisworo. He stressed the importance of protecting historical landmarks and integrating them in the design and overall development of the area. The ATC tower does not occupy much space and will not be disruptive to plans to develop the Kota Baru Kemayoran area.
Kemajoran airport was opened during the Dutch in 1940 for civil and commercial flights. At the time, the airport was considered one of the most modern in the world. It boasted paved runways, an ATC tower, hangars for plane maintenance and excellent terminals. It replaced an airport in the southeast of Batavia, now Jakarta, called Tjililitan airport, now known Halim Perdanakusuma airport. Years later, Kemajoran airport was designated a military airfield and an alternative airport for civil aviation.
It was at Kemajoran airport that Soekarno gave a speech in front of the people welcoming him back from a trip, declaring that “We would soon be independent before the corn crops grow in august 1945.” Sure enough, Indonesia became independent. Kemajoran airport continued to be used for domestic and international civilian flights.
In the 1960s, the Kemajoran airport was a hub, or a transit ground, for flights from European countries and Asian flights going to Australia. This has since become one of Singapore’s Changi airport’s functions.
Tower Building and Facilities
The shape of the ATC tower underwent several changes between the 1940s and the late 1950s, yet none of them increased its height significantly. The taller structure (about five storeys high) standing today is relatively new, most likely built when air traffic became heavier. By today’s standards, five storeys is not high, but it was a sufficient height back then as there weren’t too many tall buildings in the city to obstruct the view.
Clad in an all-around glazed surface, the control room on the top floor has a 360-degree view of the airport grounds. The levels underneath were used as support facilities for those working inside the tower, such as a small pantry, toilets, storerooms as well as break rooms.
The ATC tower was built using a combination of steel and concrete. The columns are made of concrete and lined with brick walls while the floors and staircases are concrete and metal. The staircase was optimally designed to reduce the energy needed by those climbing them. Room partitions and walls in the control room on the top floor were made of steel and wooden frames. The materials were chosen to minimise the weight of the structures underneath.
Additionally, close to the ATC tower, stands another tower measuring three storeys tall. The smaller tower served as a supporting office for the ATC. There is also a power house that features a typical 1960s architecture with a few art-deco horizontal ornaments and finishing.
In the guidelines, it is mentioned that the block where ATC resides is mixed use with possible functions such as a private homes, commercial buildings and offices. However, the ATC Kemajoran tower is squeezed between podium-shaped buildings, making it appear hidden amidst the concrete jungle. It’s preferable to have future buildings carefully positioned to create adequate space around the ATC so it can be a visual focus of the block.
There are a number of new functions that the tower can serve, such as a mini-museum for aviation or a tourism- focused place that tells the history of Kemajoran airport. In fact, it could even be combined with an open garden to commemorate the tower’s appearance in the literature world through the popular comic The Adventures of Tintin in its 22nd edition, Flight 714 to Sydney. The author of the comic book, the famed Hergé, who wrote under the pen name of George Remi, aptly illustrated in detail the ambience of the former international airport, including its cafe, an aircraft bearing the Garuda logo circa 1960, and the ATC tower, which looks a lot like its present form.
The remaining structure of the Kemajoran airport terminal is a shabby building clad in red and white paint designed by a famous architect during Indonesia’s early days, F. Silaban. Featuring an international style, this terminal gave the thriving airport a modern touch. It is expected that this building will also make it into the list of heritage buildings in the city, considering its historic value, architectural significance, as well as the old wall reliefs inside the VIP room of the airport.
A good city is not one to forget its historical roots. It’s smart to leverage a city’s history to enrich it, in part so it stands out from the other big cities of the world. By the same token, Jakarta could use a physical facelift as well as a renewed spirit for preserving existing heritage sites. It is on us and other concerned parties to make this happen; to develop the assets and resources we have for a better and more sustainable Jakarta.