Electra Pangalou explores the boundaries of heritage adaptive reuse in Bandung with the transformation of warehouses belonging to the former Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Dutch abbreviation: KNIL).
Can you briefly explain your choice of subject?
The particular choice of subject was the outcome of a combination of different things that arose from the analysis of the context and people’s behaviour in Bandung, Indonesia. First of all, as part of the Heritage & Architecture studio, my starting point was to explore the role of the historic yet now dysfunctional railway backbone in Bandung. The most striking aspect for me was to see how the railway has been transformed into this social border within the city, between the more formally structured neighbourhoods and the more organic, urban kampung villages. At the same time, being completely disconnected from its surroundings, it developed into a dead zone used as a waste disposal area. To add on that, a significant amount of the built environment along the edges of the railway constitutes a part of the historic centre and is thus comprised of heritage buildings that are currently deteriorating and are excluded from the city’s life. As a result, in order for Bandung to become more healthy and resilient as a city, I thought that integrated solutions are a must. I could not see one problem improving without taking into consideration the other and how it affects any proposed solutions so far. It turns out the biggest problem in managing plastic waste is also social segregation. Consequently, by investigating the two problems, social segregation and environmental pollution, in depth, I started to make links and connections and came up with what I believe is a cultural solution to an environmental problem that is determined by the context and the people around it. As an approach it could work anywhere yet the implementation is specific to its context.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly explain this?
I believe inspiration in architecture comes from everything. It could have been a song, a poem, an image or a saying, a door, a window, a tree or a garbage bin. I think my investigation is focused on how people behave in a context, both in terms of their contact with the built environment but also with each other. In a country like Indonesia, where there are multiple realities within the same city and the socio-economic environment varies to this extent, people’s behaviour has often more to say than the work of a famous artist or architect. I remember walking along the railway lines with my colleagues and there were stacked pallets, used by people as steps, in order to be able to cross from one side of the railway track to the other. That’s for me inspiration! Similarly, an old lady who is preparing food for twenty people and places it next to the train tracks a second before the train passes, is also inspiration. Of course, when it comes to the implementation and the translation of an idea into a design, I always refer to the work of professional architects or students to see how they deal with similar issues and thus how these ideas can evolve further. I take a piece and I add more to it.
State the key moment in your graduation project
I think a key moment for me was somewhere in the middle of the year (around March, 2019) where we had the first presentation for our design proposal. The presentation went relatively okay, but that was not the issue. In my head there was chaos, too many ideas and complexities, which were not even necessary. So I decided to take my distance, and reflect on what I was doing. Definitely, a turning point. I threw away all the misleading and unnecessary parts (sometimes it has to do more with how you say something than the design itself) and I kept only the things that throughout the process were consistent and served the goals of the proposal. After that, I knew what I was doing, it was a matter of managing my time properly in order to be able to communicate that to other people.
This project for transforming warehouses belonging to the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Dutch abbreviation: KNIL) explores the boundaries of heritage adaptive reuse in Bandung. My intention is to show how the design for an inclusive and healthy environment can address social and ecological challenges in a more integrated way.
In a built environment like the city of Bandung, the cityscape is dominated by the social segregation between the formally structured communities and the more organic ‘kampung’ villages. This segregation is responsible to a significant degree for most of the urban problems, including environmental pollution. My project instead seeks integration, both socially and spatially. Social integration is about understanding people and the community and makes use of the strengths that different target groups can contribute to the urban environment. Spatial inclusion largely refers to the urban context and what new projects can do to improve and accommodate social interaction.
The project’s intention, and consequently mine as a future architect, is to show how architecture and reuse can contribute to healthier and more resilient cities. To this end, an understanding of the context and the people and their needs is essential. The project seeks to make people aware of the prevailing issues by integrating a plastic waste recycling cycle with a community centre of creative spaces and educational facilities. Here, waste can become part of the daily routine, so that people can explore the possibilities of reuse and up-cycling and thus enjoy business opportunities in an inclusive environment for all.
The combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches in terms of the programme but also in the physical materialization of the design offers the means for change. Architecturally, the project explores the relationships between waste and people, work and the public environment, and openness and enclosure at various scales. At city scale, there is the transformation of the former railway into a new tram line accompanied by a green belt. At neighbourhood scale, the KNIL warehouses are transformed into a creative and educational cluster for processing plastic waste. This is an urban facility, whereas at building scale the integration is explored through architectural design and building technology. While the programme addresses current urban challenges, the design strives for flexibility and adaptability so as to enhance the qualities of the existing monumental site and prolong its life expectancy.
What are you doing now?
Now, I am back in Athens, Greece where I work in an architectural office specializing in Heritage Architecture, called Neoptolemos Michailidis and Partners (Νεοπτόλεμος Μιχαηλίδης και Συνεργάτες). I am working on a variety of projects from ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine archaeological sites to more recent 19th and 20th century heritage buildings. From medieval castles to industrial buildings. However, in the Greek setting, the projects are more about conservation and renovation, especially when it comes to archaeological sites, but hopefully, soon it will include more adaptive re-use which can offer a lot of opportunities to the current socio-economic setting.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
After my final presentation, for my graduation project, my design tutor and mentor called me a dreamer. I never considered myself a dreamer but I do believe that architecture has a lot more to offer than touristic attractions and office buildings. I think that in the current globalizing setting of the 21st century, the exchange of ideas from West to East, North to South and vice versa can be the driving force behind regional solutions that evolve cultures and learn from history’s mistakes. I believe people are way more adaptable than architects and I really hope that as a professional architect, I can manage to work on projects that take into account the people, the context, it’s history and make it part of the future, serving the needs of today. I do hope for a more direct application of the academic approach into the real market.