Form Follows Political Paradigm: A reflection on Indonesia’s new capital city

Commentary / 4th Quarter 2022

Form Follows Political Paradigm: A reflection on Indonesia’s new capital city

by Dr Johannes Widodo

December 7, 2022


Political processes and ideological considerations play a vital role in deciding the master plan and final architectural design of the principal structures in a new national capital, alongside academic and professional deliberations.

The act of naming a new capital city, as well as the selection of physical patterns and forms, are significant since they reflect the hopes, dreams, intents and ideologies of the state’s leaders. Architectural planning and design languages, such as typology, morphology, geometry, axiality, symmetry, hierarchy, iconography and monumentality, materialise the intangible narrative.


Around the time that Indonesia celebrated its independence day, in the middle of August 2019, various mass media outlets in the country reported on a document that had been published by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. This document outlined the concept and design criteria for the nation’s new capital city,5 without making any reference to the location.

It included images for the new capital concept, one of which depicted a symmetrical plan with a vertical monument standing atop a five-pointed star plaza at the centre of the city. It is a direct translation of the national identity into the patterns, shapes and functions of urban design. This includes the national slogan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which translates to “unity in plurality”, as well as the National Constitution (UUD 1945). It is clear that symbolism and ideology are at the forefront of the idea, while socio-economic progress, technological advancement and environmental concerns are put in the background.


Indonesia’s current land and maritime territory is the legacy of earlier generations. It is envisaged that future generations of Indonesians would inherit it in good health, with no depletion of natural resources and no damage to its social integrity or cultural diversity. Today’s young generation has the historical right and responsibility to carry on this natural, cultural and national treasure into the future.

The creation of a new national capital city in Kalimantan is an excellent opportunity to show the world a right direction and attitude, especially in the current global environmental, political and economic crises due to global warming, wars and recession.

In the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2030, Indonesia—and also countries in the Asia-Pacific—is still far below in achieving the targets, including renewable energy consumption, waste collection coverage, CO2 emissions, protection of forest area, marine area protection,13 etc. It is clear that the protection of the biosphere (6: Clean Water & Sanitation, 13: Climate Action, 14: Life Below Water, and 15: Life on Land) should be put as the highest priority before the other Society and Economy targets.

Therefore, it is imperative for Indonesia to fulfil its pledge by signing the agreement among all 193 United Nations Member States with the aim to end poverty, ensure prosperity and protect the planet in September 2015. The commitment is not only for the sake of the world, but most importantly, for the future of Indonesia itself.

We can only hope that the next stage of Nusantara’s growth, from planning to implementation and habitation, would be carried out in a manner that is open, accountable, democratic, scientific and ethical. All agencies and actors involved in the planning, designing, building and development of the new national capital city must have the following fundamental attitudes and mindsets: Natural (not destructive, not greedy); Clean (not dirty, not corrupt); Thrifty (no waste, no debt); and Tawadhu (not pompous, not arrogant). The foundation of Nusantara should be the paradigms and goals of the future, not the outmoded ideas and sentimentality of the past.

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Dr Johannes Widodo is the director of Graduate Programmes in Architectural Conservation and Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage of the National University of Singapore. He is an Associate Member of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), the founder of mAAN (modern Asian Architecture Network), an Executive Committee member of the Asian Academy for Heritage Management, jury member for the UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, member of ICOMOS International Scientific Committee, a founding member and director of ICOMOS National Committee of Singapore and Indonesia, a founding member of DoCoMoMo Macau and Singapore, the founder and executive director of iNTA (International Network of Tropical Architecture). He served as an advisory board member of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments of the National Heritage Board of Singapore (2013-2019), board member of SEACHA (South-East Asian Cultural Heritage Alliance) since 2019, and member of the Singapore chapter of TCHS (The Circle of Human Sustainability) since 2022.

Read more stories from FuturArc 4Q 2022 Year-End Issue!

1 “Washington, D.C. – City Layout | Britannica” n.d.
2 Hawkins 2009
3 “Masonic Associations” n.d.
4 “The Avery Review | Auspicious Urbanisms: Security and Propaganda in Myanmar’s New Capital” n.d.
5 “Ini Dia Gagasan Desain Ibu Kota Baru Di Kalimantan Halaman All – Kompas.Com” n.d.
6 “Sayembara Konsep Perancangan Kawasan Dan Bangunan Gedung Di Ibu Kota Nusantara” n.d.
7 “Cerita Nyoman Nuarta Soal Desain Istana IKN: Butuh Proses 2 Tahun Sebelum Disetujui Jokowi Halaman All – Kompas.Com” n.d.
8 “Nama Ibu Kota Baru Diumumkan ‘Nusantara’, Ini Fakta-Faktanya” n.d.
9 Evers 2016
12 “JDIH Kementerian PPN/Bappenas” n.d.
13 UNDP n.d.
14 “Kementerian PUPR Tetapkan Pemenang Sayembara Konsep Perancangan Kawasan Dan Bangunan Gedung Di IKN Nusantara” n.d.
15 “Why Did Soekarno Choose Palangka Raya as the Future Capital of Indonesia?” n.d.
16 “Jonggol, Bogor” 2022
17 “UU No. 3 Tahun 2022 Tentang Ibu Kota Negara [JDIH BPK RI]” n.d.
18 Media 2022
19 Kementerian Pekerjaan Umum dan Perumahan Rakyat, n.d.

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