Posted on 14 Jul 2009 by mAAN

Informal Report about the mAAN Design Workshop: The Great Padang Cement Factory Revitalization
By Pina Wu (Taiwan)

“How many of you are willing to put in ten days to discover something new?”
-opening question at the workshop
The 2nd mAAN Great Factory workshop (the 1st one was in Shanghai 2004) brought 80+ students, architects, educators, historians, documenters, journalists from Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, India, Taiwan, and Sweden together. Most of them have never thought someday they would come to spend 10 days in a cement factory in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia from June 27th to July 6th, 2009.

It started out quite random actually. When Mr. Andre heard the Cement Padang Factory was going to take down part of its old facilities built in 1910, the Dutch colonial era. He blurted out “No, you are wrong if you build a museum on top of the old Dutch swimming pool and take down the old factory!”

Mr. Andre told the President his story of growing up as a little boy 200 meters away from the factory, what this place has meant to him and people in this area. He felt this could be a place for people to come together. The President accepted. The Factory started to look for alternatives.

But what to do with these old factory heritage?

Mr. Andre started to search online and found mAAN. He wrote a short email. The email got passed around. And mAAN-Indonesia came in to organize. The Cement Padang Factory supported the endeavor of a workshop.

Three months later, the old factory ruin became an unlikely place for people across world to meet. Locals and internationals, guards, students, architects, historians, professors, UNESCO heritage award recipients, film documenters, journalists, kids, servers, former and current workers, drivers.. all walked up and down this ruin, like some kind of special ceremony. They took photos it, they sketched it, they examined it, they played in it, they developed their own sense of appreciation about this giant rusty forest. And they worked day and night in a studio just 10 meters away from the site.

This was the first time an architecture workshop like this taking place in Indonesia. Unlimited numbers of creative hours were put in. 11 unit masters- leading architects and professors from universities in Asia, led 80+ architecture students through the workshop. It was also a rare opportunity for Asian architecture professionals, scholars and educators to learn from each other in a hands-on setting.

Molly and Manoj, professors from India, had led the students through a magical design process.

On the 1st day, Manoj opened up his intro in a trembling voice: “The factory is in itself made up with very exciting forms. We want to find out exciting new possibilities. Like a cylinder, how would it feel to go through that! If you think like a child, you can go up and down.”

Molly asked each of the students to describe a child, they will adapt him or her, make a picture of this child, “When you walk around the factory, it’s what that child finds exciting, not you!”

On the 2nd day, they crammed their 8 students into a small van, brought them to meet the kids’ in the factory workers’ housing. And the next day they sent a bus to invite the kids to come to the factory to play.

The pieces came together on the 4th day. They helped the students to make sense of what they did: “First we become a child, then we become friends with them. What a child would like an adult would like too. So now this child is called a user..”

Students put down all the children’s names, taking records of their characteristics, deduced key points from their experiences. From there they generated guidelines, dos and don’ts for their design, coming up programs.

They used their findings to challenge the design of other units. In the group review session, one of the students stood up and asked ”my child is on a wheelchair, and I wonder how she can go up and down the tubes that you just said..”

This was just one unit, and there were 8 other different units, all using different approaches and design traditions.

Mr. Adi brought their students to discover underground water sources and hidden mystery about the factory. Mr. Eko brought them to observe local Padang housing.

Mr. Lee Sang Yun helped students to develop their thoughts in a systematic way. 
Mr. Tsuto asked the students to “continue express your feelings” through drawing and sketches.

Some kept challenging the students “I can’t see what is it that is stopping you from doing this and that!” and worried that students, in facing the pressure of the deadline, will throw their instincts away..

All together, the 9 units exhibited a blend of different training roots and traditions. It came together as:
While the international unit masters encouraged the students to think freely, the Indonesian unit masters were able to discern the darker, softer side about the factory.

An Indonesian unit masters brought up “Local people don’t want to come to the factory. The Dutch made the local people work very hard. ” This colonial context was often not seen or treated by other international unit masters.

All together, the 9 units turned out a revitalization design addressing different parts of the puzzle, which no other architects could do it alone.
Toward the end of the workshop, student spent longer and longer time with the computer. The youngest unit master from India, Amritha said “You know what’s breaking my heart is they looked so weighed down, no fun.” A student said “The project is too big. We are children, and children are about small things..” The child that Molly and Manoj have developed so carefully seemed to shy away from this very formal review process developed in architecture schools.

Tsuto, unit master now teaching in Singapore National University, talked about in his training in Colombia University, the unit masters and students should have more comfort room to “fight” each other, to contrast out differences, to form a public drama!

Pina (myself), a militant urban planner trained in Taiwan and US, really felt these architects have not done enough to engage the locals, and to poke the underlying political tension.. had nowhere to express her frustration..

The review lost half of the audience from the Cement Padang Factory. Part of mAAN’s mission here was to involve the public. But with so many local people from Padang at site, our English powerpoint presentation did not work for them.

What will be a review process that fits the local Asian context better?

What will happen after the workshop? The participants of the 1st mAAN workshop didn’t know what happened after the workshop. Molly, for example, mentioned “It will be great to go back to see if the design got implemented, which part had and which part not, to learned from it.”

Mr. Eko wanted to bring the students to go to the traditional housing sites. But there were not enough time. Where the Goddesses descended, there were beautiful buildings full of ecological and social wisdom continued to be replaced by cement. 

The workshop opened up a lot of realizations, confusions, curiosity, wonder.. at the heart of the hybrid modern Asia, continued to be discovered!

What: Workshop supported by Padang Cement Factory, built in 1910 by the Dutch, now run by the Indonesians, the largest cement factory in Indonesia. It is organized by mAAN-Indonesia.
Who: 80+ architecture students+ professors + historians + documenters from Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, India, Taiwan, and Sweden.
When: June 27th-July 6th, 2009
Where: Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia
What next: Cement Padang Factory’s revitalization project and event for its centennial anniversary in March, 2010


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