Bandung kampung by Paul Jones

What happens when a city is designed and built by the people?

10 May 2018
Q & A with Masters students Natalie Andersen and Laurie Mah
Ahead of the 'Understanding the Informal City' exhibition, we spoke to two of the participating students after their field trip in Bandung, Indonesia.
Bandung Indonesia

Photo: Paul Jones

Bandung is the capital city of the West Java province in Indonesia. It’s Indonesia’s second-largest metropolitan area and was the site chosen for a recent studio field trip for 19 University of Sydney students completing their Masters in Urban and Regional PlanningUrbanismUrban Design and Architecture. The studio, run by Associate Professor Paul Jones and tutor Dr. Ninik Suhartini, required students spend hours exploring the streets, alleyways and buildings within Lebak Siliwangi, observing and analysing examples of informal and adaptive urbanism. The outcomes of this analysis will be presented in a two-week exhibition titled Understanding the Informal City. Ahead of the exhibition opening, we sat down with students Natalie Andersen and Laurie Mah to find out more about their experiences in Bandung.

What is informal urbanism?
Laurie Mah: A kampung (or traditional village), is an example of informal urbanism. They are designed for the people, built by the people and not designed for cars. The network of alleyways are the result of the buildings (houses) and not the other way around. The bottom-up development of the spaces fulfils the social and cultural requirements of the people living there.

Kampung in Bandung, Indonesia

Photo: Laurie Mah

So, what would it be like to live in a kampung?
LM: It’s a very lively, active place where there is a strong cohesive sense of community and high levels of socio-cultural value. Yes, there are issues with infrastructure, like water and sewerage, and it could be heavily improved upon, but the social fabric is genuine and natural. Something that top down planning strives for but does not always achieve.

Natalie Andersen: The communities that live there are incredibly resilient and cohesive. Probably the most surprising thing for me was the interwoven mix of habitation and micro-businesses. Many people think of kampungs as a kind of a dystopian problem that needs to be fixed but Lebak Siliwangi is not like that at all.

Small business in Lebak Siliwangi

Photo: Natalie Andersen

: Yes, the kampung appears chaotic but there is method in the seeming madness. Despite very tight alleyway spaces, people and goods are able to travel through the kampung through by way of negotiation on the part of the traveller, the buildings themselves and the goods being transported.

Could you tell us some of your trip highlights?
NA: I enjoyed the whole experience, so many highlights. It is such an unique course offering and provides a real ‘hands on’ learning experience of informal housing that is far richer than anything you will read in a publication. The collaboration with ITB and being able to present our work at Planocosmo was a great experience too, we were very looked after by everyone. However, the absolute highlight was donating some games that I brought with me from Australia to give to the children of the kampung, their excitement was totally priceless.

LM: Authentic Indonesian food! Being able to have laksa, nasi uduk and deep fried tempe alongside pancakes and cappucinos for breakfast - the hotel had a great breakfast buffet. Also, being invited to the Mayor’s House and to the Governor of West Java’s place for dinner. I loved observing the amazing built forms and construction detailing that would not meet building codes or Australian Standards in Australia, Europe or Canada.

Indonesian children in a Bandung kampung

Photo: Natalie Andersen

Washing in Lebak Siliwangi

Photo: Laurie Mah

What will you be presenting in the exhibition?
LM: My group and I focused on the intersections of alleyways in the kampung. We studied intersections as nexus points to observe the social, economic and built form.

NAOur group presentation hopes to highlight the interwoven mix of habitation and livelihood that is evident in Lebak Siliwangi. We want to highlight that kampungs are places where people run their small businesses, as well as where they live, so the vertical housing solution the Indonesian government is proposing needs to place more emphasis on this fact for it to be a successful strategy in alleviating poverty.


Understanding the Informal City opens Monday 14 May at 5pm in The Hearth (Level 2), 148 City Rd, Wilkinson Building, The University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning. The exhibition will be open for two weeks.

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