Helen Agustine - When I Was Brought Back To Indonesia, I Decided To Work With A Partner & Open My Architectural Design Studio In Jakarta (Architect, Indonesia)  

Design is about seeing the world in a different perspective and finding possibilities and solutions to the current issues. Thus, open mindedness and curiosity give us the ability to walk in other people's shoes, to listen, to be aware of the changes, and to creatively address and respond to the needs through innovation.

1. Tell us about your background and journey.

I was born in Indonesia as a second child without a family background in architecture, but they gave me so much freedom to choose what I wanted to become. Starting with my passion of traveling, my fondness of experiencing spaces and new places grew with me since I was a child. 

I decided to study Bachelor of Architecture in Parahyangan University, Bandung, and then I discovered enjoyment of exploring interiority and materiality while I was working in Bitte Design Studio, Jakarta for about one year. Then I pursued a Master of Design in Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK and found another work in Young-In Architect, London. 

When I was brought back to Indonesia, I was met with several opportunities to design coworking spaces for several start-ups through relatives connections. With the emerging opportunities, I decided to work with a partner and open my own architectural design studio in Jakarta.


2. When and why did you choose this field?

When I was a child, my parents used to bring me for stay-cations during weekends or school holidays. My sister and I grew up in a very mobile family, and I still remember the excitement we had every time we arrived in the nice hotel room with soft bed and beautiful views. 

I was in 3rd grade elementary school when I was introduced to the architecture field for the first time by my teacher, and the experiences of those staycation to many nice places had made me straightforwardly in love with architecture and stayed on the track. My childhood dream was that one day I could also build a nice staycation place for my family and other people.


3. Do you have a dream project or your favourite project?

Every project has its own story and memory, however the most personal and emotionally attached project to me was the recent installation I’ve made: “A Beautiful Mess”, located in Kumulo Creative Compound, Indonesia.

As part of Wonders of Weaving “Solidarity Resilience” program, Seniman Ruang collaborated with Sandei and Byo Living, initiated an installation to embrace the motherhood journey as a harmony of all the beauty and the mess, to appreciate their love and silent struggles, and to empower self-love and acceptance. 

It was a 9 sqm translucent shelter engraved with numerous keywords of mothers’ expressions, and utilized discarded blinds fabrics that were woven into a hyperbolic shape of mother’s womb. The installation not only served as a campaign, but also operated as retail of sustainable wearable products. 

As a mother of one, I found this installation was very related to the struggles I’ve been through and being able to help other mothers for their story to be heard and seen without judgement, was a heal for my soul.


4. How can one identify and appreciate good architecture?

I believe good architectural design is the one which can stand through time by empathetically “listen” and adaptably respond to the people and its context. It’s about loosening our ego and focusing on how design can even more enhance our humanity, through the balance between function and emotional experience. 

On top of that, sustainability is also a very important aspect in architecture as we are all directly or indirectly responsible for invasions into ecosystems that are home to other species, and this nature exploitation is at our own expense.


5. Who is your favourite architect and why?

This is a tough question because there are so many architects, designers, and artists I look up to with their own talents, beliefs, and uniqueness. Geoffrey Bawa and Olafur Eliasson may have very different design approaches and outcome, but they are two of the most influential architects and designers for me. 

I love how the architecture of Geoffrey Bawa can stand through time and age beautifully through creating a harmony with nature, how his design does not go against nature but involves them, and how he shows the humbleness in architecture. He reminds me that architecture is very related to its context and needs to be experienced to understand it. 

On the other hand, I love the playfulness and contemporary design and art by Olafur Eliasson that can change our perception into reality of spaces and open exploration of human feelings through design. He reminds me what we consider as the truth, depending on how we look at it.


6. Do you have any tips for people who want to join this field?

I think the most important thing for being able to continuously design and create, is to stay open minded and curious about many things. Sometimes we forget to unlearn what we already know and make assumptions without really seeing and listening, and that is when creativity dies. Design is about seeing the world in a different perspective and finding possibilities and solutions to the current issues. 

Thus, open mindedness and curiosity give us the ability to walk in other people's shoes, to listen, to be aware of the changes, and to creatively address and respond to the needs through innovation.


7. What does your typical work day look like?

Having our own studio required us to do more than just designing, but also we needed to do the marketing, managing the team, communicating to the builders and frequently supervising the construction. 

While most of my work time is spent meeting clients and discussing design with the team, at the other times I create a solitude to concentrate in research, concepting and story-telling. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia, working from home was definitely a challenge and blessing for me. 

Limited visits to the site and material hunting, also online team coordination impacts the productivity of the company, but at the same time I got more time for myself to reflect on the quality and develop more thoughtful design. 

Helen Agustine

I’m Helen Agustine, architect, designer and founder of Seniman Ruang.

Seniman Ruang is an architectural and interior design studio based in Indonesia, developing commercial and residential projects from concept, design, technical drawing, and site supervision. 

- Interviewed By Anamika Ajith

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