Henri Maclain Pont, College of Technology, Bandung, 1919-1920. Photo: G. de Vries
October 2009 | Henri Maclaine Pont (1884-1971) was a child of two worlds: he was born in Batavia, studied civil engineering in Delft, and worked in the Dutch East Indies. Fascinated by indigenous building traditions and praised as a progressive ‘Western’ architect, he is now almost forgotten in the Netherlands, but still greatly appreciated in Indonesia. As part of its series of books, Stichting Bonas will publish a monograph on Henri Maclaine Pont: architect, structural engineer and archaeologist, on 10 October.
After graduating from Delft University of Technology, he received his first major assignment in 1911: the design for the headquarters of the Semarang-Cheribon Steam Tram Company. In 1919 he designed the Bandung University of Technology, a building akin to a Java royal palace, as picturesque as it was impressive. Both designs are still extraordinary in that they look Indonesian in terms of shape and material, yet the arrangement of the rooms around a central lobby was typically western, similar to the Beurs van Berlage. In his designs, Maclaine Pont achieved completely original results, in which indigenous building traditions inspired an architecture and construction that met modern, Western standards.
> Top: Henri Maclaine Pont, southern elevation of the headquarters of SCS Tegal Java, 1911. Photograph from the magazine Nederlands-Indië Oud & Nieuw 1 (1916-1917). Bottom: Bandung University of Technology, 1919. Construction of the trusses for the auditorium. Photograph: Collection J. Buijs Bilthoven.
The arrival of Western architects in the Dutch East Indies during the first decades of the 20th century prompted a discourse on the value and characteristic nature of traditional, indigenous architecture. In his ‘Indische reis’ [Indonesian Journey] Berlage aptly summarised the essence of this discourse: ‘There are two parties, the first one of which contends that the motherland must transfer “civilisation” and therefore also art, to the colony. Too little is left of Javanese art to attach any permanent value to it; while the Javanese themselves, whose participation would be required, have little sense of art left. Mais, à qui la faute? The other party bluntly claims the opposite and even adduces evidence for it. Key studies on the subject have been performed by architects Karsten, Maclaine Pont and Wolff Schoemaker.’
When construction of the Bandung University of Technology ended in a disappointment because of an argument over building costs, Maclaine Pont accepted a job as archaeologist/civil servant in charge of inspecting the domestic housing stock. That job took him to all corners of the country and taught him much about traditional building styles. He opposed the idea that indigenous architecture was inferior to Western architecture and at a dead end, advocating that indigenous building traditions be cherished.
Architect C.P. Wolff Schoemaker, on the other hand, had only seen architectural rubbish on Java. It was high time for Europeans to set an example with genuinely contemporary architecture. He wrote: ‘What poverty of expression in the plain brick and wood structures. They mark a beginning of architecture and appear to have exhausted any form of creative urge. I believe that Java has neither architecture nor an architectural tradition.’ Maclaine Pont was deeply offended by the condescending remarks of Wolff Schoemakers and his ilk. Over the years, he wrote a series of articles about the virtues and beauty of the indigenous building tradition, linking it to current building assignments.
T. Karsten, who was Maclaine Pont’s business partner for a little while, argued in favour of teaching the Javanese to develop their indigenous construction themselves, based on extant architecture. ‘Not the old Hindu-Javanese, important though it may be. As it comprises sculptural dead art that no longer has any meaning to the Javanese, it has become useless as a starting point for the creation of functional developed space.’ Maclaine Pont shared that vision and wanted to build on durable indigenous concepts such as the pendopo, an ancient construction method. The essence of all pendopo versions, as seen in numerous temples and other structures, comprises a central, remarkably solid roof on tall columns. They could withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. Although the construction had its weaknesses, Maclaine Pont considered it his task to prove that, when elevated to a modern version, it was very useful, even if only to show that Wolff Schoemakers and other faultfinders were wrong.
> Top: Henri Maclaine Pont, Sacred Heart Church, Puhsarang, 1937. Photograph: NAI Collection, MACL archive. Bottom: Archaeological field museum in Trawulan, 1932. Photograph: NAI Collection, MACL archive
One of the key examples of Maclaine Pont’s special structures is located in Trawulan (1931) on Eastern Java, where he built a field museum for a large number of his own archaeological finds. He designed a modernised version of the pendopo based on the same principles. The roof is weighted and the structure is slightly deformable. Energy is absorbed by the clearance between the roof tiles, making it a high-impact building.
In his Sacred Heart Church in Puhsarang (1937), Maclaine Pont used a similar roof construction that was highly economical and could withstand storms and earthquakes, and whose slender supports allowed versatile use. Structurally speaking, this was pioneering work, exploring what was completely uncharted territory at the time. He considered the pendopo method of construction as a structural necessity rather than a folkloristic tradition. It led him to develop an original and dynamic structure: fragile yet resistant to the forces of nature.
Sophisticated roof structures
His experiments with sophisticated roof structures can be compared to the work of later architects/structural engineers like P.L. Nervi, J. Prouvé and Frei Otto. After the Second World War, Maclaine Pont focused on the development of much larger, self-balancing roof structures in the Netherlands, for which he obtained various patents without this resulting in any actual buildings.
Quotes are from the publication reviewed here.
Henri Maclaine Pont (1884-1971): architect, constructeur, archeoloog [Henri Maclaine Pont (1884-1971): architect, structural engineer, archaeologist] / Gerrit de Vries, Dorothee Segaar-Höweler. – Rotterdam: Stichting BONAS, 2009. 128 pp. : ill., photographs, drawings; 26x22 cm.
Available from bookshops or from BONAS (+31 10 440 1353)
Stichting BONAS | Museumpark 25, 3015 CB Rotterdam, the Netherlands | firstname.lastname@example.org |www.bonas.nl
On Saturday, 10 October 2009 at 4 pm, the book will be presented in the auditorium of the Netherlands Architecture Institute. The book’s author, Gerrit de Vries, and architect/publicist Cor Passchier will give brief introductions.
This book is published on the initiative of the Stichting Bibliografieën en Oeuvrelijsten van Nederlandse Architecten en Stedebouwkundigen (BONAS, Foundation for bibliographies and lists of works of Dutch architects and urban planners). Housed in the NAI building, the Stichting BONAS has been inventorying the work of 19th- and 20th-century Dutch architects, interior architects, urban designers and garden/landscape architects since 1994.
November 2009 | The work of traditionalist architect J.F. Berghoef
(1903-1994) has again become the subject of research. The NAI has loaned the
Johannes Fake Berghoef Archive to the University in order to facilitate
and encourage their work.
> Read more...
August 2009 | As a former colony, the Dutch East-Indies belong to the
area covered by the NAI’s collection too. The East-Indies Archives contain work by architects such as H.A. Breuning,
Liem Bwan Tjie, A.W. Gmelig Meyling, J. T. van Oyen and A.F. Aalbers.
The recent acquisition of W.B. Carmiggelt’s documentation and
photograph albums forms a welcome addition to the existing collection.
> Read more...
In the new permanent exhibition Treasury, you can admire 100 highlights from the vast NAI collection. Works on display include famous designs by the icons of Dutch architectural history such as Cuypers, Dudok, Rietveld and Koolhaas. The Treasury completes the new NAI, museum of architecture.
> Read more...
Februari 2009 | Hein Salomonson (1910-1994) was one of the second-generation
architects of the ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’ style, the Dutch branch of the
International School of Modernism. Recently, his body of work was the subject of serious
research. Stichting BONAS has published a book about his work.
> Read more...
The NAI has received a collection of over 3,500 drawings and
photographs on long-term loan from the Architecture Faculty of Delft
University of Technology.
> Read more...