Reimagining West Sumatra’s Architectural Identity: Is the Pointy Silhouette Enough?

Purwaningrum, Diah Asih | Savirani, Amalinda | Widiastuti, Indah | Praningtyas, Septaliana Dewi | Dandy, Alvin Try

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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Since the New Order era, the Indonesian government, at both the national and the local levels, has advocated traditional architecture as a display of the country’s cultural richness and diversity. In West Sumatra, the traditional house known as the rumah gadang has become an essential signifier of identity representation, especially since it possesses a bagonjong, a unique saddle roof with pointy horn-like ends that distinguishes it from other traditional architecture in the country. In local identity politics, the bagonjong is an essential feature of identity representation. It leads to extensive reproduction as replicas or silhouettes, both in the vernacular and modern design languages. With the current government’s mission to preserve the identity imagining of the area and with the plan to incorporate this imagining into the tourism industry, traditional architecture regains its significance in the community, to be preserved, even rebuilt, despite the many questions surrounding its motivations.

This paper scrutinises the position of traditional architecture in the current identity politics of the local government of West Sumatra. It traces the socio-political background that led to the ‘bagonjongisation’ of the government buildings in the area and how the imagining is manifested in a contemporary context. This paper also investigates the opposing voices to understand the contestation of identity representation in West Sumatra. It intends to contribute to the discussion of the identity politics dynamics at the local government level in Indonesia and emphasises that identity construction is not an innocent process of cultural preservation, as it is openly narrated.