Kopi Manyar, a cafe-gallery managed by architect Andra Matin and two other partners, is housed in what was formerly the architect's first home, which he rented when he was newly married. The place reminded Andra of his humble beginnings and was very fond of it that the moment the house and lot went on sale, he bought it.

Andramatin finds big opportunities by staying rooted in Indonesia

The humble man in the black shirt and sandals just wants to enjoy the work and design process while he can, especially in his homeland.

  • August 6, 2018

  • Written by Patrick Kasingsing

  • Photographed by Ed Simon

Isandra Matin Ahmad, principal of studio andramatin, is not big on hierarchies. For one, he does not have a personal office within his 200-sqm studio, a whitewashed bungalow housing 30 employees. Andra prefers to hot desk from designer to designer to develop design concepts and keep track of projects. He wants to be accessible to everyone, and to espouse a culture of discourse and free dialogue.

“Teamwork is what keeps every office running. This is why the studio follows an open plan with working spaces facing each other, a condition I intentionally created to encourage discussions and direct communication. The tiny space also encourages it,” says Andra.

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
The entryway to the cafe currently hosts an exhibit mounted by Andra on the studio’s biggest project so far: the masterplan of Tubaba in Lampung province. Suspended displays, mounted renders and maquettes acquaint guests with the story behind this ambitious undertaking.

Handling at least 38 projects annually, andramatin has gone far from its humble beginnings in 1998. Andra shares: “I started the firm after leaving my corporate job of nine years. It’s an interesting story as this was also the year that Indonesia fell into an economic crisis with the fall of Suharto. I figured, if I can start a firm and manage difficult times, I’d have an easier time when things stabilize as I’ve already survived the worst.”

READ MORE: 99 light openings illuminate concrete mosque by Andra Matin

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
Andra played around with levels and nooks in his house-turned-cafe, creating an illusion of bountiful space in a tiny area. The voids and niches work as convenient staging areas for art installations.
bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
Andra considers the cafe an extension of his office as it is an informal and less-stressful alternative for discussions and planning sessions. The myriad sitting nooks and the conference room has housed many studio meetings amidst cups of macchiatos and piccolos.

He started with just five commissions on his first year—all renovation projects. Then, he garnered attention for a tiny space he designed for a graphic design outfit in Jakarta called Le Bo Ye. It was a simple cubic composition of wood brise soleil and glass shielding a minimalist reception area. This modernist language of captivating material interplay, thoughtfully-crafted space sequences wrapped in legible geometric forms became characteristic of andramatin’s spaces, and it began to turn heads.

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
Andra found fame with this small project for Indonesian graphic design studio Le Bo Ye, in Kemang, Jakarta. The balanced material palette, interesting spatial sequence, and bold, geometric form stood in sharp contrast with the prevailing neoclassical pastiche houses beloved by the new rich. This new modernist language drew attention to his work and gained him clients, as well as a citation from the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia

Fast forward to today: Andra keeps a busy office, but his work flow stays the same. “I design without a preconceived form in mind. I let the demands and requirements of the spaces inform my initial design concept. And I move on from there.”

He often resorts to writing down his concept, creating a quick sketch, or enlisting the help of a model maker to bring his visions to life. “I don’t do Sketchup or CAD but I’m often together with the project architect in the early stages of design concept, watching him create the 3D models to ensure that I get the quality of space that I have in mind. Once this is settled, I entrust the elaboration and detailing of the design to the project architect.”

READ MORE: Indonesian studio SHAU takes on big problems with smart small-scale solutions

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
Studio andramatin is housed in a 200-square-meter rented bungalow in Bintaro, Jakarta, a three-minute walk from his cafe and his house. When asked about this arrangement, he chuckles: “It’s the most efficient setup in Jakarta context. I don’t have to spend hours in traffic getting to the office and going back home.”

Keeping a small but efficient operation has always been Andra’s goal for the office but he jokingly confides that he has failed in this regard, at least when size is concerned. “I think we’ve gotten too big and it’s all my fault,” he laughs. “It is hard to say ‘no’ to projects, especially if the brief was very interesting. I would end up saying ‘yes’ to a lot of projects. In the same way, it is hard to say ‘no’ to applicants who have amazing portfolios. I don’t do job postings but the applicants just keep pouring in.” He pegs his maximum employee count to 40, which he thinks is just about right for his office space of 14 years.

“There is a value to being small. I can be more selective of my projects, and deliver work of quality. I want to be able to design spaces that embody all the characteristics of my work: effective spaces, thoughtful material choice and memorable spatial sequences. The studio carries my name after all,” Andra remarks.

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
Andra gave the studio an all-white wash. “I went with white because it’s a neutral color and it’s relaxing for the eyes, especially if you’ve been staring at the screen for a long time. “Aside from the paint job, he only did minor alterations to the house and did not do anything drastic, preferring to keep the cozy, homey atmosphere. “I want to develop a familial atmosphere in my office. That is also why I want to keep the size of the office small,” he says.

Building a sense of camaraderie between other local architects and design practitioners is very important to Andra, who was one the founders of Arsitek Muda Indonesia (Young Architects of Indonesia, AMI), a group that supports and uplifts the work of young local talents. To keep his studio inspired and appreciative of their craft, andramatin organizes regular field trips to recently-finished projects or the projects of his peers once every two months.

To encourage a profound appreciation of site, culture and context, as well as strengthen team character within the office, Andra brings the entire team overseas on annual architectural pilgrimages. At the time of our interview, Andra and his office were fresh from a Japan trip. Other countries they have visited include Portugal, China, Germany and Sri Lanka.

READ MORE: The Design Philosophy of B.V. Doshi, 2018 Pritzker Prize Laureate

bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
A breakout space is located at the back of the studio, where a view of the greenery and seating areas are situated for relaxation and quiet reflection.
bluprint firm and function studio andramatin indonesia
The biggest alteration Andra did to the studio bungalow was to demolish the kitchen’s walls for a more airy space open to the outdoors. He also simplified the kitchen counter, creating a long, projecting concrete slab supported by a wall and a pillar coated in reflective material to create the illusion of suspension.

Andra doesn’t see the need to expand nor does he want to at the moment, despite his respected stature in modern Indonesian architecture and growing clientele. The humble man in the black shirt and sandals just wants to enjoy the work and design process while he can, especially in his homeland.

“I recently finished two projects in China, one in Kuching, Malaysia for a friend. But after that, I don’t think we will actively pursue expansion of operations overseas. I think there’s still good demand for architecture in Indonesia that we can fulfill, and this is what we want to concentrate on.” When finally asked about his succession plan, Andra Matin chuckles and shakes his head. “I just want to design! I honestly haven’t thought of that yet. Que sera sera.” 

Original article first appeared in BluPrint Volume 4 2017. Edits were made for Bluprint online.

READ MORE: Meaningful by Design: An Interview with Lyndon Neri (part 1)

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