Indonesia By Design

Posted: October 9, 2010 in English Version

Young product and interior designer Alvin Tjitrowirjo has a modern outlook that encompasses Indonesian influences.

By Bruce Emond

Alvin Tjitrowirjo takes a long, hard look at the chairs at the current “in” spot, where the quite average food takes third place to the priorities of seeing and being seen.

They are, he says, meticulous copies of a famous Finnish design. He lists other examples in Jakarta where design “inspirations” have been lifted from those overseas, including a famous eatery and bar that is almost a carbon copy of one he visited while studying in Spain.

Even if this trend can be explained away as part of the communal Indonesian mind-set that sees intellectual property as public property (and that imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery), it’s not for Alvin. He wants to be an original.

Calling himself a retro-futurist with avant-garde thoughts and ideas, Alvin creates stylish and usable lifestyle products for his AlvinT brand. There are cup-mug laps (made by joining the drinking utensils together), a round coffee table that also functions as a bench and a complementary three-legged stool with butterfly joints made from Sungkai wood.

But each of his designs has an Indonesian element, in either the concept or the use of materials, from rattans to tropical timber. In explaining Mingle, a bench for three people, Alvin’s catalog states: “ … in Indonesia we need furniture that communicates what a modern contemporary Indonesian design is. This is expressed by using a local identity wrapped in an international visual language, and it has a meaning to provoke dialogue between its users in order to start a conversation.”

This philosophy is summed up in the tagline for his AlvinT brand: Designed by an Indonesian, made in Indonesia for the rest of the world.

The son of a communications executive (he has a younger sister who is a scientist), Alvin says he grew up loving cars, not only as speed machines but also looking at their design elements. His personal understanding of Indonesia and being Indonesian grew when he was doing his master’s in Madrid and traveling around Europe. While it was not easy being Asian – and viewed as an outsider – in still-homogeneous European cities, the distance enabled him to take stock of his homeland’s qualities.

“After that experience, it made me even prouder to be Indonesian. It gave me this calling, in a way, that maybe I should do something about it. Many people I talk with are not proud of Indonesia’s quality or image or brand.”

He is certainly interested in upping Indonesia’s brand value. He did his thesis on modern Indonesian contemporary design, and has shown his works around the world. His products were featured in the Remarkable Indonesia display at Harrods in London earlier this year.

For the recent Art Bazaar in Jakarta, he designed an installation for the launch of the BMW Gran Turismo.

“I did a lot of thinking,” Alvin says. “I wanted to do something fresh, a bit more experimental but with an Indonesian touch. It’s a German product and brand, but it’s here in Indonesia. I think the best way to communicate with an audience is through elements that they can identify with.”

He came up with a concept of a three-dimensional, undulating design, measuring 7.8 m x 3 m x 2.5 m., to enhance viewers’ emotions about the car. The form is organic and dynamic, and conforms to the theme of sustainability with its natural, Indonesian-made material; it is also thoroughly contemporary.

In short, it embodies Alvin’s wish to create contemporary Indonesian products that will be respected around the world – and to stay original in doing so.

“I want to familiarize among the public here that Indonesian designs can be on the same level with international brands,” he says.

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