Reciprocity: Transactions for a City in Flux


Stephen Cairns and Daliana Suryawinata

Exhibition Background:

This exhibition was one of six comissioned for the 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) in 2009-10, titled Open City: Designing Coexistence, and curated by Kees Christiaanse and Tim Rieniets of ETH Zurich. The exhibition was focussed on the city of Jakarta and featured a range of twelve research projects and practical interventions in the city:

  • Fifth Layer: Activating Jakarta's Urban History
  • Cultures of Legibility: Representing a City in Flux
  • Urban Village: Participatory Practices Between Research and Action
  • Atlas, Agenda, Aturan-Main: Politics and Practices of Data Mobilization
  • Canop'City: Infrastructures of Encounter
  • Social Mall: Reinventing Public Space
  • Servant Space: Symbiotic Domestic Labour
  • Jakarta Bersih! Platforms for Work and Living
  • Sponge City: New Urban Ecologies
  • Soft Gate: Permeable Boundaries and Porous Architectures
  • Solusi Rumah: Affordable Housing and Corporate Reciprocity
  • At Home Far Away: Interviews with Indonesians in Rotterdam

Curatorial Statement:

Informal employment comprises one half to three-quarters of all work done in cities of the Global South. And if, as the United Nations predicts, urban growth in the 21st century will be concentrated in the Global South, then the future Open City will be, in large part, also an Informal City.

Reciprocity is a significant organizing logic in the Informal City. It is both the glue that binds it together and the grease that keeps its components moving. Reciprocity means something done in return. It refers to situated, non-market transactions that can involve not only giving and receiving, but also losing and taking. Reciprocal forms of exchange, such as bartering, bargaining, giving, or gleaning, are amongst the many transactions that structure the city but are not usually acknowledged in the way it has been theorised, designed or planned.

This exploration of the transactive energies of the Open City is focussed on the city of Jakarta, capital of the archipelago nation of Indonesia. As one of the world's largest and fastest growing megacities and, through the sheer incomprehensible complexity that comes with that scale and rapid growth, Jakarta poses a profound challenge to long-established understandings of what a city might be.

In Indonesia "reciprocity" is usually translated as gotong royong. This expression is said to have roots in the Javanese verb ngotong, meaning "several people carrying something together," combined with the rhyming royong. In traditional contexts, the term refers to collective agricultural tasks such as hoeing, ploughing, planting and harvesting. It also refers to the social reciprocity and networks of obligation involved in, for instance, the construction of a building or particular aspects of the construction, such as the raising the roof of a house.

There is much to suggest that the term remains vital in negotiating the complex flows and flux that configure everyday urban experience in cities of the Global South today. We seek to investigate the capacities of this term to serve as a relevant principle of urban life, to revive its fortunes as an indigenous principle for thinking and action in the Open City. We ask:

  • How might we re-imagine notions of reciprocity, mutual assistance and collectivity in cities that are complexly keyed into the flows and viscosities of global capital?
  • Can micro-scaled acts of reciprocity be re-energized in the vision for an Open City?
  • How might these acts short-circuit or play into macro-scaled urban plans?
  • Where are the existing sites of innovation and agency that might be posed as instances of contemporary urban reciprocity?
  • What might new urban reciprocal practices, forms, processes, organizations look like?

Cultures of Legibility

Curators and Research Team:

University of Edinburgh/ Stephen Cairns, William Mackaness, Ray Lucas, Vlad Tanasescu, Christopher Neil Lewis, Matt Ozga-Lawn

Universitas Indonesia/ Gunawan Tjahjono, Herlily, Anggie Amalia, Andi Alif, Dyah Esti Sihanani, Berlian Permatasari, Mustika Sari, Putera Anarta, Gibran, Irma Desyana, Lintang Kusumadelia, Rossa Turpuk Gabe Simatupang, Amita "Mayang" Ratih Purnamasari, Lusi Indah, Wijayanti, Fathur Rohman, Utami Widyaningsih, Lia Kurniawati

Curatorial Statement

The focus of the 'Cultures of Legibility' project is on the peri-urban zones of Jakarta's extended metropolitan region. In Jakarta, as in many cities of the Global South, the peri-urban areas combine urban and rural activities. These are the desa-kota (literally 'rural-city') zones, a term that nowadays is applied to such conditions in cities worldwide. In Jakarta's desa-kota there is an inter-penetration of wet-rice agriculture traditional villages, gated suburbs, cottage industries, malls, golf courses, industrial complexes, freeways, and tower blocks. These extended urban landscapes are visually, morphologically, and functionally more complex and fluid than even the most dispersed of western cities. They demand new styles of representation and 'legibility'.

Urban designer, Kevin Lynch first invoked the term 'legibility' in 1960 in his analysis of North American cityscapes. We must learn, he argued, 'to see the hidden forms in the vast sprawl of our cities', and this meant attending to 'the "legibility" of the cityscape'. This imperative underpinned what he called 'cognitive mapping', the process of representing a city so as to mentally grasp its form and adequately orient oneself within it. Subsequent scholarship extended the concepts of urban legibility and cognitive mapping into consideration of late-capitalist urban form. Fredric Jameson, and other theorists of postmodern cultural politics, echoing the need for more applied work in urban design, called for new kinds of cognitive mapping that would reassert our capacities to 'read' the late capitalist city.

The 'Cultures of Legibility' project takes up the challenge of this intellectual tradition in the context of peri-urban Jakarta. The research is focused on a section or transect through the peri-urban areas of Jakarta. The transect offers a sample of the city from the coast to the North, to the airport, through industrial zones, new middle-class townships and into agricultural hinterlands. Rather than proposing a single kind of urban legibility, the project shows that there are multiple ways of knowing and understanding the city. These multiple knowledges can be understood as 'cultures of urban legibility'.

Urban Characters


Eko Nugroho and Erik Prasetya

Reciprocity, we have argued, is situated and relational. It articulates itself in urban space and works to articulate that space in new ways. In a very real sense every architectural and urban project is activated by, and activates in turn, the situated relationality of reciprocity. Architecture is not simply, then, a contextual backdrop to reciprocal action, it is part of the transactional field of reciprocity. Indeed, it is the reciprocal relations between architecture, infrastructure, buildings, technologies and people that form the infrastructure of the city. This field of reciprocal relations is not, however, undifferentiated. There are certain social characters, just as there are certain architectures, that are recognizably at work in making contemporary Jakarta the city it is. There is a well-known tradition within Indonesian cultural production for articulating such recognizable social characters: the medium and tradition of Javanese wayang kulit. This shadow puppet performance art, depends upon a cast of well known families and characters, heroes of the Mahabharata, Ramayana and many other folk tales. These characters are called upon to represent semi-transcendent social types (princely refinement, heroic self-sacrifice, stubborn bravery, slothfulness, buffoonery).

In order to access something of the recognizable social character of contemporary Jakarta, and the reciprocal relations they variously contribute to, we draw on the work of two Jakarta-based artists: the documentary-style, photographic portraiture of Erik Prasetya, and the contemporary shadow puppetry of Eko Nugroho.

Prasetya offers restrained compositions of the working, urban poor in his photographic studies. Individually his images are startling for the way they encapsulate the weight and pressure of the city on the lives of those represented. They refuse us romantic engagements with ideas of reciprocity. The photographs draw us in to the intimate orbit of the lives led by those depicted, and call upon us to see not only an individual, but a type of urban dweller: a pemulung sampah (rubbish gleaner), a becak (trishaw) driver, a maid. As a series of images, Prasetya's photographs are much more than a reflection of the circumstances of the individuals photographed. Through them, wider aspects of city and (some of) its social types are refracted. Walter Benjamin, writing on the experience of modernity in the late-nineteenth-century European metropolis, distinguished between the fragmenting, fleeting and shocking experience of the metropolis (Erlebnis), and another experience of the city (Erfahrung) that managed to cohere, be socially meaningful and offer a kind of collective map to the emerging city. Where the former experience merely registered the fragility of the human body in its exposure to the shocks and stresses of the city, the latter promised a sense of coherence in the flux of change. Prasetya's portraits offer us such a collective sense of the city, and invite a critical engagement of the processes of urbanisation.

Operating in the caricature-style of Javanese wayang kulit, Eko Nugroho captures a similar sense of the social character of contemporary Jakarta. His wayang break with the traditional forms derived from courtly Hindu-Javanese and folk cultures of Old Java. In his hands, the heroes of the Mahabharata, Ramayana morph into contemporary urban characters. These are his descriptions of some of them:

  • The Developer. Always formally dressed. Head filled with numerous ideas and profit-gaining strategies. Modern communication tools have become appendages of his very being.
  • The Maid. Doomed to work hard her entire life. She should be given more hands to fulfil the endless demands and chores set by her employer. Constantly exhausted. Has to be alert of her surroundings for own safety.
  • Street Vendor. The hard life and the terrible economical conditions means 50% of the population in Indonesia are in a depressing state of poverty. The condition is so dire that they have to live and eat off the streets.
  • Farmer. Despite [Indonesia's] rich natural resources, its citizens remain poor. We wonder why? Farmers are one of the most important pillars of our society and yet they are often overlooked. Their are passionate nationalists compared to the rulers of the Republic.
  • Architect. Usually deadpan. Does not reveal much personality. His work tends to reflect his personality, cold and minimal, with a tendency to avoid local elements. Does it mean one has to re-invent one's history and narrative in order to become 'modern'?
  • Labourer. Every major city [relies on] unskilled manpower. A labourer is usually a farmer who has followed the urban migration route in search of a brighter future due to the lack of work or low wages in the [countryside].
  • Policeman. Supposedly the protector of the people; exudes a strong military attitude. Overly bureaucratic and close-minded, can be found toting their weapons in public spaces to compensate for their cowardice.
  • Housewife. Like a majority of middle class housewives who live in the city, she is materialistic, fashion conscious and worries about aging. They are drama-queens at heart.
  • Businessman. Husband/office executive or employee without much of a social life. Like a machine, his life has settled into a routine.
  • Wong Asu. The street tramp who has to resort to small crimes and unscrupulous means to make money. Stray dogs tantalises his often hungry stomach.
  • Bakul Motor. The quintessential automobile salesmen. A motorbike or a car is a social status symbol in Indonesia. Those who own a bike or a car are often seen as belonging to a 'higher' status.

Each in their own ways, and drawing on quite distinct representational traditions, the work of Prasetya and Eko allow us to move on from a Jakarta known only through demographic trends, historical context, socio-economic structures and morphological patterns. Through their work we are able to enter into the diverse cast of social characters that live, work and dream in the mega-city of Jakarta. Each one of these Jakarta characters plays a part (sometimes minor, sometimes major) in the architectures that are showcased in the remainder of this chapter. They each play their part in the variable and always provisional socio-technical platforms available for reproducing life in the city. A project for the Open City must inevitably engage with forms of collective representation such as these.

The characters were incorporated into an interactive table by Vlad Tanasescu.

A film describing market conditions in Jakarta was made.

Open City Jakarta


Stephen Cairns, Daliana Suryawinata and Vlad Tanasescu

Open City Jakarta is a continuation of selected exhibition materials from 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam in 2009. The exhibition consists of 12 innovative research and design projects which offer distinct scenarios for Jakarta as a Recipro-City. Each project exemplifies a distinct reciprocal relationship: between built environment and nature (Sponge City analyses the flooding patterns in Jakarta and proposes architectural interventions that ameliorate their effects); between formal and informal sectors (Jakarta Bersih focuses on the relationship between formal and informal waste disposal systems in Jakarta); between corporate and local spheres (Social Mall proposes to insert diverse public programs and facilities into malls, so that malls could become better embedded in the community in which they are located). The twelve scenarios are accompanied by a cast of twelve contemporary wayang characters by Eko Nugroho, and anthropological urban photographs by Erik Prasetya. The exhibition was accompanied by a film festival, showing recently awarded urban documentaries and dramas. The exhibition and film festival ran from 1 October until 1 December 2010.

Jakarta's rapid urbanization from the last decades of the twentieth century has seen it emerge today as one of the world's largest mega-cities. Through the scale and complexity that come with that rapid growth, Jakarta poses a profound challenge to long-established foundations of urban theory and understandings of what a city might be. One such challenge that Jakarta poses is to take the informal seriously as an urban process and practice. 'Reciprocity' is a rich and significant principle for the informal city. Reciprocal forms of exchange, such as bartering, bargaining, giving, or gleaning, are amongst the many transactions that structure the city but are not usually acknowledged in the way it has been theorised, designed or planned. We propose an experiment in urban thinking and design practice by placing reciprocity as an urban strategy. We ask: 'what would a Recipro-City be like'?

The exhibition was accompanied by a one-day conference on the reciprocity theme.

Welcome from Paul Peters, director of Erasmus Huis Jakarta

'Research by Design' by George Brugmans, director IABR Rotterdam

'Open City' by Kees Christiaanse, curator 4th IABR

'Reciprocity as a Strategy towards an Open City', Stephen Cairns and Daliana Suryawinata, curators Open City Jakarta

Session 1: Locating Jakarta: Centres and Peripheries (Moderator, Andrea Peresthu)

  • 'Fifth Layer' by Jo Santoso
  • 'Cultures of Legibility' by Stephen Cairns

Session 2: Agency and Design: Infrastructures for Living (Moderator, Ridwan Kamil)

  • 'Sponge City' by Adi Purnomo+ David Hutama
  • 'Urban Solution' by Alex Buechi

Keynote Lecture: Abdoumaliq Simone (Professor, Goldsmiths London)

Session 3: Permeable Edges: Reciprocities for Dwelling (Moderator, Ayu Utami)

  • 'Soft Gate' by Budi Pradono
  • 'Servants' Space' by Ahmad Djuhara

Session 4: Density/Intensity: Design for Consumption and Production (Moderator, Mohammad Nanda Widyarta)

  • 'Jakarta Bersih' by Tanja van der Laan
  • 'Social Mall', Research by Herlambang
  • 'Social Mall', Proposal by Daliana Suryawinata and Andra Matin

Opening of the exhibition by Mrs. Annemieke Ruigrok (Dutch Embassy) and Mr. Suharso Monoarfa (Ministry of Housing, Republic of Indonesia)

Open City Jakarta Film Festival

The film festival featured recent and award winning urban documentaries and dramas. The films are set in or focus upon everyday life in cities of the Global South, and help to elaborate many of the themes examined in the exhibition and conference. The film festival was made possible with the support from the Netherlands Architecture Fund and IABR (International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam). The films included:

  • Stayin' Alive In Jo'burg, Rob Schröder, VPRO Television / Holland Doc, IABR 2008-9.
  • I am Gurgaon: The New City in India, Marije Meerman, VPRO, IABR 2008-9.
  • Cities on Speed - Mumbai Disconnected, Camilla Nielsson, Frederik Jacobi, Upfront Films, 2009.
  • Trendspotting Istanbul, Alexander Oey, Rob Schroder and Gabrielle Provaas, VPRO 2008-9.
  • Carácas: The Informal City, Rob Schröder, VPRO, IABR, Urban Think Tank, 2007.
  • Central Station, Walter Salles, Audiovisual Development Bureau, Ministerio da Cultura, 1998
  • Beijing Bicycle, Wang Xiaoshuai, Arc Light Films, 2001.
  • Linha de Passe, Walter Salles, Media Rights Capital, 2008.

World Town Planning Day, Bali


Daliana Suryawinata and Stephen Cairns

Material from the Open City Jakarta exhibition was also shown at the Werdhapura Village at Danau Tamblingan 49, Sanur, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. This exhibition was part of an event organized by the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works to coincide with World Town Planning Day. The exhibition ran from 6 November - 1 December 2010. Daliana Suryawinata, one of the co-curators for the Rotterdam and Jakarta exhibitions, gave a lecture on 'Reciprocity as an Urban Strategy' on 7 November 2010 at the same location.