Matt Teismann (MDes candidate) was awarded a grant from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Indonesia Program for his project (Architecture) Without Origins. Teismann will spend 3 weeks in Indonesia, Sumatra, and Nias in August and September to analyze how cultural and social estrangement in Sumatra has been influenced by the disappearance of deeply rooted and rich architectural heritage exemplified in the village of Bawömataluo.
In the early 20th century under colonial Dutch policy, many great Indonesian communal omo sebua, or houses of origin, were razed, particularly on the smaller islands off the coast of Java and Sumatra. Justified by the “fear of tuberculosis and promiscuity,” the act was actually a means of control through the erasure of a non-western cultural way of life. Bawömataluo, a large village in southern Nias, is renowned for its vernacular architecture, the main feature of which is its monumental omo sebua, which avoided eradication.
The house of origin is the symbolic center of a web of customs, social relations, and religions that bind villagers together. Determined by the cardinal points of direction, the omo sebua is a microcosm of villagers’ cultural place in the world, and like the universe itself, is vertically stratified into heaven, earth, and the underworld. To Indonesians, the way of life and the web of life are mutualistic and inseparable.
Teismann’s investigation aims to articulate a broader discourse that will not only enable architecture to address the cultural crisis of the larger social field within which it is embedded, but also to map and document the impact on social identity from post-colonial architecture.