Alun-alun Kejaksan, a 1.2-hectare gathering square is located in the city of Cirebon in West Java next to the important At-Taqwa Mosque. Cirebon, being a former Sultanate has a rich history also due to its location as a coastal town with important harbor and therefore various cultures being influential. Alun-alun in itself is a unique urban Indonesian typology of open-air plaza adjacent to a palace, a governmental center, a mosque, or a market.
Despite its prominent location, the site had not been used to its full potential. Although the project is commissioned by the Governor of West Java, additional stakeholders also formed the design brief. Firstly, the At-Taqwa mosque claims informal ownership of the adjacent formerly barren land especially during important Islamic holidays where they need to extend the area of prayer to the outside due to high attendance. Secondly, the municipality and citizens are in dire need for a public space to recreate and gather in the city center, while maintaining the business of existing street vendors and therefore accommodating them into a hawker center. Thirdly, a historical monument in form of an obelisk which is cut off by a road turn needed to be reintegrated. This happens via a sunken memorial plaza, with steps for seating opening a view towards the monument. The information texts on the wall are written and executed by the elders and historians as a token of their participation. Lastly the approval of the late Sultan had to be sought even though he had no official governmental role, as he was well respected and held a high position within society. All these demands were gathered and discussed for the final design in a series of multi-stakeholder meetings attended by all relevant parties.
Having designed previously public space projects in Indonesia organized by municipalities and executed via a public tendering process, SHAU knows about the importance of resilient materialization and design choices. With that in mind and all the earlier mentioned stakeholder’s requirements a negotiation process of function and spatial allocations was initiated resulting in a central main square next to the At-Taqwa Mosque which can be used for spiritual and also national ceremonies and event gatherings. All the other functions such as bus stop, shelter, memorial plaza, hawker center, playground and microlibrary are loosely grouped around at the perimeter. It was also the aim to maximize green surfaces to improve microclimate, rainwater management in form of a stepping planter landscape structuring all functions, circulation and in-between spaces.
On one side of Alun-alun an iconic Gapura was installed marking the entrance from the city and on the opposite side a five-pillar gate was installed marking the entrance from the At-Taqwa Mosque. Both opposing gates represent a dialogue between worldly and spiritual needs, emphasizing an open dialogue with the square in-between as a gathering place. Educational and play functions are accommodated in forms of a microlibrary and playground. The microlibrary as a part of SHAU’s series of multi-programmatic reading spaces is made as a stepped platform which can be used as seating, while the rooftop is a viewing platform overlooking the alun-alun and enable people to obtain a different perspective and overview. The microlibrary fulfills SHAU’s and the city’s literacy agenda to bring up reading interest in a friendly setting. Both library and playground also diffuse the purpose of the alun-alun for exclusively religious or national events which only happen a few times per year and opens up the functionality for a wider audience and everyday usage.
The materiality and geometry refer to local stepped gapura or candi bentar – or a split gateway– and pedestals made of raw bricks which can be seen at Keraton Kasepuhan – Sultan’s palace in Cirebon. These traditional elements are reinterpreted into planter topography, shelter and microlibrary in a transformative way where every element stems from the same material, language, and constructive logic. By choosing brick as the main material for Alun-alun Kejaksan, it does not only refer to historical places in Cirebon but adheres to practical aspects like availability and stimulating the local economy employing local labor and a simple and more forgiving construction process. The material and formal references are also important to gain acceptance and sense of belonging from the citizens, as they are familiar with the design language even though it is done in a contemporary manner.