Ridwan Kamil, one of Indonesia’s best-known architects, has a new job. Against all odds, the 41-year-old was elected mayor of Indonesia’s third largest city, Bandung. A month into the job, he meets me in City Hall to discuss his plans for revitalising the traffic-clogged, smoggy environs of a city that was once known as the Paris of Java. But between policy prescriptions, he takes some time to discuss his other passion, design, and in particular the design of his private residence in Bandung, Rumah Botol, or The House of Bottles.
The house took two years to build and was finally ready in 2007. Kamil says it was a stressful experience. “An architect faces a lot of pressure designing his own home because people expect something really special.”
After he’d changed the design plans seven times, earning his wife’s ire, Kamil happened to observe the litter created by the construction workers lounging about the site. They drank Red Bull, the energy drink, and the brown bottles were lying strewn around the yard. Kamil noticed a sunray light up a bottle, and had his eureka moment.
The result is a home constructed out of 30,000 cleaned and polished Red Bull bottles. It took six months to salvage these bottles from garbage dumps around West Java, but the end product Kamil says is that “I have 30,000 stories embedded in the walls of my house.”
For Kamil the bottles focus attention on the concept of recycling which is dear to his heart. Later he realised the bottles improved the insulation of the house as well, which is always cool despite the lack of any air conditioning units. “The light goes through the bottles but the heat seems to remain trapped in them and does not pass into the house,” he explains.
Rumah Botol is set amongst low-rise hills to the north of Bandung. The front door opens onto three rooms that are undivided by walls. The reception merges into the drawing room, which in turn abuts an Islamic prayer room. To the back is an open courtyard, featuring a tiny swimming pool and a small vegetable patch. Kamil is a known urban gardening enthusiast and is in fact planning to make it compulsory for every new building in Bandung to incorporate a garden.
A staircase leads up to the next level where an airy kitchen gives way to the family bedrooms. Red Bull bottle-constructed walls are a feature of virtually every space in the home.
Back in City Hall, Kamil describes his home as his “refuge” from the urban sprawl. His days in Rumah Botol are however numbered.
His new job as Mayor comes with a new house, a sprawling colonial bungalow in the heart of the city. “My wife isn’t happy about the move,” Kamil confesses with a laugh.